Controversial Duterte? ‘Remember, he’s strategic’ – Cayetano

Bea Cupin

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Controversial Duterte? ‘Remember, he’s strategic’ – Cayetano

Manman Dejeto

The president-elect's losing running mate comes to Rodrigo Duterte's defense amid a string of controversies sparked by statements he made

DAVAO, Philippines – The losing running mate of president-elect Rodrigo Duterte on Friday, June 3, downplayed the controversies surrounding the next president, telling media to “remember that [Duterte is] also very strategic.”

“As far as ‘yung mga press con na contentious…remember that he’s also very strategic. Remember ano sabi niya: pag ‘andoon na siya sa Malacañang, iba na. So he wanted to deal with the problems in the Philippine media,” Cayetano told reporters on Friday night during a chance interview in the city.

(As far as his contentious press conferences…remember that he’s also very strategic. Remember what he said before: that once he is in Malacañang, things will change. So he wanted to deal with the problems in the Philippine media.)

Duterte recently became the center of controversy for a statement he made during his first press conference post-proclamation.

In a late-night media briefing, Duterte was asked about what his administration would do in response to media killings in the country. He went on to narrate how some slain journalist were corrupt and thus legitimate targets of assassination.

A day after, in another press conference, Duterte went on to explain that there were 3 kinds of media practitioners: the honest kind, those with vested interests, and the “vultures.” It’s the vultures, he said, that were killed because they did something wrong.

Though he conceded that honest journalists were also targets because of what they report, it’s part of the risks of the job. “What can I do?” he said at the briefing on Thursday night, June 2.

The Philippines is among the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. Duterte’s statement has sparked an outcry from both local and foreign journalists.

“Just like the executive, judiciary and the legislative, may corruption rin talaga sa media (there is corruption in media). Having said that, ‘pag pangulo ka na at binanggit mo iyan (when you’re president and you say that), where do you draw the line between an objective criticism of the media and you’re criticizing because tinitira ka (you’re being hit by media)?” said Cayetano, who was in Davao City to attend a thanksgiving celebration for Duterte.

Duterte’s pronouncements on media corruption and media killings, said Cayetano, should not be seen as an “attack” against press freedom because Duterte was only “president-elect and not president.”

‘Biased media’

Cayetano then segued to the biases against Duterte that, he said, continued to persist in media almost a month after the elections.

Napansin niyo, di ko na sasabihin anong estasyon…two days ago may isang istasyon ang nilagay nilang bold print sa broadcast nila… the Duterte-Robredo administration. May nakita na ba kayo na Aquino-Binay administration? May nakita ba kayong Aquino-Laurel noong panahon na iyon? O Ramos-Estrada? Wala. So until now there are media outfits, TV stations who favor either the Liberal Party of favor their candidates.”

(If notice, and I wont mention the station anymore. Two days ago there’s a TV station that out in bold print on their broadcast: The Duterte-Robredo administration. Have you ever seen any media outfit say Aquino-Binay administration? Did you see media call it the Aquino-Laurel administration? Or the Ramos-Estrada administration? None.)

Cayetano added: “So rather na tirahin ng ating presidente ng diretsahan, he is bringing it to the bigger picture na gusto niyang maayos ang society natin (So instead of our president hitting that station directly, he is bringing it to the bigger picture because he wants to fix our society).”

Duterte and Cayetano both hinged their campaign on the promise of change.

Even before he ran for president, Duterte has long been controversial for his tough stance against crime and for his alleged links to a renegade group of vigilantes in Davao City.

Duterte has either denied or confirmed his links to the so-called “Davao Death Squad.”

The outgoing mayor’s statements about media killings, said Cayetano, should not have been seen as controversial. He pinned the blame on media for supposedly focusing only on the negative.

“There’s only one excuse, justification for killings….If the life of the law enforcer is in danger, right? If you’re a civilian, it’s self-defense. Otherwise, there’s no excuse for murder. So you don’t have to say media killings. Even if that’s a child, someone old, poor, Lumad, Christian or Muslimi…f that person is murdered, you need to find the perpetrator and you must revolve the case,” Cayetano said in a mix of English and Filipino.

During a press conference earlier this week, Duterte cited the example of Davao journalist and politician Jun Pala, who was gunned down in 2003.

“The example here is Pala. I do not want to diminish his memory but he is a rotten son of a bitch. He deserved it,” said the mayor, who also described the slain journalist as critical of him.

Duterte told the media that he knew who was responsible for Pala’s murder. Yet, he did not do anything to put the mastermind and the killers behind bars, as pointed out by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP), among other media groups.

But for Cayetano, Duterte merely went into an “intellectual discourse about the different kinds of killings.”

Future policy

Duterte had earlier promised to change once he takes his oath on June 30. Cayetano insisted this is sure to happen.

“So the president says, ‘I have 30 days bago umupo [so] ngayon ko ilalabas ang mga issue na ito.’ He does not have to explain always his strategy….Pero nakikita ko na magbabago lahat ng ito once ‘andoon na siya sa Palasyo and it’s an official, presidential briefing,” said the senator.

(The president says he has 30 days before he’s officially sworn in so I’ll bring up these issues now. But I see that things will change once he’s in the Palace and it’s a official, presidential briefing.)

In a separate chance interview the same night, Duterte’s executive assistant Bong Go told media that the president-elect would no longer hold press briefings and will instead release press releases and grant interviews through state-run PTV4.

Go said this was to make sure “no mistakes” would happen.

And while Duterte, his team, and Cayetano will insist the incoming president is speaking freely simply because he has yet to take on the full-time job of the presidency, there are those who have expressed worry because his pronouncements now may turn into state policy later.

In a Friday statement, vice president-elect Leni Robredo emphasized that Duterte’s statements and actions are “taken as an indicator of official policy” because of the “power and prestige of the presidency.”

Cayetano said this was the “challenge of communication.” Referring to Duterte’s late-night interviews with media who trail him, Cayetano said: This isn’t an ordinary press con. This is a conversation with the Philippine media. This is a conversation with your bosses. A conversation with your editors, a conversation with society. So bear with him, walang magpepersonal (don’t take it personally).”

Besides, change isn’t easy, said Cayetano.

“Of course kung ikaw mismo yung reporter na pinagsabihin, ikaw emotional (if you’re the report whom he calls out, you’ll be emotional). Siya emotional rin pero (He is emotional too but) there is a deeper message in all of this which is: paano ba natin sabay-sabay babaguhin ang atin bansa (how will we work together in changing this country). And change hurts, by the way,” he said.

Duterte did not make a public appearance on Friday but he is expected to deliver a speech during a thanksgiving celebration in the city on June 4. –

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.