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EDITORIAL - ‘Out of context’

If President Duterte is the Asian Adolf Hitler, are Filipinos – who voted overwhelmingly for him and by most indications continue to support him – the Nazis of the 21st century?

That was a common question after President Duterte was reported to have compared himself to the Nazi Führer, as he reiterated that he was prepared to kill three million drug suspects. After a firestorm of international condemnation, the President apologized yesterday to Jews, even as his officials insisted that his statements had again been taken out of context by mass media.

A careful review of the controversial speech, in its entirety, could support the explanation of administration officials, that the President was in fact expressing resentment over being compared with Hitler. But the way the statements were phrased, and delivered in the President’s usual unprepared manner, also opened the remarks to other interpretations, especially when seen in the light of his previous statements on killing thousands in his brutal war on drugs.

At least the President said sorry to the Jews. But this is just the latest in a growing string of public apologies, and a leader cannot keep saying sorry every other day. It erodes credibility and public trust, if not of his diehard supporters, then at least of international observers, who expect world leaders to understand that every word counts and should therefore be chosen with care.

The President’s remarks are particularly lamentable because the Jews have installed a memorial in Israel, honoring the Philippines for offering sanctuary to those fleeing Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust during World War II. It was a rare gesture of humanity acknowledged by the Jewish state. The President should consider the impact of offensive remarks that are seen to be directed at people who aren’t even picking a fight with him, and have in fact professed admiration for Filipinos.

This latest flap should encourage the President to minimize his extemporaneous remarks and instead read prepared speeches. As he himself has admitted, he is not fluent in either Filipino or English. This opens his remarks to numerous interpretations, many of which might not be to his liking. Presidential remarks must be carefully chosen, so that each word reflects precisely what he means to say and nothing gets lost in translation.

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