What Duterte said
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has just concluded his lengthy address to the nation which was conducted in the style of a chat with Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo. The much anticipated event that was initially billed as a formal address to the nation, had many speculating that Duterte was ready to declare a revolutionary government, martial law or even offer a resignation. In reality, Duterte offered multiple elucidations on his existing policies and his commitments to a continued fight against political terrorism, narco-terrorism and inflation.
A major theme of the discussion included Duterte’s views on mutinous “Senator” Antonio Trillanes who continues to hide in the Senate building in order to evade arrest. Duterte invoked his professional legal skills to explain that because former Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin signed the original amnesty documents for Trillanes, they are invalid as only the President him or herself can sign such an order. Duterte pointed out that the same is true in respect of declaring martial law. Such matters are not for Congress, the courts or the cabinet but for the President alone.
While Duterte highlighted the fact that far from “silencing” opposition, such people are openly criticising him and obstructing his government on a daily basis, that he welcomes a showdown with the unpopular but increasingly ferocious forces that seek to overthrow the legitimate government of The Philippines.
Duterte had previously warned that the yellows (Liberals) reds (NPA/communists) and elements of the military allegedly loyal to Trillanes are preparing to stage a coup against the government in October. Furthermore, Duterte stated that this information was given to him by a foreign power sympathetic with the plight of the Philippine government. Yet far from cracking down on the would-be traitors or declaring martial law as many expected, Duterte threw down the gauntlet and said that if the military would prefer Trillanes to rule, that he is ready to face an overthrow. However, Duterte further warned that Trillanes cares only for his own material wealth and has done nothing for the ordinary poor soldier. The Philippine President continued to invoke this theme throughout his conversation with Salvador Panelo. At one point he addressed soldiers and stated that if they think Trillanes cares about them “go ahead and kill me”. The President however warned not only of Trillanes’s selfish attitude but his dirty dealings with foreign powers during the administration of Noynoy Aquino while also revealing that the infamous “Senator” owns man large houses while doing nothing for the poor.
But while exposing Trillanes was a major theme of the conversation, Duterte also spoke of his desire to see the communist terrorist Jose Maria Sison brought to justice at long last while warning that if the Bangsamoro Organic Law is not enforced with total transparency, Mindanao could become a breeding ground for future terrorism. Duterte warned that as terrorist groups including Daesh are being defeated in the Arab world, they will look for places to re-locate with the clear implication that the people of Mindanao must be on guard against such infiltration.
Turning the issue of inflation, Duterte mercilessly criticised oligarchs hoarding rice supplies and creating an artificial shortage and accompanying price hike over and above current rates of consumer price inflation. Duterte further vowed to solve the crisis of increasingly un-affordable rice by any and all means necessary including through rapidly expanding imports. Because the National Food Authority (NFA) has failed in its duty to control the price of basic foodstuffs, Duterte stated that he intends to abolish the NFA council.
The Philippine President also revealed his intention to expedite plans to bring in a third national telco (telecom) player to The Philippines vowing that instead of chasing the lowest bid he will insure the best possible service for Filipinos.
Finally, Duterte stressed the importance of ending the scourge of narco-terrorism while reiterating that he supports the use of lethal force against narco-terrorists if such criminals put the lives of civilians or law enforcement in eminent danger.
What it all means
President Duterte’s message to the nation was one of calm statesmanlike professionalism at a time when forces opposed to the rule of law are becoming increasingly fixated on maddening provocations, the spreading of black propaganda and grotesque conspiracy theories. Duterte who was a lawyer in Davao before becoming mayor made it clear that he has no fear of Trillanes and his violent intentions but at the same time will not shrink from enforcing laws surrounding the amnesty deal that was conducted hastily and ultimately illegally by Aqunio’s cabinet.
Duterte exuded calm and competence at a time when those planning provocations are acting in the manner of those bewitched by terrorism, violence, political madness and personal hysteria. While Duterte was away last week on a major visit to Israel and Jordan, his enemies took advantage of his absence by turning the Senate into a literal asylum for the criminal element. Against this background, today’s conversation made it clear that not only is Duterte back, in charge and firm in respect of his commitments to the policies that got him popularly elected in 2016 but that his approach to lawlessness is not violence but an approach that effectively says ‘if your conscience is clean – come and get me. May the best man win’.
At a time when it could have been tempting to fight fire with fire, Duterte doused the flames of sedition with the water of legal clarity, stalwart patriotism, genuine affection for the people and a fatherly approach to a group of so-called politicians who behave like mentally deficient children. Duterte’s opponents lust for power and wealth. The Philippine President clearly cares only for clean and effective government while remaining in power more out of a sense of duty than out of any sense of ambition.