President Rodrigo Duterte tried to convince soldiers to cool their anger as tensions roiled over the shooting of Army intelligence officers by police in Jolo, Sulu.
In his first public event since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a mask-wearing Duterte visited military commanders of the Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City to promise justice for their slain brothers.
Much of his speech was spent asking the generals to "calm the waters" and move on from the incident.
"Bakit ipauna 'nyo ang galit 'nyo (Why put your anger first), forgetting there is a more important task to do and that is to protect the people of the Philippines? Let us not lose sight of that reality," he said at the Edwin Andrews Air Base.
Duterte, commander-in-chief of both the military and police, appealed to soldiers not to seek vengeance.
"Kung gusto 'nyo mag-resbak (If you want to take revenge), then go ahead, I cannot stop you. But also, at the end of the day, just give me one answer: Did the country benefit from furthering the violence?" said Duterte.
'Gusto mo rin pumatay ng pulis (You also want to kill police), for what? Would it make the 4 officers come back to life?" he added.
The President asked for their "understanding" and stressed his "love" for both the military and police, even claiming he offered to resign when senators supposedly tried to block his bid to increase their take-home pay.
Like a father between two quarreling siblings, Duterte said the military and police need each other.
"We need the police out there because you take care of the insurgency and the more serious problems of the country involving law and order. These police, they have a purpose, and we need them. The Republic of the Philippines need them," said the President.
While he admitted he was saddened and angered by the shooting, he stopped short of blaming the police.
"Huwag ninyo isipin na 'yan rin ang gusto ko. Kasi may nakita akong mali, mag-neutral na lang ako sa salita ko, but I have my own misgivings about the whole thing. But pending the release of the investigation of the NBI, we all must just keep our silence and hope that the NBI would find the truth for us," said Duterte.
(Don't think that this is what I want. I saw something wrong, I will be neutral in my words, but I have my own misgivings about the whole thing.)
He vowed the NBI probe would be impartial.
"I'm giving you my word of honor that the investigation will proceed to find out the truth unfettered, unbridled by anybody," said the President.
He then reminded soldiers of the "real enemy," the communist rebel group New People's Army and the terrorist and bandit group Abu Sayyaf.
What happened? Four days before Duterte's talk to troops, 4 Army intelligence officers were gunned down by police in Jolo.
The police claim the military officers had guns and were shooting at them, hence they retaliated in self-defense.
But the military, insisting the soldiers did no such thing, claim it was murder.
Duterte is caught between two institutions his presidency is greatly dependent on – the police who implement his campaign against illegal drugs, and the soldiers who run after communists and terrorists.
A significant chunk of his Cabinet are retired military generals who got their wish just hours earlier, when Duterte signed their pet bill, the anti-terrorism law.
The measure, now officially Republic Act No. 11479, is supposed to boost government powers to catch terrorists but is feared to contain provisions that can be used to target critics and stifle legitimate dissent. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.