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Editorial

Ambushing reason, common sense

/ 05:00 AM September 22, 2019

Any lowly subordinate knows the abysmal feeling — he says something he thinks is good for the work, his boss and the company, only to be undermined by his superior with a bald denial, or a claim to the contrary.

Salvador Panelo must know the feeling. How many times has he said one thing on the Malacañang podium as the President’s mouthpiece, only for the garrulous top banana to say yet another thing, forcing Panelo to scramble for even more convoluted attempts at clarification that he himself, in his salad days as the go-to defense counsel for the country’s high and mighty, would have laughed out of the courthouse?

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Take last Tuesday, when Panelo took to task a new US-made documentary being shown in film festivals abroad about President Duterte’s war on drugs. Directed by James Jones and Olivier Sarbil, the film, “On the President’s Orders,” follows Filipino policemen as they carry out the President’s bloody centerpiece domestic program over six months from 2017 to 2018.

Panelo hadn’t seen the film; nevertheless, based on news reports about it, he blasted the work as biased, defamatory and “bordering to [sic] black propaganda.”

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“The Palace is vexed by the continuous spread of disinformation against our country’s campaign against illegal drugs and criminality,” moaned Panelo. “Even the title of the docufilm reeks with malice, making it appear that the drug-related deaths were done upon the orders of [Duterte].” No, he insisted: “Drug-related killings are absolutely not state-initiated nor state-sponsored.”

One must admit — if stringing together sentences into a full-throated defense were the sole basis for whether a lawyer does good by his client, Panelo is certainly earning his keep well as the booster-in-chief of the President.

Except… Is the President even appreciative? Does he delight in seeing his spokesperson and chief legal counsel all bristled up in righteous indignation over perceived slights to his beloved boss, only for the boss himself to pull the rug from under the guy?

Mere hours after Panelo’s early-evening interjection that no, horrors no, the President isn’t behind the sheer orgy of killings that has defined his administration, Mr. Duterte, also in Malacañang, blurted something out before a gathering of newly appointed officials that, in one fell swoop, virtually made Panelo out to be, well, a teller of tales, a spinner of yarns, a fabulist.

The President doesn’t order killings? Mr. Duterte himself all but begged to disagree: “Loot, p—mo, nanalo pa na mayor. Inambush kita, animal ka, buhay pa rin!”

That was how the President admitted to the whole nation that he had ordered the ambush of Vicente Loot, the former mayor of Daanbantayan, Cebu, whom he had tagged in 2016 as a “narco-general.”

In 2017, Duterte said, “I told Loot, you son of a whore… I will kill you.”

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A few months later, right before the May 2018 elections, gunmen fired at Loot in Daanbantayan at a port, wounding four people, though Loot escaped unharmed. Mr. Duterte, offering no evidence, then laid the blame for that foiled ambush on his one-time rival in the presidential race, Mar Roxas.

But this time, it appeared the President couldn’t be bothered with having to stick to that cover story anymore, and so ended up bragging off the cuff about his tough-guy exploit right in Malacañang.

Could the admission be any more direct? “Inambush kita”: I ambushed you or I had you ambushed — either way, the claim of responsibility was plain, clear and unambiguous, and sounded even proud, to any reasonable ear.

Spare a thought for what must have been a thoroughly stricken, mortified Panelo the moment he got wind of the President’s incriminating words; imagine the midnight oil burning into the wee hours as the presidential defense squad desperately hunkered down to attempt to craft, yet again, a sober-sounding explanation-cum-reinterpretation of the President’s statement that they themselves wouldn’t gag on; failing that, whatever they could dash off to stanch the damage to the President.

Here is the outstanding piece of apologia-deconstruction Panelo and his team managed to bewilder  the public with the next day: “What the President intended to say was: ‘Inambush ka na, buhay ka pa.’ That has been his line as shown by the transcripts of some of his previous speeches every time he touches on the topic of General Loot’s ambush.” It was all, as usual, a confusion over the President’s Bisaya way of talking since “he is not proficient in Filipino,” chirped Panelo.

Ambushing reason, common sense, the plain truth — ah, the enviable life of a presidential spokesperson these days.

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TAGS: Inquirer editorial, On the President's Orders, Rodrigo Duterte, Salvador Panelo, US-made documentary, war on drugs
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