MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – As the Philippines grapples with the rising number of coronavirus cases, President Rodrigo Duterte repeatedly lashed out at human rights lawyer Chel Diokno, outraged over the latter's efforts to defend individuals being investigated for social media posts related to the virus.
Barely 5 minutes into his late night public address on Friday, April 3, Duterte called Diokno a "lousy lawyer" and falsely accused him of "giving encouragement for people to violate the law."
Diokno earlier said he took on the case of one of the "dozens" of individuals summoned by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
"This is so important because there are so many complaints and I'm sure in the coming days there will be arrests made and a lot of complaints and a lot of lousy lawyers like Chel Diokno giving encouragement for people to violate the law," Duterte said.
The President then repeatedly hit Diokno throughout his speech – mocking his failed senatorial bid, poking fun at his appearance, and calling him an "intellectual liar."
"Itong si Diokno, kung magsalita parang janitor at saka tumakbo kang senador, eh hindi ka binoto ng tao. Alam mo kung bakit? Puwede kitang biruin? 'Wag kang magalit…. Kasi kalaki ng ngipin mo. Magsalita ka, kalahati ng panga mo lumalabas," Duterte said.
"Bakit gano'n, binabastos kita? Putangina, galit ako sa 'yo," he added.
(This Diokno, he speaks like a janitor, and when you ran for senator, no one voted for you. Do you know why? Can I joke with you? Don't get angry…. Because your teeth are so big. When you talk, your jaw juts out. Why am I rude to you? Son of a bitch, I'm angry with you.)
Why is Duterte angry? The President is seething over Diokno's actions which the former viewed as "causing disorder" during the coronavirus outbreak.
Diokno earlier said he took on one of the cases of those summoned by the NBI because he found it "inhumane."
The human rights lawyer called out the government for going after critics instead of focusing on eradicating the coronavirus which is putting Filipinos and frontliners at risk.
Diokno had also offered "tips" to guide people on what to do if they receive subpoenas from the NBI, and urged government officials to avoid being "sidetracked" by different people's statements on government efforts.
On Saturday, Diokno responded to Duterte's tirades on Twitter, urging him to just focus on the people's needs at this time.
"Balita ko pinatawag ako sa principal’s office kagabi. Tungkol daw sa ngipin ko (I heard that I got called to the principal's office last night. Regarding my teeth)?" Diokno quipped.
He added: "Mr President, may mga kliyente akong tinutulungan na tinitiis na ang sakit at gutom, ngunit wala akong sinabihang manggulo o lumabag ng batas. Okay lang na pag-initan 'nyo ako, pero tutukan 'nyo rin ang pangangailangan ng mga tao."
(Mr President, I have clients whom I'm helping who are enduring pain and hunger, but I never told anyone to cause trouble or break the law. It's alright if you target me but focus on the needs of the people as well.)
Why is the NBI investigating people? The subpoena to Diokno's client cites Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code which punishes the publication of "any false news which may endanger the public order, or cause damage to the interest or credit of the State."
Aside from this, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also signed a department order on February 4 authorizing the NBI to investigate "alleged deliberate spread of misinformation and fake news" related to the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act also punishes under Section 6 (f) the "creating, perpetuating, or spreading [of] false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media and other platforms, such information having no valid or beneficial effect on the population, and are clearly geared to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear, or confusion."
It is not yet clear if the NBI's investigations are all anchored on Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code or if the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act will be invoked at some point.