THE man was obviously pissed, coming out in black, responding to the backlash that went down after his May 31 news conference. And rightfully so.
Yes, there is no excuse to condone the killing of anyone, and certainly his statements can
be used to justify the killing of any and all journalists—which is reason to be alarmed by what he said.
But this statement: “Kaya namamatay dahil karamihan ‘yan nabayaran na, they take sides, or sobrahan nila ang atake, getting into [the]personal. Hindi lahat ng tao … kaming mga pulitiko okay ‘yan, praktisado kami, pero ‘yung ibang tao you go private, tapos hiyain mo, ‘yung anak babuyin mo, papatayin ka talaga. Eh gano’n eh. … It’s not because you’re a journalist you’re exempted from assassination.”
That statement is not all that he said. But it is these soundbites that get the most mileage. It riles the public up, it puts the man’s intentions and character into question. Toward what end? Your guess is as good as mine.
Not just context
With a President-elect like Rodrigo Duterte, there is every reason to take things out of context, because even context is rendered different: it is not merely the question that gave rise to his answers, it’s also the way he speaks, how he speaks, the questions before it and after it, and how this one question changed his tone.
This context is about understanding the framework of his opinion, which is premised on the specificity of his experience that requires that we follow his thought process, looking at the way he answered a question versus just the answers that we get.
When that question about media killings came up, I quickly took offense at his statement: “Kasi hindi ka naman talaga papatayin diyan kung wala kang ginawa, eh.” I took offense because I know it’s not true. There are journalists who are doing their jobs so well, and fearlessly, that they ruffle the feathers of those who imagine themselves untouchable and who respond to journalist questions with a bullet.
What kept me from shooting from the hip, though, were the lines that followed that statement, where I realized that, in fact, the President-elect was talking about a specific kind of journalist, who accepts bribe money, and then decides to continue bashing the person who had paid for the journalist’s silence.
Soon enough the president-elect articulated context: “There is still corruption sa inyong side. Marami ‘yan. … ‘Yang si Pala, harap-harapan ‘yan sasabihin kumulekta kami. Tapos sa kabila babanatan mo. ‘Yun. That is the best example kung bakit namamatay itong mga journalist. Kaya prangka-prangka. Karamihan gano’n.”
This part also made me realize that he was talking about a specific experience with a particular kind of journalist, and in the case of the President-elect, it was about the kind of reporter that one Jun Pala was.
Tangents and bigger pictures
Once that specificity was established, one also sees that he was working with a far larger picture than the question that was asked of him. The question was “What is your policy on journalist killings?” And he went on this tangent, based on what to him was the bigger picture that (1) killings happen to everyone, not just journalists; and (2) some journalists bring it upon themselves.
“Kasi nagtatanong kayo kung bakit pinapatay … do not make it appear that they are clean. Most of you are clean, but do not ever expect na itong mga journalist are all clean. Kaya namamatay dahil karamihan ‘yan nabayaran na, they take sides, or sobrahan nila ang atake, getting into [the]personal. … It’s not because you’re a journalist you’re exempted from assassination. ‘Yung premise mo kasi journalist siya, bakit patayin siya? It’s all wrong.”
Obviously, Duterte heard that question about his policy on media killings, and what he responded to were the premises of that question. So he debunked the premise by going into this tangent which, to me at least, sounded like he was putting into question the idea that journalists are more special than the rest of us.
As far as the President-elect is concerned, journalists are just like everybody else—some of them who are corrupt, a majority are clean, but the former deserve what they get from the enemies they make.
We might not agree with this perspective, but certainly it is more logical than the soundbites that were given mileage in the aftermath of this news conference.
The incoming President requires all of us to watch at attention—not just listen to his words, but also look at how he’s saying it, wait for those gems that explain exactly where he’s coming from, latch on to those, and do some follow-up questions. The better to understand him.
For example, after hearing Duterte speak of corrupt journalists deserving to die, why didn’t anyone in the media ask him: what about journalists who are not corrupt but are killed anyway? Why didn’t anyone ask him about the case of Gerry Ortega, for example, or the case of the journalists who got killed in the Ampatuan massacre? What is his policy on journalists like them?
Certainly Duterte would then have had to take a step back, repeat what he said that “Most journalists are clean,” and that these clean journalists, yes, they would be protected by his administration. At the very least he would have had to make a distinction between the corrupt and the non-corrupt, and then it would be clear that the stand he was taking on media killings is only consistent with his stand on corruption in general.
But the journalists in that room missed this opportunity, and revealed they do not really want him to flesh out his answers, nor do they know how to handle the President-elect.
And no, I don’t think the media’s being kind. I think they really are just unprepared for this kind of unscripted, un-spun news conferences, and they do not know how to handle someone who obviously doesn’t care much for propaganda that makes him look and sound good.
Now the President-elect has decided no more news conferences. And good for him. Because we obviously don’t get it, and we latch onto nothing but the controversial bits and pieces, not at all the policy statements and the bigger picture he creates.
We also don’t have a sense of humor: after he spoke in straight English, with a mock accent, about a metamorphosis happening to him once he is President-in-fact, complete with caterpillars blossoming into butterflies, a reporter asked: Sir, are you serious or would this fall under preposterous?
Well, if we had to ask that.