Advice from Duterte’s best and brightest

Sen. Francis Pangilinan recently noted, correctly, the “terrible advice” received by President Duterte regarding the crisis that has low-income Filipinos scrounging for rice from Zamboanga to Cebu to Metro Manila and various points in between. This crisis bears heavy political weight, one that could possibly cost Rodrigo Duterte the presidency were he a candidate now: Rice is a gut issue, and seasoned politicians and their handlers will agree that the sight and photographs of Filipinos standing in winding queues to purchase (relatively) inexpensive “NFA rice” make up considerable damage.

It’s a wonder that no one in the President’s inner circle didn’t urge him earlier on to sack Jason Aquino, the administrator of the National Food Authority, and an even bigger wonder that he didn’t see fit to announce the deed on nationwide TV, with an expletive or two. He has done so several times before, involving issues of arguably lesser impact to the body politic—what can be called malayo sa bituka. It would have been a signal to his suffering constituents that he was doing something to ease their pain.


But no: In his televised chitchat with his chief legal counsel on Tuesday, the President let drop that Aquino had asked to be relieved of his post, apparently unable to “cope up” with being NFA chief. Mr. Duterte said he would scout for a replacement.

Pangilinan, a former presidential assistant for food security and agricultural modernization, pointed out that Aquino had violated the antigraft law and should be appropriately charged. But in the welter of words in the “tête-à-tête” that took the place of the President’s anticipated address to the nation, there was no tough talk against Aquino, no mention of what the man had coming for putting the precious staple in dangerously short supply for millions of Filipinos. Is Mr. Duterte, who routinely says he would kill suspected drug lords once they set foot in the country or slap city mayors alleged to push drugs, losing his touch?


And yet, by the count of certain parties, the name “Trillanes” was mentioned at least 20 times in the ill-advised chitchat between Mr. Duterte and Salvador Panelo — ill-advised because the cancellation of the address to the nation, which foreign correspondents in the Philippines had been invited to cover, made it appear like the big guy had an attack of cold feet; ill-advised because the conversation came across as a bad script.

Did no one among those tasked to project the President in the best light think to warn him of the pitfalls of going after his bitter critic through a case that, even the justice secretary admitted, should have been rigorously vetted? Now Malacañang is saddled with the embarrassment of casting about for the official reason behind the revocation of the amnesty granted Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, ex-mutineer and ex-jailbird. Worse, its forum shopping for an arrest warrant, in an unseemly apparent attempt to have the senator behind bars before the President and his party flew in from abroad, was for naught.

While Malacañang and Trillanes were exchanging fire, low-income Filipinos were rising at the crack of dawn to be first in line for NFA rice. Fuel price increases are also resulting in steeper costs of food and basic commodities. It has become such that generally cheery Filipinos are less than excited by the yearly Christmas orgy.

And the gangland-style execution on Sept. 5 of Mayor Mariano Blanco III of Ronda, Cebu—one of the officials named in Mr. Duterte’s “narcolist”—and the killing of 17-year-old Joshua Laxamana last month, among others, have been eclipsed, even if they illustrate that, as the President has promised, his war on drugs remains “chilling” and “relentless.” We should not be so punch-drunk as to be indifferent to this reality.

On his appointment in October 2017, Mr. Duterte’s spokesperson Harry Roque said that, apart from his job of “confirming the policy of the state,” he desired to advise his principal on the “manner and methods he has used to tackle the problem of drugs.”

All that, along with Mr. Duterte’s startling pronouncements on human rights versus human lives and on Donald Trump’s supposed singular role in the emergence of the fierce inflation beast, show how badly served he is by his best and brightest.

[email protected]


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TAGS: Antonio Trillanes IV, Duterte-Panelo talk, Francis Pangilinan, Inquirer Commentary, Jason Aquino, National Food Authority, NFA, Rice shortage, Rice supply, Rodrigo Duterte, Rosario A. Garcellano, Salvador Panelo
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