POSTSCRIPT / October 15, 2017 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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No fact-checking led to Du30 gaffe

AS WE have long suggested, statements of President Rodrigo Duterte must be written out, signed and notarized, and all his speeches preceded by a solemn oath that he would say nothing but the truth – so help us, gad!

That seems to be one quick way for the public – burned countless times by his false public statements — to start taking seriously the word of the President.

In the same speech Thursday wherein he told media to stick to truth and avoid propaganda, the President rained invectives on the European Union as he dignified and passed on the false news that the EU had threatened to expel the Philippines from the United Nations.

Cursing the EU for the imagined slight, the President angrily told the bloc to pull out their embassies in 24 hours, an unprecedented undiplomatic blast that triggered a flurry of urgent explanations all around – but no apologies from the fiery leader.

He left it to presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella to mop up the embarrassing mess.

Instead of explaining who fed the President the false information or why his coterie of expensive advisers failed to verify the reported EU “threat” and prevent his making that colossal faux pas, Abella obliquely blamed the media.

Duterte was not misinformed, his spokesman said, adding that the President was just reacting to what he had read. (Reacting on Twitter, @FDPascual said: “Mukhang nakuryente na naman si Presidenti. Kaya dapat, Sir, hinay-hinay lang.”)

Abella said: “It’s not a question of being misinformed. He was being fed the wrong information. So basically, it’s a lesson for us also to… for the need for critical reporting and reading of the news.

“The President reacted as any leader would when national sovereignty is violated. So, we call upon the… also for the media to heed his request too for correct reportage.”

Despite their limited resources compared to Malacañang’s gargantuan budget and network of advisers and trolls, the media reported events correctly. It was the President’s misreading of the news and his apoplectic knee-jerk reaction that did him in.

The basic information carried by mainstream media was clear enough:

>The advocacy director of the Geneva-based Human Rights Watch (not the EU) said in interviews that if the Philippine government continued to ignore the dire assessment of its human-rights record by UN Human Rights Council member-states, among the possible consequences is expulsion from the HRC (not the UN itself).

>On Monday, a delegation from the Progressive Alliance and the Party of European Socialists (not representing the EU) also called out the Duterte administration on drug-related killings, pointing out there could be “consequences” for the Philippines’ inclusion in the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP+) trading instrument of the EU if the country falls short of its obligation to uphold human rights standards. This could mean loss of preferential (zero or minimal) tariff for more than 6,000 Philippine products.

The media did not report that any EU country or countries threatened to expel the Philippines from the UN or to deprive it of its trade preferential treatment under the GSP+ scheme. (The Philippines is one of the 51 founding members of the UN that now has 193 member-states.)

After Duterte misinterpreted the disturbing reports and went berserk, the Department of Clarification went to work. Its repair job would have been unnecessary had the President done what he has been telling media to do – to seek and tell the truth.

• Duterte speech: A peek into dark side

WHILE the President’s invectives-filled speech at the relaunching of the Malacañang press briefing room provoked laughter in the Palace audience and caused consternation in Manila and European capitals, it also gave a peek into what lurks in Duterte’s mind.

He called EU members gago (fools) and stupid, challenging them to try expelling the Philippines from the UN. He boasted that such a move would not pass the Security Council where China and Russia sit as permanent members with veto powers.

Duterte loves to talk of his now being friends with Beijing and Moscow and of his vision of a China-Russia-Philippines axis “against the world.” The two communist powers have been polite enough not to comment on Duterte’s bid to gatecrash into the party of the big boys.

The President had space in his 4,500-word speech to mention his having received recently rifles from China and a shipment of assault weapons arriving from Russia this month. Btw, if Philippine exports to Europe slacken, he said, China would be there to absorb them.

Of the arms shipments, we said on Twitter: “There should be a way to monitor the guns from China and Russia. In a civil armed conflict, they might end up in the hands of one camp.” We suggested this in view of the violence and the divisive politics rending the country.

On dissent and destabilization, he said he would be happy “if they (the Reds and the Yellows) would start to merge under one command, itong mga komunista at mga Liberal at mga gustong paalisin ako” so “we can focus on you… this is not a threat.”

On the five-month-old war in Marawi, Duterte said: “If this were to happen in three or four cities in Mindanao, maybe one or two in the Visayas… I think this country would go into shambles. Alam ninyo ‘yan, maski dalawa lang.

Our reaction on Twitter: “I have a strange feeling he’s telling us what will soon happen — which will then justify martial law nationwide. And his staying on?”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 15, 2017)

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