The sins of President Duterte | Inquirer Opinion

The sins of President Duterte

/ 05:07 AM October 02, 2018

In another rambling, indulgent, unprofessional speech before an audience of newly certified professionals, the President last Thursday took aim at the usual targets and then trained his sights on, well, himself.

The official transcript prepared by the Presidential Communications Operations Office reads: “Ako, I will talk to — eh political exercise now. What are your sins? Ako? Sabi ko nga sa military, anong kasalanan ko? Nagnakaw ba ako diyan ni piso? Sige daw. Did I prosecute somebody na ipinakulong ko? Ang kasalanan ko lang ’yung mga extrajudicial killing.”


What the President said immediately after this admission against self-interest is also revealing; but let us, for now, focus on the confession.

From the context (not all that easy to piece together, because of the President’s habit of not finishing his sentences and of starting off on new tangents), Mr. Duterte seems to be engaging the public (his audience of new career executive service officers as well as the general public) in what he calls a “political exercise.” I think he means the equivalent of a teaching moment, a civics lesson in public.


The subject of his exercise is something he had discussed with the leaders of the military. “Anong kasalanan ko (What are my sins)?” Let’s take a moment to grasp the strangeness, the non-normalness, of that question. Why would the Commander in Chief even ask this kind of question of the top brass? I understand it as part of his continuing attempt to persuade the top generals to break the constitutional order. That continuing conversation he keeps describing in public deserves a closer look. But for now, for our purposes, let us focus on his answer.

“Did I steal even P1? Go ahead.” I think “Sige daw” is the President challenging his critics to prove that he was ever corrupt. “Did I prosecute somebody na ipinakulong ko?” This is also strange. I understand this question to mean that, in the President’s view, he did not weaponize the rule of law. But the literal answer to what he thought was a rhetorical question is yes. Yes, he did prosecute people and send them to jail; that was his job as Davao prosecutor all those years ago.

Then the startling admission. “My only sin is the extrajudicial killings.”

The context of this confession is a confidential conversation with military generals. Why would the President even say this — and why would he think the anecdote serves as a civics lesson, a “political exercise”? I understand this anecdote, if true in its details, as evidence that the President was arguing for something, in his continuing conversation with the military leadership — and one of the premises of his argument was his personal credentials. He was not corrupt; he did not abuse the law; sorry about all those killings, though.

Why would a leader tell military generals that he bore the responsibility, the blame, the guilt, for innumerable acts of violence — if not that he thought these acts would not bother the consciences of the officers of one of the state institutions with a monopoly on the means of violence? I think he is in fact mistaken, and that many professional soldiers are concerned over the EJKs. But it is revealing that he appeals to the military leadership by arguing that he is not corrupt or abusive, only violent.

Even more revealing is what he says immediately after.

“Eh ’yang extrajudicial killing naman, ’tong mga u*** lalo na ’yung itim na sino ’yon? Sabi ko, p***** i**, huwag ka ihampas ko itong — sa ulo mo iyong prosecutor na ’yan.”


He is talking about the Gambian prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda. And he goes on about how the work of the ICC is “usurpation of authority,” and then (in the full flight of self-indulgence) mistakes the former UN high commissioner for human rights, the Jordanian prince who criticized him, as the “chairman ng commission ’yang ICC” — a nonexistent position.

What I see here: In his rambling, the President has forgotten the moral of his civics lesson, and given free rein to his fears of an ICC prosecution.

But what, in fact, was the moral? That he has not stolen a centavo from the government? The President still has to explain the transactions in his hidden bank accounts. That he has not abused the law to send critics to jail? Sen. Leila de Lima, who was prosecuted on one charge but detained on another, has a message for him.

Or was the point of his “political exercise” to paint a contrast with the “pontifical Pangilinan” — Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who authored the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act of 2006?

“Ito naman si pontifical Pangilinan, akala mo walang kasalanan kung magsalita (This pontifical Pangilinan, he speaks as though sinless).” That must be it, then; the “political exercise” started as a study in contrast. But very quickly, the President lost the thread, and ended up confessing his “only” sin.

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand. E-mail: [email protected]

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