The argument between ABS-CBN and Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano over the ABS-CBN report, “To believe or not to believe President Duterte,” would not have happened had the senator been discerning enough to notice that the network was merely quoting the report of Agence France-Presse (AFP), the French international news service.
On December 14, 2016, AFP posted a news feature entitled, “To believe or not to believe the Philippine president.” Note the original title/headline. On its website, ABS-CBN clearly cited AFP as the source of its report.
AFP catalogue of DU30 statements
AFP opened the news feature in this fashion: “Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte frequently makes controversial comments that he or his aides later seek to clarify or quash completely.”
It then proceeded to catalogue some of Duterte’s statements and the subsequent clarifications made by his staff and cabinet, which often left journalists and the public confused about his actual position and thinking.
Among the statements singled out by AFP are the following DU30 quotables:
1. On Journalists as targets for assassination—Duterte told journalists in June: “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch.”
After UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern over the statement, Duterte’s then spokesman, Salvador Panelo, released a statement blaming the controversy on incorrect news reports. “The president-elect has not endorsed — cannot — and will never endorse extrajudicial killings, they being contrary to law…”
2. Death threat to human rights acrtivists—Duterte threatened in November to kill human rights activists because of their criticism of his crime crackdown that has seen police and vigilantes kill thousands of people:
He said: “Human rights (defenders) say that I kill. I said: ‘Okay, let us stop and let them (criminals) multiply. So when harvest time comes, there will be more who will die.’ I will include you in that because you let them multiply.”
The official explanation: Presidential spokesman Martin Andanar said human rights activists should not fear for their lives. “The President did not mean he would do that. It was just frustration he expressed through language. You know that is how the President talks.”
3. Splitting from the US—In an October address to Chinese businessmen in Beijing, Duterte declared his intent to end the Philippines’ decades-long alliance with the United States in favor of closer ties with China and Russia. He declared: “In this venue, I announce my separation from the United States.
“America has lost. I’ve realigned myself in your (Chinese) ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to (President Vladimir) Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”
The explanation: After Duterte said upon returning from China that he would not sever US ties, spokesman Ernesto Abella urged journalists not to take the president literally:
“Let us not be too literal. You’ve seen the way he speaks, so in other words watch and understand the context of what he says, okay?”
4. Leaving the UN—In August, Duterte said the Philippines may withdraw from the United Nations in response to UN criticism of his war on drugs.
“Maybe we’ll just have to decide to separate from the United Nations. If you are that disrespectful, son of a whore, then I will just leave you.”
The explanation: Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay quickly insisted the Philippines would remain with the United Nations: “The president was tired, disappointed, hungry when he made the statement. We must give him leeway. He is also human.”
Later, when reporters asked him about the issue, Duterte replied: “Can’t you take a joke?”
5. Warning Barack Obama—Before departing for the September Asean summit in Laos that was projected to include a bilateral meeting with US President Barack Obama, Duterte used foul language in warning the US president against criticizing his drug war.
“You must be respectful. Do not just throw away questions and statements. Son of a whore, I will curse you in that forum.”
The explanation: Duterte himself quickly released a statement expressing regret, after Obama cancelled their bilateral meeting: “While the immediate cause was my strong comments to certain press questions that elicited concern and distress we also regret it came across as a personal attack on the US president.”
6. Chatting with God—Duterte said in October he had spoken with God, who ordered him to stop swearing: “A voice said that you know: ‘If you don’t stop epithets, I will bring this plane down now.’ And I said: ‘Who is this?’ So, of course it’s God. Okay. So I promised God not to express slang, cuss words and everything.”
The explanation: After the story was widely reported in the Philippines and overseas, Duterte said he was only joking and ridiculed journalists for believing him: “Those idiots fell for it. I may not be a (law) bar topnotcher but I am not that stupid.”
Cayetano butts in with hammer and tongs
The AFP report is forthright and well documented; this may be the reason why Cayetano did not attempt to rebut it.
Senator Cayetano, who is not a member of the Duterte administration and only a Duterte ally in the Senate, took umbrage instead at ABS-CBN, and started castigating the network, but without knowing that in fact it was a foreign news service report.
He fired a letter to ABS-CBN and recited his own catalogue of past and future gripes against the network.
He griped about the network’s partiality to the administration of Benigno Aquino III. And he accused it of colluding with opposition moves calling on President Duterte to resign, and efforts to rebuild and unite the opposition.
Killing suspects and health concerns
I think the real point of the administration’s pushback is not to separate President Duterte from his past statements, but to put a distance between him and his most recent statements, which have made everyone nervous.
Among these statements are:
His statement before a business forum in Malacañang that while he was still mayor of Davao mayor of Davao City, he killed some drug and criminal suspects in order to embolden the city police force to kill at their jobs.
His revelation that he is suffering from multiple ailments, and that he wonders whether he can withstand the rigors of his job and finish his six-year term.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III and presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella say the public should not be concerned too much about the President’s health. Duterte can still perform tasks that other people his age would find hard or impossible to do.
Before his recent state visits, he was talking about problems and facing challenges.
But their boss was already thinking of something else. Upon returning from Cambodia, Duterte voiced his wish to be cremated after his death. No Libingan ng Mga Bayani for him.