Literal and Inferential Comprehension: Duterte's Statement on Rape

In basic education, interventions on reading  have been known to improve significantly literal comprehension. On the other hand, enhancing a child's inferential comprehension is much more challenging. The reason is simple. Making inferences often requires drawing a lot from the reader's knowledge. In addition, how we infer ususally depends on our own experiences. Take, for instance, a recent statement by the president of the Philippines that if his soldiers have raped three women, it would be on him. To this Reuters adds, "Duterte is known for his informal, no-nonsense style and his speeches are often loaded with profanity, threats and jokes about taboo subjects, which offend some, but are taken lightly by many Filipinos."

Above copied from Reuters

Duterte is trying to lift the morale of his soldiers who are currently fighting a terrorist group in the southern island of Mindanao. He has declared Martial Law and while exhorting his troops to do their job, he tells them not to commit abuses. In his own way, Duterte tries to make it clear to the soldiers that whatever they do, the president will be ultimately responsible. Before mentioning rape in his statement, Duterte makes it clear that abuses are not going to be tolerated, staing further that he will personally imprison anyone who commits violations.

Inferential comprehension is not only problematic for readers and listeners, it is likewise for writers and speakers. Words once spoken or written can take a life of their own. How a message is received depends on the recipient. Many Filipinos take the language style of President Duterte lightly. Often, when President Duterte makes remarks, he seems to be thinking that only his supporters and followers are listening. Mentioning rape is very offensive especially in the way President Duterte has used it in his speeches. There is obviously a much better way to communicate to soldiers that the president is ready to take responsibility and that he is accountable for all ramifications of his Martial Law imposition. We must be thoughtful of how people inferentially interpret what we say and write. I do hope that the soldiers are not taking Duterte's speech as saying that Martial Law comes with impunity. I actually think that soldiers do understand what Duterte really means. I hope his supporters do as well. At least, I have seen one who does: