Published on November 29, 2016.
At a forum hosted by the Asian Media Information and Communication Center last Friday, I had a chance to paint a picture of the conditions journalists labor under when covering President Duterte. With Marites Vitug’s own take, it was meant to prompt discussion:
President Duterte is an unusual subject, different from most other presidents, in many ways. A large part of the challenge of covering him can be explained by these differences. Let me cite four related pairs of unusual.
He was a truly reluctant candidate. This helps us understand why, six months after the election, he can still startle with unexpected talk about his readiness to give up his post. He is the only president who speaks of resigning if certain policies are already set in place, who talks of sitting down with alleged coup plotters, who pledges to leave the presidency if his critics can meet certain (admittedly impossible) requirements.
At the same time, he is the one president who is fully committed to use the full range of presidential powers, the one who casually mentions imposing martial law or suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, who threatens to marshall legislative consensus to abolish an office created by law, who readily takes to the bully pulpit to name suspect oligarchs or suspected criminals.
Published on October 11, 2016.
Last April, ex-President Fidel Ramos told me and a few others, with a twinkle in his eye, that he was voting Ro-Ro: not Roxas-Robredo, but Rodrigo Duterte and Leni Robredo. It was about time we had a president from Mindanao, he said. He also said he felt partly responsible for the Duterte candidacy because he had encouraged it as far back as the early 1990s, when he was president.
This is a debt of gratitude Mr. Duterte recognizes. The very first words he said at his inaugural address were in honor of his benefactor: “President Fidel Ramos, sir, salamat po sa tulong mo (thank you for your help) making me President.”
On the 100th day of his presidency, Mr. Duterte received a startling gift from Ramos: a strongly worded column in the Manila Bulletin, summing up the first 100 days as “Team Philippines losing badly.” Continue reading
Column No. 400. Published on July 12, 2016.
IS FOREIGN Secretary Perfecto Yasay a traitor in the making? I may be wrong, but I think the existing jurisprudence holds that treason is a wartime offense; since we are not at war with China, Yasay’s pro-China remarks cannot be treasonous. To quote from Justice Gregorio Perfecto’s influential concurring opinion in Laurel vs Misa: “While there is peace there can be no traitors. Treason may be incubated when peace reigns. Treasonable acts may actually be perpetrated during peace, but there are no traitors until war has started.” Perhaps Yasay’s treason is only in incubation.
The accusation has been leveled at him with increasing frequency since his startling interview with the Manila bureau of Agence France-Presse over the weekend, when he seemed to have adopted an appease-China-at-all-costs policy. He or his office has since issued at least two rejoinders, to clarify his position. In response, AFP released a copy of the transcript of the interview.
It makes for upsetting reading.
The overall impression it makes—I speak for myself and apparently for many others who took to their social media accounts after reading the transcript—is that of an agent who seems to mouth the talking points, but does not understand the objectives, of the principal. In this case, the principal is not President Duterte but the Philippines itself.
The following passage from Barack Obama’s inaugural address (solid, but without Lincolnesque lift, as I hope to discuss one of these days) must have been aimed at the Putins and Mugabes, but I won’t be surprised if Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will find herself perceived (by her critics and perhaps by others too) as being in the subset of the admonished.
To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.