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I don’t think we ever had a president of the country who has been at the centerstage of controversy because of his public statements. Until today. I am sure that President Duterte’s aides would admit that being with him during his public appearances is nerve-wracking. However, by now, they shall have accepted the reality that a speech is not complete without an expletive or two. But they must also realize that anything he would say about our state of affairs and relationship with other countries would be taken as a policy statement. Thus, his announcement of a “separation” from the United States during his recent visit to China could stir considerable controversy with Washington perplexed and wanting an explanation

Of course the President later explained that “separation” was not “severing” our relationship with the US. He cannot possibly do that with the several hundreds of thousands of Filipinos living there who would “kill” him. There would be no change in the treaties or agreements, only in trade, economic affairs, and other forms of cooperation which now have to be re-examined in the light of a planned “realignment” and shift towards closer relationship with China and Russia.

A response to what is anticipated as potential impact of President Duterte’s speech behavior is a national conference aptly entitled “Deconstructing Towards Understanding: The Communication Content and Style of President Rodrigo R. Duterte.” As the Conference Notes say, social and communication scientists believe they can play a role by facilitating this process of understanding the President’s communication pattern and how it can affect Philippine interests. The conference is conducted by Asian Media Information and Communication Center, Inc. (AMIC), the pioneering Asian regional communication organization, now Manila-based. The conference which will take place on November 25 at the Philippine Women’s University (site of the new AMIC office) hopes to “explain the nuances of language use from a linguistic perspective; describe communication form and style with focus on oral communication; describe how to decode the messages consistent with the speaker’s intentions; examine factors that enable messages to resonate; identify possible consequences of a “nuanced” language in governance; expound on how to write news stories from pronouncements; and understand Duterte as the medium and the message.”

The President’s speech behavior demonstrates that interpersonal communication is much more than the explicit meaning of words as it includes implicit messages expressed through nonverbal behaviors and linguistic nuances.

Deconstruction demonstrates that a text can contain contradictory meanings.

The meaning of a message resides in the total act of communication in which the grammatical elements often play a limited part, overshadowed by a myriad of extralinguistic factors. We assume that the latter would include all forms of nonverbal behavior – facial expressions, tone and pitch of voices, gestures displayed through body language (kinesics) and physical distance between the interactors.

Some use words but as euphemisms, metaphors, innuendoes, hints, insinuations, exaggerated expressions or hyperbole, indirect communication, or the use of super-polite language such as that used in Non-western discourse.

President Duterte often uses hyperbole or exaggerated language, foul or shocking language and other attention-getting modes, and storytelling. Thus, one who knows him well should be able to explain what he really means, and help others learn how to thresh the grain from the chaff in his talk. And to be quick in explaining terms that have profound implications such as “separation.” When he used the term “separate,” he must have meant any of these dictionary meanings – form a distinction or boundary; not joined or united, or distinct, and not separate in the sense of a final break.

Perhaps President Duterte may consider speaking in Filipino and having a translator during public speaking engagements. This may cramp his style and may not be too appealing to his Filipino audiences. But it may gain him some points in the diplomatic front which eventually could improve the country’s image.

My email, Florangel.braid@gmail. com