EDITORIAL - From comedy of errors to chance for better ties

(The Freeman) - September 8, 2016 - 12:00am

The flap that did away with what would have been a chance for two allies to meet personally for the first, and perhaps the last, time is actually a comedy of errors, despite the seriousness with which some sectors, in perpetuating the comedy, have attached to it. The sad part is that, to undo the errors, great effort is needed to put context into what happened, context that should not have been lost in the first place.

Prior to the planned meeting that did not happen between Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte and US president Barack Obama, everything had seemed so clear. It was going to be a meeting in the sidelines, sort of like a meet-and-greet if it involved stars and their fans, or like having coffee with a friend one runs into while waiting for a date. Nothing of note was expected from that meeting. The only thing that gave it significance was that the grand Kano has found time to meet poor Pinoy.

But while each and every prior report correctly described the event as a "meeting in the sidelines," the story took on a ton of undeserved significance the moment the shit hit the fan. Suddenly the "sidelines" got sidelined and the cancellation of the meeting took on an air of contrived importance that made everything appear as if the Asean Summit itself has been cancelled, or that NATO suddenly disbanded.

But a sidelines meeting is just what it is, a meeting in the sidelines - meaning it happens if it happens, no big deal if it doesn't. It is just one of those bonuses up for the picking at major events like a summit of leaders. It is largely cosmetic. It is window-dressing. That Obama is bowing out in four months further ate into what little value the meeting may have had, if at all. Still the headlines made it sound as if the heavens fell. So much for context.

Then there is the supposed slur itself, which was not a slur at all. A slur is directed. It has a target. But go ahead, review the tapes. There was never an instance when Duterte pointed a finger at Obama, or even so much as pouted his mouth at an imaginary direction of where Obama might be, and then uttered the "puta" thing. He did say "puta" not just once but several times, but always as an expression, as a swear phrase, just like most people do under their breaths in anger.

But Duterte was on the way to Laos. Departure speeches are normally tepid and make headlines only as an obligatory gesture. Here was the chance to shake things up a bit. And boy did it shake things up, especially when the headlines screamed about Duterte calling Obama an s.o.b or Duterte calling Obama's mother a whore. But nothing of the sort happened. Again, go check the tapes. Duterte was just swearing. When no money comes out of an ATM, you swear, not at the ATM, but your tough luck.

So why did Duterte apologize? Because he is a man. And that's what makes the world of a difference between him and Obama. Obama, feeling slighted, cancelled the date. Wow. It is good the flap happened. It is a blessing in disguise. It gives Duterte the time and the freedom he needs to shape policy he might want to discuss with the next American president who, like him, will be new and can look forward to years of opportunities to work out a better and more positive alliance.

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