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President of Philippines: God Told Me to Stop Calling People Sons of Whores

The president of the Philippines says God told him not to use swear words again.

In this photo taken on March 2, 2016, shows Davao City Mayor and Presidential Candidate Rodrigo Duterte raising a clenched fist during his campaign sortie in Lingayen, Pangasinan, north of Manila.
Rodrigo Duterte curses the pope's mother and jokes about his own infidelities, but many voters in the Philippines want to elect him president so he can begin an unprecedented war on crime. / AFP / NOEL CELIS / TO GO WITH AFP STORY: Philippines-vote-rights-crime-Duterte, FOCUS by Karl Malakunas        (Photo credit should read NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo taken on March 2, 2016, shows Davao City Mayor and Presidential Candidate Rodrigo Duterte raising a clenched fist during his campaign sortie in Lingayen, Pangasinan, north of Manila. Rodrigo Duterte curses the pope's mother and jokes about his own infidelities, but many voters in the Philippines want to elect him president so he can begin an unprecedented war on crime. / AFP / NOEL CELIS / TO GO WITH AFP STORY: Philippines-vote-rights-crime-Duterte, FOCUS by Karl Malakunas (Photo credit should read NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Last year, when Rodrigo Duterte announced his candidacy for president of the Philippines, he thought it might be fun to start with an anecdote. So, speaking to a crowd of his supporters, he began describing a traffic jam he witnessed when the Catholic pope visited the island nation in early 2015.

“It took us five hours to get from the hotel to the airport. I asked who was coming,” he recalled. “They said it was the pope. I wanted to tell him ‘Pope, son of a whore, go home. Don’t visit anymore.’”

And just like that, as the prospective leader of a majority-Catholic country, he had suddenly called the pope the son of a whore. He later — in a very un-Duterte-like fashion — apologized repeatedly for what he said was a “joke.” And he claims that after writing a letter directly to the pope to express just how sorry he was, the Vatican wrote back with “an assurance of prayers” on the campaign trail.

Well, those prayers apparently worked: He won the election in May. Since then, in addition to launching a shoot-to-kill program to wipe out suspected drug dealers, he has just kept calling other people sons of whores instead. He even went so far as to use the term to describe U.S. President Barack Obama, who then scrapped a scheduled meeting with him in return.

But now, thanks to divine intervention, he says you won’t hear him say it again. On Friday, after a brief trip to Japan, Duterte landed at the airport in his hometown of Davao and announced he would not swear again. “I heard a voice telling me to stop swearing or the plane will crash in mid-air, and so I promised to stop,” he told reporters. He then went on to say that he will no longer “express slang, cuss words, and everything,” adding that a “promise to God is a promise to the Filipino people.”

Let’s just wait and see how long it takes for him to break that promise. Even after insisting he would not swear again, he admitted “there’s always a time for everything, a time to be foul-mouthed.”

Photo credit: NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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