No more swearing, promises foul-mouthed Philippine President Duterte

Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte at the Philippine Economic Forum hosted by the Japan External Trade Organization in Tokyo on Oct 26, 2016.
Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte at the Philippine Economic Forum hosted by the Japan External Trade Organization in Tokyo on Oct 26, 2016. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

MANILA (WASHINGTON POST) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has made a solemn promise: no more swearing.

Mr Duterte, who famously cursed the Pope and used a slang term that translates as "son of a whore" in reference to President Barack Obama, was flying back from Japan late on Thursday (Oct 27), looking at a vast expanse of sky, listening to his colleagues snore, when he heard a voice say, "If you don't stop epithets, I will bring this plane down now."

"And I said, 'Who is this?' So, of course, 'it's God,'" he told Filipino journalists late on Thursday (Oct 27).

"So, I promise God," he continued, "Not (to) express slang, cuss words and everything. So you guys hear me right always because (a) promise to God is a promise to the Filipino people."

The story surprised many. Though he was elected president of a predominantly Catholic country, Mr Duterte is better known for his savage tongue and exhortations to violence than his Christian ways.

Mr Duterte, once nicknamed as "the Death Squad Mayor", swept to power in July promising to "kill all" the country's drug users and dealers.

Since then, more than 4,000 Filipinos have been killed in his self-proclaimed "war on drugs", according to police figures, either gunned down in raids or shot my masked assailants.

Rather than call for calm, the president has urged on the killing.

He told troops to "massacre" criminals and promised police officers they would not be jailed for killing suspects on the job.

Faced with criticism from the United Nations and others, he denied that the suspected drug users are human beings.

"Crime against humanity? In the first place, I'd like to be frank with you: are they humans? What is your definition of a human being?" he told soldiers in August.

Critics of the campaign said the president's swearing pledge missed the point.

"Philippines prez Duterte says God told him to stop swearing," wrote Human Rights Watch's Andrew Stroehlein on Twitter. "Did God mention the death squads?"

Even Mr Duterte seems to have doubts about his pact. Asked if he would really stop cursing-out his allies and opponents alike, the president demurred.

"There's always a time for everything, a time to be foul-mouthed," he said.