President Rodrigo Duterte earlier this week hit the headlines not only in the Philippines but also in the international media after a profanity-laced tirade when asked about a possible meeting with United States President Barack Obama.
Duterte had said that Obama would be in no position to question the Philippines' human rights record since the US also had issues as regards rights violations but the invectives have been widely blamed for the US side canceling the bilateral meeting between the two leaders.
"You must be respectful. Do not just throw away questions and statements. Putang ina, mumurahin kita diyan sa forum na iyan. Huwag mo akong ganunin," Duterte said.
His comments sparked a firestorm of debate in social media over whether he cursed out at Obama.
Interestingly, the Supreme Court in a March 1969 decision ruled that the phrase "putang ina mo" was not slanderous and should not be taken literally as an attack on the virtues of a mother.
"This is a common enough expression in the dialect that is often employed, not really to slander but rather to express anger or displeasure. It is seldom, if ever, taken in its literal sense by the hearer, that is, as a reflection on the virtues of a mother," said the ruling, which was penned by then Associate Justice Querube Makalintal, who later became Chief Justice.
The justices at the time arrived at the decision after Rosauro Reyes, a terminated employee of the Navy Exchange, Sangley Point, Cavite City, questioned his conviction by a local court for grave threats and oral defamation.
SC records showed Reyes led a rally on June 6, 1961 outside the main gate of the United States Naval Station at Sangley Point against Agustin Hallare and a certain Frank Nolan, whom he both accused of causing his dismissal.
They carried placards bearing statements such as, "Agustin, mamatay ka;" "To, alla boss con Nolan;" "Frank do not be a common funk;" "Agustin, mamamatay ka rin"; "Agustin, Nolan for you;" "Agustin alla bos con Nolan;" and "Agustin, dillega, el dia di quida rin bo chiquiting."
After the rally, Reyes, along with his supporters, motored to Agustin's house, where he wasted no time making crude remarks against the naval station personnel.
"[H]e shouted repeatedly, 'Agustin, putang ina mo. Agustin, mawawala ka. Agustin lumabas ka, papatayin kita.' Thereafter, he boarded his jeep and the motorcade left the premises. Meanwhile, Hallare, frightened by the demeanor of Reyes and the other demonstrators, stayed inside the house," the SC said.
Hallare then filed cases and got favorable rulings from Cavite City court and the Court of Appeals, which Reyes contested before the SC.
Defending Reyes' utterance of "putang ina mo," the SC said this "should be viewed as part of the threats voiced by" the dismissed employee against Hallare, "evidently to make the same more emphatic."
The SC, however, upheld Rosauro's conviction for grave threats, citing the protest actions outside the naval station and Agustin's house, threatening statements, and "persistence in trailing Hallare in a motorcade up to his residence."
Explaining the implications of the 47-year-old decision, Public Attorney's Office chief Persida Acosta said one could "not be criminally liable" by just uttering "putang ina mo."
"The culture and language manners were considered by the SC. May mga lola at lolo noon pa ay matuwa, magalit ay may expression na 'yan kahit kakasimba lang," Acosta said in a text message to GMA News Online.
Former Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Edilberto Sandoval agreed.
"The SC said it's a common expression among Filipinos without any intent to defame a person to whom it is directed," he said, noting the high court sustained such ruling in similar cases. —NB/JST, GMA News