The whole is not always equal to the sum of its parts.
This rings true in the case of the conflicting reports about what President Rodrigo Duterte actually told President Joko Widodo of Indonesia regarding the execution of Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipino woman on death row in that country for drug trafficking.
A report by Indonesia’s state news agency Antara on Monday quoted President Widodo as saying, “President Duterte has given the go-ahead to proceed with the execution.”
If that was the case, the report made the Philippine President and his Indonesian counterpart appear like heartless men salivating at the scent of blood from a human being who has claimed innocence on the drug charges against her.
It seems unlikely the two Presidents are what such reports pictured them to be. The local media mostly reported that what Duterte told Widodo was “Follow your own laws.”
Initial attempts by Palace officials to clarify what really stands as an official stance on the Veloso case did not help erase public confusion on the matter.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol, a member of the Philippine entourage in the Laos summit and Indonesian visit who was apparently trying to make sense of the report, said Duterte did not “greenlight” Veloso’s execution.
He knew it, he told radio dzMM also on Monday, because he was just “a meter away” from where the two Presidents were supposedly talking about the Veloso case.
Again, if that was the case, Pinol could not be the only Cabinet official who was present during the one-on-one between Duterte and Widodo and, therefore, could speak out on the controversy.
Pinol’s statement could have cleared the air but did not, because he was not the right Malacañang insider to speak about the issue.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr. made an effort the following day, Tuesday, to clarify the issue, saying there was no need to ask for clemency for Veloso because the execution had been deferred upon the Philippines’ request.
Pinol and Perfecto Yasay were one in saying that President Duterte would not interfere with the Indonesian justice system.
The last word on the controversy can best be said by no other than President Duterte himself.
On Tuesday, Duterte continued to talk about the law being the law, and he would respect whatever decision Indonesia reached on the case in the end.
“I just said, ‘We will respect the judgment of your courts, period,’” Duterte said in a speech before the members of the 250th Philippine Airlift Wing at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay. “It would have [left]a bad taste in the mouth to be talking about having a strong posture in drugs and here you are begging for something…. I’m sorry, I have nothing to apologize [for]because the law is the law,” he added.
Sed lex, dura lex was what Duterte was saying, whether it applied to the Philippines or Indonesia.
We are getting more familiar with the way our President talks, and we get it. But he does not belong only to the Filipino people. When he talks, whether on the international or local stage, other countries also listen, and he creates first impressions based only on the words that come out of his mouth. It would be a wise thing to be more circumspect in his next pronouncements, mindful that his words are alien to foreign ears and his real message could get lost in translation.