AN apparently “well-rested” President Rodrigo Duterte received the visiting Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Nikolai Patrushev, in Davao last Thursday, but thanks to the presidential spokesman’s rather clumsy statement, there is, yet again, some speculation about the President’s whereabouts during the last three days he was out of TV camera range. In keeping with the new standards of Philippine journalism, no major newspaper or TV network ever bothered to find out, on their own, exactly where the President was and exactly what he did; they merely quoted what the Palace spokesman said, without analyzing what was being said.
A short statement saying that the President took a few days’ rest should have been enough. But for all the stupid reasons in the world, Ernesto Abella tried to complicate it with so much unnecessary verbiage. “You have to understand that his schedules are really brutal and anybody would need to rest,” he said. “I am not saying that he took a health-related break. I said he is in Davao and if he’s resting there, then that’s also part of his—why he’s there. But it’s not a health-related break…The President has all the usual afflictions. But, however, you know he doesn’t have anything extraordinary. He’s in the pink of health considering his age.”
What’s wrong with this spokesman?
It is clearly “protesting too much,” if one may borrow from Hamlet. The only question here was about the President’s recent whereabouts. Instead of giving a short, simple answer, the spokesman talked gratuitously about DU30’s health, saying his “rest was not health-related.” This only succeeded in raising the very suspicions he was trying to avoid. Rest, by definition, is always health-related; we rest from work even when we are in the pink of health. What the spokesman obviously wanted to say was that DU30’s rest was not “disease-related,” but since no one had suggested it, there was no need to point it out. Now, people are talking about it.
This is the second time it happened in two months. After the New Year, when the President dropped out of sight for several days, Abella created a sensation when he said DU30 might have spent part of his holidays in Manila, contrary to Malacañang’s official line that he never left Davao. This yawning contradiction gave rise to reports that DU3O had, in fact, flown to Guangzhou to visit the world-famous Fuda Cancer Hospital. I raised this issue in my column, but instead of working on the story, on their own, the major media establishments either ignored it or simply quoted my column. I got bashed by an angry President for doing my duty, even after he finally confirmed that he had gone to the hospital, purportedly to have his childhood circumcision redone. Who will he be bashing this time, after Abella’s repeat performance?
Many of the President’s problems are clearly self-inflicted. The critics cannot be held to account for them. He alone can provide the solution by bringing in more competent men and women to perform the simplest chores for his government. The present crew clearly lack the proper formation and competence. Every Cabinet position is critical, but the spokesman is his first line of defense. Right now, he’s causing unnecessary trouble. Having held the job of press secretary, presidential spokesman and information minister for the longest time (10 years) for the most intellectually stimulating president the country ever had, I have been asked by pro-DU30 friends what I think should be done to help DU30 sort out this particular spokesmanship problem.
I have no expertise to offer and I do not presume to give advice. But it is quite obvious that the President and his appointees have a strange concept of government. They seem to believe that the government must be run solely by people from Davao or at least Mindanao, or from a particular sect, and that no extra qualifications are needed except that they get their daily inspiration and adrenalin from the President. If there was anything that distinguished the Marcos Cabinet from other Cabinets, I believe it was their shared deep understanding of and commitment to a common high vision of society and the State.
At 29, I was the youngest to be appointed. The President did not know me, and I did not know him either, but we agreed on what needed to be done, and on the day I took my oath of office, he said to me, “I will depend upon you,” and on the basis of that one sentence, I ran the information machinery of his government for the next 10 years. From all indications, it worked to the President’s satisfaction and the public interest, until I resigned my post on a matter of principle and my entire organization was abolished. That was probably a fluke, but I keep on looking for a similar working relationship and experience between the President and those who speak on his behalf. I am still hoping to see it. But there must first be a revamp. Donald Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn had to go after only 23 days in office, on a question of fitness; DU30’s non-performing aides have been there for the past seven months. Long overdue, Mr. President.
From the protest groups, a potent force
The absence of a political opposition has been a boon to the President while being a grave injury to the nation. It has allowed him to savage everyone who criticizes him with his bad mouth, and to wage a policy of kill, kill, kill without being held directly and immediately accountable to the nation under the Constitution or to the international community under the law of nations. The recent filing of criminal charges by the Department of Justice against former Justice Secretary and now Senator Leila de Lima and the presidential demonization of anti-DU30 Senator Antonio Trillanes IV as a “brigand” seem to remove the strongest possibilities of the Senate developing strong independent voices within it, and the bicameral Congress becoming less of the rubber stamp it has become of the DU3O administration.
But a mass-based Catholic-oriented opposition may be emerging from the nationwide protest movement against the extra-judicial drug killings. We saw the first signs of this last Saturday during the “Walk for Life” organized by the Catholic laity at Manila’s Rizal Park. Thousands from all walks of life trooped to the park in the first organized public manifestation since the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) called for an end to the killings in their pastoral letter of February 5, 2017.
Pro-DU30 defenders and trolls tried to portray the peaceful assembly as a “destabilization” effort of the Catholic Church, which has not escaped DU30’s foul invectives without any provocation. But organizers of the event tried to purge it of anything remotely hostile or antagonistic to the government. They called it “Walk for Life,” instead of “March for Life” which connotes political action, as in the March for Life in Washington, D.C., Paris, Warsaw, Ottawa, among others. These are spirited political campaigns against abortion, which has killed more unborn babies in their mothers’ wombs than all the fatalities in all the wars combined.
Walk for Life, not a march
For instance, the Washington March for Life, now on its 44th year, began after the US Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973, and has since drawn thousands of pro-life marchers year after year. This year, Vice President Mike Spence addressed the marchers at the National Mall on behalf of President Donald Trump whose first official act included restoring Ronald Reagan’s 1984 Mexico City policy, which bans the use of US funds to support abortion in foreign countries. In previous years, Reagan and George W. Bush had addressed the marchers. I get regularly invited to these marches and have attended a couple of them; they are all spirited, joyous and celebratory, but never “destabilizing.”
At the Rizal Park, Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan and CBCP President Socrates Villegas, speaking in Filipino, called on the assembly to renounce their fear of those who were trying to sow terror in their midst through the killings. The sun is rising, he said, there is hope, light will soon overcome the darkness. We need not be afraid, because God is with us and our trust in God should be stronger than our fear of the enemies of life.
Preaching non-violence to the victims
For his part, Manila’s Cardinal Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle called on the assembly to show strength of faith and character, while rejecting violence. “Lakas, hindi dahas” (strength, not violence), he said. Some marchers thought that since the peaceful assembly was not advocating any violence, the cardinal should have spoken more strongly against the state-sponsored violence that has already killed 7,000 or so suspected drug users and pushers in the last seven months. Non-violence should be preached to its perpetrators, not to its victims, one marcher observed.
Around the country the various religious communities, including Buddhists and Hindus, have all spoken against the killings. From Davao City, Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J., the president of Ateneo de Davao and known to be DU30’s longtime leading religious supporter in his home city, earlier sent out the following message: “If I must choose between going to hell with President Duterte in pursuit of the war on drugs in the Philippines or going to heaven with Archbishop Soc Villegas because neither he nor any of the Catholic bishops of the Philippines ‘find pleasure in the death of anyone who dies’ (cf. Ezekiel 18:32), I choose going to heaven with the CBCP, even if their company and their language is neither as colorful nor as entertaining as that of the President.”
In Metro Manila, the most impressive signs have sprung up around universities and religious institutions and the city walls, highlighting the Fifth Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” But at the Ateneo University in Quezon City and in other places, the signage has taken a much more urgent call: “Stop the killings! No to the Death Penalty!” From all these, I could sense a potent opposition about to be born among militant Christian patriots; after the city graffiti, the warm bodies and feet of marchers could follow soon.