The Non-Native Filipino Speaker’s Guide To P*tang Ina

Rodrigo Duterte, the 16th president of the republic of the Philippines, talks tough. In the recent brouhaha over the his cancelled meeting with USA president Barrack Obama, Duterte supposedly referred to the latter by using an expletive. Obama’s response was to describe Duterte as a “colorful guy.” However, the media, true to its sensationalist nature, made a mountain out of a molehill by capturing sound bytes of Duterte saying “putang ina, murahin kita dyan sa forum” (son of a whore, I will curse you at the forum) and taking his words out of context. Local and international news outlets reported this as Duterte cursing at Obama, purporting it to be a low blow especially coming from a high official, but watching the video, I believe it to be nothing more than a misunderstanding.

“Putang ina” is a Filipino curse word taken from the Spanish word “puta” (whore) and the Ilocano word “ina” (mother), which when put together literally means “whore mother.” Another variant of the term is “putang ina mo,” which directly translates as “your mother is a whore.” It is the worst possible insult in the Filipino language, that is, when spoken with the word “mo” (your), but without the word “mo,” it simply counts as an expression of frustration. To cite an example, someone may ask something like “kumusta sabong?” (How’s the cockfight) and if the reply is “putang ina, talo!” (Whore mother, I lost!), the speaker is not cussing at the one who posed the question. Instead, he merely expresses his exasperation over losing at the cockfight.

Although Duterte did say “putang ina” in the video, he did not include the word “mo” (your). Now if the above mentioned explanation is to be considered, he (Duterte) did not call Obama a “son of a whore,” rather he was venting out a hair shirt over what he sees as America attempting to boss him around. In the speech, Duterte emphasized that the Philippines is no longer a colony of the States and as president he is to be held accountable for his actions only by the Filipino people. What Duterte refers to here is his administration’s ongoing war on drugs. There have been various complaints about extra-judicial killings, and being widely reported internationally, it prompted some comments from officials of other countries.

Duterte, called by Time Magazine as “The Punisher,” is firm in his campaign to rid the Philippines of illegal drugs. “It will be bloody,” he says in one of his speeches, and “we will not stop until the last drug pusher gets killed,” according to another speech. Drugs indeed are a serious problem in the country with millions of lives being affected in way or another. To be fair to the president, he never shied away from making his intentions known even during the election period, what with cuss-laden speeches pervading his campaign and his stubborn promises of purging the country of illegal drugs in the first six months should he be elected as president.

Far from the Filipino people deeming Duterte as someone who merely spews vitriol founded on empty campaign promises, they were able to identify with his frustrations and saw in him a breath of fresh air — an iconoclast that is not your typical politician hiding behind the veil of rhetoric. This unorthodox style won Duterte a landslide victory in the 2016 national elections. His win was a slap on the face to the establishment — the oligarchs riddling the political landscape like cancer cells spreading throughout a body by metastasis. He woke up the sleeping giant in the hearts of the Filipinos, namely, their longing for real change. And while he may be brash, there is an authenticity to his uncontrived ways that speaks to the average Filipino. Speaking as a citizen of this country myself, we’ve had enough of the oldfangled trapos with their corrupt ways, and Duterte, as one commentator says, is the Philippines’ “last best chance” to get things right.

It is yet to be seen whether Duterte can fulfill his campaign promises in a span of six months but the most important thing is that his administration is clearly taking steps to do so. “It will be bloody.” Again, there is no sugarcoating it — it is after all, a war. If the CHR (commission on human rights) doth protest, by all means let them so, but let them answer too to our question: where were you when these drug addicts killed and raped countless victims? Do the rights of a criminal surpass that of an innocent victim? It is clear with this that there are people out there blinded by idealistic notions of justice and equality. These ideals, while lofty, are oftentimes not applicable to real world situations. Evil is evil, and if the measures needed to put a stop to it involve killings, so be it.

“Putang ina.” In previous administrations, this is all the Filipino can say with the poor quality of life afforded him by the corruption and cowardice of officials he voted into office. Unreasonably high electric bills, “putang ina“; no wage hike, “putang ina”; another life ruined by illegal drugs, “putang ina” — with Duterte, a foul-mouthed maverick who frequently uses this swearword, the Filipino people finally found a voice. And while no one is claiming that he will immediately solve all the deep-seated problems of this country, at the very least his supporters can see that this man has a big pair.

To conclude, president Duterte didn’t curse at Obama. He used the term “putang ina” as an expression of frustration. No one can blame him as the problem of drugs has reached boiling point, and motions that mean to thwart the ongoing war against it are a hassle indeed. His articulation may not be the most eloquent, and as an elder statesman he lacks the sangfroid usually associated with those types, but all in all he has proven from the get-go that along with talking the talk, he can also walk the walk.



Writer whose heart is in the avant-garde, in dire need of therapy for Logolepsy, while being a lifelong hesher living the br00tal lyfe in her parent’s basement.

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Aiko Lactaotao

Aiko Lactaotao


Writer whose heart is in the avant-garde, in dire need of therapy for Logolepsy, while being a lifelong hesher living the br00tal lyfe in her parent’s basement.