POSTSCRIPT / November 26, 2019 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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The lion isn’t ready for a Leni in his den

IT TURNS out that it is President Rodrigo Duterte who is not ready for Vice President Leni Robredo, whom he fired from her three-week-old position as co-chair of the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-illegal Drugs (ICAD) before he flew to South Korea yesterday.

In accepting the ICAD task on Nov. 6, Robredo said: “They have been asking me if I am ready for this job. My question is this — are you ready for me?” Now it seems that when she walked into the lion’s den, Duterte was not ready for her.

And when she did the unexpected (accepting the job that was widely seen as a trap to expose her supposed incompetence) and immediately went to work, she was, as presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo put it, treading on dangerous ground.

Robredo must have crossed invisible red dash-lines when she asked for the list of high-value targets of Duterte’s war on drugs. But how could she, as ICAD co-chair, help set policy and draw up strategy without knowing who the enemy is?

Denied access to the narcolist, Robredo proceeded nevertheless to meet with foreign officials on best practices of other nations’ anti-narcotics campaigns. Her talking to them riled Duterte, who warned her against leaking “state secrets.”

The lingering big questions are: What state secrets? What is Duterte hiding anyway?

Why is the President afraid to have the Vice President see what he is cooking? His spokesman answered with the cliché that if one can’t stand the heat in the kitchen, she should just get out. She refused to budge, so they kicked her out.

(We are waiting to see the official communication from the President telling Robredo he was firing her. It does not seem right to run government through Twitter and press releases.)

Dismissing Robredo will not dispel the stink — or wipe away the blood! — of the campaign targeting mostly petty users and hardly any of the big-time traffickers and drug lords, some of whom reportedly enjoy protection.

We live fully exposed in an ever-shrinking global village where there are hardly any more secrets. The “state secrets” on drugs playing in Duterte’s overworked mind are mostly open data already.

In fact, the officials of US federal agencies who recently met with Robredo may know more than she did of the narcotic situation in the Philippines, including the “high-value targets” whom the President wants to keep hidden.

Duterte is a seasoned politician sensitive to the shifting winds. In his foreign trips, he may have noticed already a political climate change in how his peers regard him.

Dignitaries used to gather around the tough-talking mayor-turned-president (“He was like a rock star!” his excitable press secretary once reported). But that curiosity has so waned that he now tends to avoid functions where he is not likely to get special attention.

His lack of polish or the odd way he dresses, talks and comports himself may have contributed to this. But we think it is more because fellow summiteers have seen up close his shallow depth and narrow expanse.

Electronic media have shrunk time and distance – giving the world audience a sharper focus on the man who promised to free his people from crime and poverty but apparently has faltered in the delivery despite his bloody shortcuts.

The rest of the gruesome and gloomy picture emerging after the midterm hump of Duterte is all there for everybody, including watchers abroad, to see.

Way out in New York, Broadway star Bette Midler mentioned Duterte as she twitted on the Trump impeachment hearing in the House:

“For Americans who think the impeachment hearings have nothing to do with them, think again. Want to leave the door open to a Hitler? A Stalin? A Castro? A Duterte? A Pol Pot? A Putin? An Assad? A Chavez? A Kim Jong Un? A Mussolini? A Mugabe? An Amin?” (Duterte was fourth in her top-of-head mention of a dozen strongmen!)

In the same House hearing, we caught Rep. Adam Schiff (D, California), intelligence committee chair, also mentioning the Philippines’ “mass extrajudicial killings” in his concluding remarks as presiding officer. There are dozens of other global concerns, but Duterte’s bloody EJKs made it into the US congressional record!

(The President, btw, did not take the train to Busan yesterday, but a jet to that South Korean city, to attend Korea’s 30th commemorative summit with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea stayed in the Palace as caretaker.)

• Aborted flight scary, but handled well

WE were watching the evening TV news Thursday on CBS and ABC when we saw a video shot from a plane window showing the right engine of Philippine Airlines flight PR113 spewing smoke and bursts of flames shortly after taking off at 11:45 a.m. for Manila from Los Angeles.

We checked with industry friends, who told us none of the 360 persons on board were hurt as the Boeing 777 jet returned safely to the airport. The passengers were offered meals and hotel accommodations by PAL and assisted in booking alternative flights.

The pilots’ expert airmanship and the aircraft’s technical integrity, plus the passengers’ cooperating with the cabin crew, helped place everything under control until everyone had safely disembarked through an airstairs.

Technical people said the Triple-Seven’s safety features and overall reliability are recognized. The troubled engine’s spewing smoke and flames, they said, is part of its way of releasing gases from a disrupted airflow.

Philippine Airlines flies 57 flights weekly to the US serving Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Honolulu and Guam. The Los Angeles-Manila long-haul normally takes 15.5 hours.

Josen Perez de Tagle, VP CorpComm of PAL, said yesterday they were awaiting the investigation report. He cited the “calm professionalism exhibited by our experienced flight and cabin crew, headed by Captain Triston Simeon and Purser Joanne Marie Dirige, in executing the unscheduled landing and taking care of our passengers.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 26, 2019)

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