Sep 12, 2018

 In a moment of obvious nonchalance, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque revealed the anticlimactic 1.5-hour dialogue between his boss Rodrigo Duterte and presidential legal adviser Salvador Panelo yesterday was simply the chief executive’s way of getting back at nemesis Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV.

Napunta lahat ng (media) mileage kay Trillanes while we were working in Israel and Jordan,” Roque complained. He referred to the President’s controversial trip to the Middle East last week where the chief executive met with leaders of the two countries.

The spokesperson said Mr. Duterte’s jealousy at the amount of coverage Trillanes enjoyed in his absence “was the only justification.”  The President’s “need… to be heard” treated the rest of us to a rambling marathon.

We go back to that word, nonchalance, because it seems to be the operative word for this administration.

Why the amnesty given to Trillanes is void, or not

Before leaving for the Middle East, President Duterte issued Proclamation 572 voiding another signed by his predecessor Benigno Aquino that granted Trillanes amnesty after leading at least two coup attempts against then President Gloria Arroyo.

Duterte said the amnesty given by Aquino was null and void since Trillanes failed to apply for it.  He added the military does not have documentation of any attempt by the rebel soldier-turned-senator to admit guilt for the mutinies he staged against Mrs. Arroyo.

Aquino and his defense officials quickly asserted Trillanes applied for amnesty which would not have been granted if he did not submit the proper papers.

President Duterte yesterday came up with new ammunition- this time saying it was not Aquino but his defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin who signed Trillanes’ amnesty paper.

The President stressed only a chief executive and not his subordinates could grant amnesty to military rebels.

Aquino hit back saying his office simply followed the process used by Arroyo and their predecessors Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, and Joseph Estrada.

Aquino also warned that if Mr. Duterte insists on his reasoning, it would follow that all other amnesties granted to “thousands” of rebel soldiers could be rescinded.

Unintended consequences?

Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Carlito Galvez, for example, was granted amnesty by President Ramos in 1996. Galvez, then a young lieutenant, was among the mutinous soldiers who joined the country’s bloodiest coup attempt against President Aquino in 1989.

Ousted Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno meanwhile, said stripping Trillanes of amnesty could set a precedent that could affect not only Galvez but also incumbent Sen. Gregorio Honasan who led the coup attempts against Mrs. Aquino.

We marvel at the ad hoc-ness of Malacañang’s justifications.  But wait, there’s more!

In the televised tete-a-tete with Panelo, President Duterte also cited “intelligence reports” presented by a “foreign government” that warned of an ouster plot. No details given, only a challenge to members of the military allegedly siding with Trillanes to go ahead and state a mutiny.

He also alleged Trillanes is now forging an unholy alliance with the political opposition and leftist groups to executive the ouster plan. Again, no details given.

An exasperated Jose Maria Sison of the Communist Party of the Philippines denied the accusation but hinted it could not be far-fetched given the “injustice (that is) so much, so gross” under the Duterte administration.

The President topped off his spree by dragging Trillanes’ mother into the fray saying the elderly woman, reportedly ill with Parkinson’s disease, bagged military contracts while her husband was on active duty.

Mr. Duterte’s tendency to offer bits and pieces of information, instead of tackling an important issue head-on is very disturbing.  Damage is done but is it warranted?

The effort to void Trillanes’ amnesty reeks of haphazardness and the lack of foresight, especially in the drafting of Proclamation 572.

It is a good thing the Supreme Court let this slip off its shoulders in the meantime.  The order for Trillanes’ warrantless arrest alone could set new dangerous precedents unseen since nationwide martial law ended in 1981.

The price of rice

Observers who endured the long-drawn televised talk also noticed one thing. President Duterte evaded the more important issues like the looming rice shortage, the uptick in food prices and the 6.4% inflation recorded in August.

Zeroing on Trillanes did not provide any solution to the gut issues. Worse, the marathon dialogue strengthened the impression of a deliberate effort not to discuss the concerns that people feel affect them more directly. Distract them with black propaganda instead.

Wasn’t this the same tactic applied to Sen. Leila de Lima who was accused of being a secret but high-profile drug distributor at the height of outrage against extra-judicial killings?

We can be consoled by spokesperson Roque’s day-after assurances that Malacañang is at least addressing inflation.

He said economic managers will submit a draft Executive Order to remove “administrative constraints and non-tariff barriers” to lighten requirements for the importation of rice, meat, and vegetables.

He also threw in big words like “better access to farming research and development,” “research and development of high-yielding crops” and “reassess farming seasons” among the plans of action.

But Roque eventually turned defensive, noting the “highest inflation rates” occurred during the time of President Corazon Aquino, “followed by” Ramos, Estrada, and Arroyo.

Maturity in leadership matters a lot. Especially in these times when a basic need like food is threatened by the promise of stratospheric prices or shortage because of climate change.

Persecuting one’s enemies does little at this point. Distracting the people with rhetoric and personal attacks does not cut it.  This is not mature leadership.  It is only the “showbiz” that the President’s special assistant promised.

 

Photo courtesy of Robinson Niñal, Jr./Presidential Photo. As published in Inquirer.

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TAGS: Duterte duterte panelo tete-a-tete panelo president duterte rodrigo duterte Trillanes