Allow me to reproduce a portion of what I wrote in an earlier article, published last year in another broadsheet. I wrote it without knowing that it will attract international (at least in Russia) attention.
“There is the President’s sartorial “non-elegance,” which endears him to the masa. He visibly disdains occasions where formal wear is de rigueur. He looks uncomfortable, if not irritable, attending formal state dinners, as during Asean and Apec summits, or state visits. You can see his discomfort wearing a suit. (At the recent UP Law Alumni Homecoming, I ribbed his chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo, who is known for sartorial taste, about the President’s loose necktie. Panelo’s explanation was that the President feels like choking if he tightens the collar of his shirt or his necktie.) He looks macho and at ease wearing a leather jacket and his signature checkered shirt.
This non-conformance with men’s fashion trends endears the President to ordinary Filipinos who have long been exposed to suave and sweet-talking leaders who wear dinner jackets over black bow ties but bring nothing to them but misery. Mr. Duterte is the kind of product that sells easily to the masa, who dominate our population.”
These thoughts crossed my mind because of the recent brouhaha over the picture of President Digong when he met last week with Russian Prime Minister Medvedev in Moscow. According to reports, in a Twitter by a Russian blogger, he criticized the manner President Digong wears his necktie over a loose collar of his shirt, describing him as “unkempt” and looking sloppy. The blogger also asked, rather rudely: “Did he drink all night?,” “Did he just leave the pub?,” “Do Filipinos know what a (state visit) protocol is?.” Russian Internet users had a field day reacting to it.
For a while, it was top issue in viral posts and threads on Facebook.
Fashion experts describe the normal way of using a necktie as Windsor knot or the “power tie” used for formal setting. It is a method of tying necktie named after the Duke of Windsor which “produces a wide symmetrical triangular knot.” Some claim it is part of protocol to exhibit such kind of appearance. And if one does his necktie in a sloppy way that will insult the host or the occasion.
But President Digong, in his usual “devil may care” attitude, had reasoned out that he dresses not to impress but for comfort. And he will not lose sleep if people look at or interpret the way he does his necktie in another light.
Sometimes people wear their attire to make a statement. On day one of former President Fidel Ramos presidency, he was pictured with a barong tagalog with rolled up sleeves. Observers interpreted it as FVR giving notice that he means business and raring to perform his mandate. It has become his trademark attire in public appearances. President Digong, likewise, prefers shirts with upper unbuttoned buttons again for comfort and macho look.
During annual President’s State of the Nation Addresses, while members of congress outdo each other wearing their “Sunday’s best” attire made by popular fashion designers, members of the Makabayan or progressive block don their attire usually with a design or knitted-words of protest against the establishment reflecting their advocacies.
Other foreign nationals wear attire during State banquets and formal occasions showcasing their political and cultural belief. The Iranians, for instance, wear a jacket or suit more often over a collarless white shirt without the corresponding necktie to show their non-conformity, if not disdain for the western culture. The same with our neighbors Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei who prefer a long-sleeved shirt of batik cloth in formal occasions, although most recently their national leaders prefer the western coat and tie but always with a kopiah (a Maranaw word) or head cap. The Arabs stand out with their traditional flowing white dishdasha or white robes but worn with white thin cloth called ghutra covering the head and a black cord called igal to hold it. And yet, nobody think its paux fas or violating dress protocol.
Perhaps, President Digong might consider wearing our signature national costume, the barong tagalog during special occasions when protocol requires strictly formal attire. If he visits a country in the Northern Hemisphere like Russia with sub-zero temperature climate, he can still wear it over doubled thermal underwear.
Simply put, attire does not define a good leader.