The many times Duterte and his Cabinet contradicted each other

Camille Elemia
The many times Duterte and his Cabinet contradicted each other
Rice supply, salary increases for teachers and soldiers, briefings on Chinese harassment in Ayungin Shoal, ban on Rappler – these are just some of the issues over which the President didn't seem to consult his alter egos before speaking

MANILA, Philippines – In President Rodrigo Duterte’s two years in office, he and his Cabinet have made inconsistent statements on certain policies.

Sometimes, Duterte’s actions left his Cabinet scrambling for ways to defend him. Other times, they contradicted each other, either due to lack of coordination or to their varying levels of knowledge about what the President was thinking.

There were also a few times when members of the Cabinet were able to convince Duterte to change his mind.

For example, in the issue of ratifying the Paris climate change deal, Duterte was up against a majority of Cabinet officials, who united to persuade him to sign it.

Duterte was publicly outraged by the “hypocrisy” of the international agreement since it asked even poor developing countries like the Philippines to cut down on carbon emissions when more prosperous industrialized countries were to blame for global warming.

But, in the end, as the President admitted in public, he budged in the face of a “near unanimous” vote by Cabinet officials for the ratification of the deal

Here are the times the President and his Cabinet contradicted each other.

Duterte vs Budget Secretary Diokno

If there’s one Cabinet secretary who has repeatedly contradicted Duterte, it is Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno.

In September 2016, Diokno refuted Duterte’s claim that the United States was “undermining” the local currency and that it was manipulating the peso’s value. The longtime Philippine ally had drawn the President’s ire at the time for its criticism on his drug war.

Instead, Diokno said the weakening of the peso was due to “rational behavior” of investors caused by the then looming increase of interest rates by the US Federal Reserve.

At present, the Philippine peso has reached a 12-year low of P53 to $1.

Diokno also contradicted Duterte on the issue of the National Food Authority (NFA) rice, when he said high rice prices were partly caused by the NFA’s incompetence. Duterte has been backing NFA Administrator Jason Aquino on the issue, even choosing the latter over a more experienced official and his friend, Leoncio Evasco Jr.

In January, Diokno also countered Duterte’s promise of a salary increase for public school teachers. Duterte earlier pledged to double their salary through the second tax reform package, but Diokno said the second package is designed to be “revenue neutral,” meaning it’s not meant to increase government income.

The budget chief said the salary hike would not happen this year as there are no funds from Congress. He also warned that doubling the salaries of some 880,000 public school teachers would cost the government an additional P343.7 billion.

“Doubling teachers’ salaries will cost an additional P343.7 billion, which is 2% of the GDP (gross domestic product). Our plan is 3% deficit to GDP all the way to 2020 – it will increase our deficit to 5% rather than 3%, which will make the public sector deficit unmanageable,” Diokno earlier said.

Duterte vs economic managers

On the issue of free tuition, Diokno and other economic managers Ernesto Pernia and Carlos Dominguez III opposed the measure, saying the government has no funds for it. But, in the end, President Duterte still signed the bill into law. (READ: Mr President, before signing the law on free college tuition, please read this)

Duterte’s economic managers had said the law would benefit mostly middle-class to high-income students who make up the majority of college students. 

Such a policy, they said, could kickstart an exodus of students from private colleges and universities to state-run ones, which could ultimately affect the overall quality of tertiary education. (READ: Free tuition in state colleges: When CHED officials clash)

But Malacañang said that the President was convinced the benefits of the bill outweighed its hefty cost. (READ: Economic experts ‘disappointed’ after Duterte OKs free tuition in SUCs)

There was also a time when Pernia, asked about Duterte’s decision to reject European Union aid that came with strings attached, quickly said he was not consulted on it and the decision should not be taken as policy. (READ: DFA, NEDA clueless as PH rejects new EU grants)

Another issue that economic managers and Duterte disagreed on is the proposed P2,000 Social Security System (SSS) pension hike.

Diokno and Dominguez sought to convince Duterte that approving the raise would endanger the agency’s funds in the long term – the reason shared by the previous Aquino administration.

But the President, backed by some Left-leaning Cabinet secretaries, insisted on it. In the end, Duterte approved a P1,000 increase starting 2017. The other half is projected to be given by 2022, subject to conditions.

Duterte vs spokesman Roque, other Palace officials


After Duterte banned Rappler from the Malacañang complex, he and senior Palace officials could not seem to agree on why exactly the ban was imposed. (READ: TIMELINE: Malacañang’s evolving statements on Rappler ban)

A day after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked Rappler’s registration, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Rappler could still cover Malacañang as the news organization’s corporate personality is “separate” from “the exercise of the profession of journalism itself.”

But after a Senate hearing on the controversial frigates deal, where Special Assistant to the President Bong Go accused Rappler of publishing “fake news,” Rappler was banned from entering Malacañang’s press working area.

Roque again said Rappler could still cover the Palace and he was not informed of the order. However, a few hours later, a senior Palace official said it was Duterte himself who gave the order.

Roque this time said the order against Rappler was purely due to the SEC ruling, but that evening, Duterte admitted he himself banned Rappler because of his anger over its “twisted” reporting.

Meanwhile, Duterte and Roque recently had inconsistent claims on rice self-sufficiency in the country.

On June 13, Duterte said he did not believe the Philippines can achieve this goal, and that Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol’s target to make this happen by the end of 2018 was just a “story.”

“If you’d ask me in the next how many years, we will just have to import rice. I do not believe we can be rice-sufficient,” Duterte said.

But the following day, Roque said he did not know what basis the Chief Executive had for declaring rice self-sufficiency impossible.

The spokesperson then claimed that the President only meant that he wasn’t confident rice self-sufficiency could be reached this year, but that it remained a long-term goal of the administration.

“We will forever aim to be rice-sufficient. All administrations want to be rice-sufficient,” said Roque on June 14, during a Malacañang press briefing.

Later that day, however, Duterte said: “Do not ever believe we will be rice-sufficient because there will never be a time na aabot ‘yan sa mundong ito (that it will happen in this lifetime).”

Duterte vs Foreign Secretary Cayetano

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told lawmakers that President Rodrigo Duterte was briefed about the harassment of Philippine Navy personnel by a Chinese chopper in Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal).

“We filed a protest regarding that. We had a meeting. The President had strong instructions,” said Cayetano during a congressional hearing on May 30.

A week later, Duterte denied knowing about the incident.

“I don’t know about that incident. I was busy talking to Korean officials. What kind of harassment?” he said on June 6, in a press briefing held upon his arrival from Seoul.

“I, I, I, I have to have a more, not even a – this is the first time I’ve heard of it. It would be dangerous for me to answer questions without really having the slightest idea of what it is all about,” Duterte said.

It is, however, unlikely that Duterte, the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the chief architect of the country’s foreign policy, was not informed about the alleged harassment in Ayungin Shoal that supposedly happened on May 11.

A well-placed source told Rappler that Duterte, during a May 28 confidential meeting with Cayetano and Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sta Romana, expressed concern for the harassed Philippine Navy soldiers.

The source said Duterte was also briefed about the Ayungin Shoal incident and was updated on Pag-asa Island and other Philippine-held features in the West Philippine Sea.

Under Duterte, the Philippines has grown closer to China, even allowing the Asian giant to explore waters and territories under the Philippines. Recently, a Chinese military aircraft landed in the President’s hometown of Davao City.

The most recently reported incident between the two countries involves the China Coast Guard taking the catch of Filipino fishermen in Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal). (READ: To prove fruits of PH-China ‘friendship,’ Roque brings fishermen to press briefing)

In October 2017, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) under Cayetano also refuted Duterte’s claim and said there was “no new offer” of money from the United Kingdom. This was after Duterte said he had “refused” $18 million to $20 million from the UK, as he lashed out again at European countries.

But despite this clarification from the DFA, Duterte still insisted there was such an offer.

Despite the inconsistency, Cayetano defended Duterte, saying the DFA’s statement did not mean the President was wrong. Cayetano said it was possible that the supposed offer was made to other departments or agencies without the knowledge of the DFA.

When asked which department the aid was offered to, Cayetano just said: “I don’t know, but that’s my point. If you’re going to always look at the details, he said a hundred things, you’re going to look at the details of one thing, you won’t understand each other.”

Duterte vs Cabinet Secretary Evasco

While Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr is a longtime friend of President Duterte, the two have contradicted each other on how to solve the issues at the NFA as well as the country’s rice supply.

Duterte has sided with NFA Administrator Jason Aquino amid allegations of corruption and mismanagement against the latter. Evasco headed the NFA Council until Duterte replaced him with Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol.

Evasco had even previously prepared a confidential memorandum to Duterte detailing how Aquino had allegedly diverted P10 million worth of NFA rice meant for typhoon-prone Eastern Visayas to private Bulacan rice traders. But to no avail.

Duterte also heeded Aquino’s wish for government-to-government (G2G) rice importation. Evasco and the rest of the NFA Council had rejected Aquino’s previous requests for G2G approval since Filipino farmers had a good harvest at the time, and the council preferred to buy rice locally.

If importation was necessary, the NFA Council preferred government-to-private (G2P) importation where rice was imported through private importers.

In June, Duterte said he took away a Cabinet member’s powers because he was “too short-sighted” on the issue of rice supply and was engaged in a “turf war” with other officials. Duterte did not name the official involved, but he was likely referring to Evasco since the latter was eventually replaced in the NFA Council.

“We had a bit of a trouble here. I had to cut some powers of Cabinet members for just being too short-sighted or jumping into each other’s territory, turf war,” said Duterte.

Duterte vs Justice Secretary Guevarra

Recently, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra overturned the Bureau of Immigration (BI) forfeiture of the missionary visa of Australian nun Sister Patricia Fox.

Duterte himself admitted ordering the investigation against Fox for “disorderly conduct,” saying that she deserves to be barred from entering the Philippines.

“Huwag mo papasukin kasi walang hiya ang bunganga ng madre na ‘yan (Don’t let her in because that nun has no shame),” said a fuming Duterte on April 18.

Duterte claimed Fox criticized the Philippine government and that her supposed remarks constitute a “violation of sovereignty.”

But in a resolution issued on June 18, Guevarra said immigration laws do not empower the BI to forfeit visas.

“Just because visa is a privilege does not mean that it can be withdrawn without legal basis. The BI cannot simply create new procedures or new grounds to withdraw a visa already granted to a foreigner,” he said.

But Guevarra’s resolution still left open the possibility of Fox’s visa eventually getting canceled. The Department of Justice (DOJ) ordered the BI “to ascertain whether the charge and the evidence against Fox make out a case for visa cancellation, for which specific grounds are stated in the law.”

Roque said Malacañang respects the DOJ decision.

Duterte vs chief peace negotiator Bello

On February 4, 2017, Duterte announced that he would be scrapping peace talks with communist rebels, blaming the latter for this development. He made the announcement a day after he lifted the government ceasefire to match the declaration of the New People’s Army (NPA).

On February 16, however, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, the government’s chief negotiator, said the peace process was “still alive.”

It was only 9 months after, in November, when the President formally terminated the peace talks by signing Proclamation No. 360.

Amid calls for resumption of the negotiations, officials have said Duterte is not yet ready for it. The President has, in fact, postponed the meeting, which was scheduled to take place on June 28. He, however, previously floated a July date for it. (READ: Military asks Duterte for 3-month postponement of peace talks)

Duterte vs Defense Secretary Lorenzana

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is among the Cabinet members who can contradict Duterte in public and get away with it.

Amid Duterte’s repeated promises, Lorenzana has told soldiers not to be “too optimistic” about a salary hike.

While Duterte has grown fonder of China, Lorenzana has continuously exerted effort to keep the Philippines’ ties with the US intact. He is supposedly among the major voices who convinced Duterte to allow Philippine-US military exercises, albeit with some changes so as not to anger China. (READ: Duterte’s pivot to China won’t be easy for Americanized PH military)

He also defended the presence of a US warship near Panatag Shoal, in the wake of protests from China over what it called a violation of Beijing’s sovereignty.

He also publicly cleared Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, Duterte’s nemesis, from reports that the former mutineer was plotting to destabilize the government.

Despite this, Duterte still insisted that the “yellows” or members and allies of the Liberal Party, as well as communist groups, were working for his ouster. – with reports from Pia Ranada/

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email