MANILA, Philippines - It’s a cultural thing.
After saying President Duterte’s remarks about US Ambassador Philip Goldberg were not for public consumption even if the Chief Executive’s speech was aired live on television, Malacañang explained the roughness and colorful language of the country’s leader could be attributed to the “Cebuano subculture.”
In an interview with the Al Jazeera television network over the weekend, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella defended Duterte anew for refusing to apologize for calling Goldberg “gay.”
“Let us put it this way. I understand that there is a culture clash in here. But I understand where he is coming from because it’s a particular subculture. The Cebuano subculture speaks in a very rough kind of humor,” Abella told UpFront host Mehdi Hasan, who asked the spokesman how difficult it was for him to “spin” for the President, highlighting Duterte’s controversial statements.
“…my task is to be able to interpret him and act as a conduit and bring out the true intention of the President,” Abella added.
Abella immediately drew flak online for describing the controversial remarks of Duterte as part of “Cebuano subculture.”
“Cebuanos should protest. This does not define their subculture,” Twitter user Cecile Tamura said.
Duterte was born in the Visayas but he grew up in Mindanao. His father Vicente, a former Davao del Sur governor, hailed from Cebu while his mother Soledad was from Maasin, Leyte.
The host asked Abella how he could defend Duterte, who promised to kill his own children if they took illegal drugs, quipped that it was okay to rape a woman before she was gang-raped, called Goldberg gay and cast invectives against Pope Francis.
When confronted about the President’s rape remark during the campaign, Abella said it was supposed to be a joke but that he was not defending Duterte when told the former Davao City mayor had said he was serious about it.
“The true intent… it was a joke. It’s difficult to translate…I am not trying to defend him. I am simply trying to act as a conduit for him,” Abella said.
Speaking to troops at Camp Teodulfo Bautista in Solo, Sulu last Friday, Duterte said he saw no need to apologize to the US envoy after the Philippines’ charge d’affaires was summoned by Washington to explain his remarks.
The one minute and 25 second clip – which was shared by Hasan on his Twitter account – was retweeted by hundreds of netizens, including former deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte.
While Valte did not comment on the video, other known supporters of the former administration expressed their dismay in response to the video.