By Daniel Franklin E. Pilario, CM

Char is now a commonplace millennial word which means “just kidding”, “not true”, “joking around”. Its root and/or derivatives are “charot,” “charotera”, “charing”, “echos,” “echocerang palaka”. When a sentence ends with “char”, the speaker wants to say that you do not have to take it seriously. It is not really true. "Char lang".

This is how I describe Duterte’s talk in front of the United Nations.

1. COVID-19 Vaccines

“Rich countries hoard life-saving vaccines, while poor nations wait for trickles… This is shocking beyond belief and must be condemned for what it is – a selfish act that can neither be justified rationally nor morally.”

On the one hand, Duterte is right about the world vaccine inequality. On the other hand, the truth is that Duque “dropped the ball” (Teddy Boy Locsin) when we were about to get millions of Pfizer vaccines in December 2020. Only to find out that the government prefers to buy vaccines from China (which was more expensive than Pfizer). And Duterte did not want to divulge the price. His excuse: non-disclosure agreement! But even earlier than the vaccine issues, we now hear of overpriced PPEs to Chinese businessmen through PS-DBM, the refusal to do mass testing and dismal contact tracing only to find expired test kits in DOH laboratories, and meager support to overworked medical frontliners and the misuse of DOH funds, not to mention the hunger of millions because of these corruption and incompetence. These are the real “selfish act(s) that can neither be justified rationally nor morally.” What Duterte said to the UN was half-truth. The rest were swept under the rug. In short, “char char lang”.

2. Climate Change

“The risks and burden of a warming climate are simply not the same for everyone. The greatest injustice here is that those who suffer the most are those the least responsible for this existential crisis.”

On the one hand, Duterte is right. The poorest countries which have less carbon emissions suffer climate change’s worst effects. On the other hand, what he did not mention are his other projects equally to damaging to environment: the opening of mining operations after Gina Lopez and licensing of new ones; the ill-timed dolomite beach; the casinos of Boracay; the multimillion Kaliwa Dam pursued even without permits, etc. Even the moratorium on coal-fired power plants which he bragged about at the UN does not at all halt those which have already been approved. It would account for 53% of the Philippine power supply when they will be operational in 2030. So, what ecological program is he talking about. The Philippine response to climate change is at best “urong sulong”; one step forward, two steps backward. In short, “char lang”.

3. Human Rights and Rule of Law

“The kafala system is one such behemoth that chains the weak, the desperate, and the voiceless to an existence of unimaginable suffering… I have instructed the Department of Justice and the Philippine National Police to review the conduct of our campaign against illegal drugs... In a period of profound geopolitical change, it is vital that all countries—big and small—commit to the rule of law, fully and firmly.”

On the one hand, the problem of human rights is not in the Philippines; it is in the Middle East kafala system. He makes himself the prime defender of the right of OFWs, and rightly so. On the other hand, this is also credit gabbing — like what they are doing in the Philippines — for abolishing the kafala has been an initiative of the Saudi government for all foreign workers not just the Filipinos. Moreover, what Duterte did not mention is the neglect of human rights within the country: the war on drugs, killing of “communists”, lawyers, human rights advocates, church workers, poor farmers, indigenous peoples, etc. In the most recent SONA, he proclaimed to the world: “I have never denied, and the ICC can record it: those who destroy my country, I will kill you. And those who destroy the young people of our country, I will kill you. I will really finish you, because I love my country.” So, what about the PNP review of police abuses? So what about the need for full and firm commitment to the rule of law that he wants the world to do? “Char char lang.”

4. South China Sea

“The 1982 UNCLOS and the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea provide a clear path towards a just, fair, and win-win solution for all. The Award must be seen for what it is – a benefit across the board to all who subscribe to the majesty of the law.”

This is an ambivalent statement, at best, and a blatant lie, at worst — one that is said in front of an audience to boost one’s image. “Char lang”. In the recent SONA, he said: “What will I do with a document that does not bind China because they were never a part of that arbitration? There was really no arbitration at all because it was only the Philippines side who was heard.” “Sa usapang bugoy, sabihin ko sa’yo, ibigay mo sa akin, sabihin ko sa’yo: ‘P--ang in, papel lang ‘yan. Itatapon ko ‘yan sa waste basket.”

5. United Nations

“Democracy and transparency are concepts that reverberate in the halls of the UN. But ironically, the Security Council – the pinnacle of the UN structure – violates every tenet of these values. It is neither democratic nor transparent in its representation and processes… If the UN is to lead the world out of the many crises we face, things need to change. The UN must empower itself, by reforming itself. Therein lies the hope for humanity.”

In a true Duterte fashion, the blame for all the problems of the world is on others—the rich countries, the Middle East, and lastly, the UN itself.

In basic psychology, “projection” is to displace unacceptable feelings and impulses on others in an act of self-defense. It allows one to avoid confronting oneself, maybe also to defend one’s ego. A good offense is the best defense.

Edward Herman in Beyond Hypocrisy writes: “What is really important in the world of doublespeak is the ability to lie, whether knowingly or unconsciously, and to get away with it; and the ability to use lies and choose and shape facts selectively, blocking out those that don’t fit an agenda or program.”

As we have shown above, what you get is doublespeak. What one says outside is not really what happens inside, thus, the inconsistency, the insincerity, the vagueness, the blatant lie. In the language of the millennials — “char lang”. On second thought, mas maganda pa nga ang "char". It has no real life and death consequences.

Daniel Franklin E. Pilario, C.M.
Vincentian Chair of Social Justice
St. John’s University
New York