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When the ‘siga’ backs down

All sorts of spectacles are occurring in and being sprung by Malacañang in the past few days and it’s imperative that the public stay attentive to the messaging, whether intended or not.

Now the President has backed down from a debate challenge that he flung at Antonio Carpio in a churlish rant Wednesday night, which the retired senior associate justice of the Supreme Court quickly accepted, “anytime at the President’s convenience.” His turnaround isn’t and won’t be sitting well with his pained constituency, not with those astounded by the increasingly crass behavior indulged by his advisers and inner circle, and certainly not with the hooting crowd, the peanut gallery.

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For a public figure, image is all. When tough guys lose their nerve, they lose. Even Snoop Dogg will tell you, although in a different context: You have to be “the best version” of yourself every day. Surely the Palace bright boys will concede that this is no good for their boss despite the supposed wisdom of heeding advice that he desist from engaging in a formal verbal tangle with the champion of Philippine sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea—the champion whom his mouthpiece Harry Roque has pronounced as not his equal: “Hindi patas.”

Cocky Roque has been designated the President’s replacement in the debate, but Carpio predictably refused to stoop to conquer. And deep in his heart, even as it now throbs to the perks of privilege that allow him, for example, to easily travel to diving spots despite a strict lockdown, Roque will admit that his principal’s “siga” image, such as what it has become, took a grim hit with this backdown.

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The President has long professed a specific worthlessness—“Inutil ako—in defending Philippine sovereign rights against Chinese incursions, going so far as to claim that China is in possession of the West Philippine Sea. Incredulity and nervous laughter met that claim. Now the laughter has turned downright derisive.

In “usapang bugoy,” the kind of street talk that the President relishes, “anyare?!”

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Recent footage of the President getting a jab from Health Secretary Francisco Duque III would have been salutary viewing at the onset of the vaccination campaign, to assure a hesitant people of the necessity of getting inoculated from the coronavirus ravaging the planet.

But at this late stage marked by uneven distribution of donated doses, with minor officials having jumped the line, and clandestine vaccinations apparently all the rage as early as 2020, it became merely intriguing: A performative scene with no less than the health secretary doing the honors in full protective gear—and a senator of the realm hovering helpfully in the background, in the manner of, say, spousal ministrations.

That the President was jabbed with Sinopharm was another eyebrow-raiser that required explanation beyond a mere “prescription by the presidential physician.” Did no one think of how it would come across, or did anyone even care? The vaccine was, after all, unregistered and therefore yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and was, moreover, the same brand smuggled into the country last year for the use of the great leader’s security detail.

The Palace’s subsequent announcement that Sinopharm had the benefit of a compassionate special permit (CSP) issued by the FDA was a revelation to many. All along it had seemed that the FDA was left high and dry in its supposed investigation by the Presidential Security Group’s impregnable silence vis-à-vis the vaccine that, per its commander, Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante III, its members did meticulous research on, then acquired from overseas, and eventually jabbed one another with, all by themselves.

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At any rate, CSP or not, criticism flew thick and fast over the President’s agreeing to be jabbed with Sinopharm, criticism for which he actually apologized at his

Wednesday-night briefing, appearing to be reading from notes on the table as he did so.

The weary observer unaccustomed to a display by the President of sensitivity to public opinion—having been regularly bombarded by the Filipino equivalents of “stupid,” “ignorant,” “son of a bitch,” “go ahead and die,” etc. in his official discourse—was moved to agree that wonders never cease.

But then he ordered the police to arrest anyone without a face mask or improperly wearing it, as though he were unaware of police abuse, or had become too distant to hear of the death of two young men arrested for violating curfew.

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TAGS: Antonio Carpio, Rodrigo Duterte, West Philippine Sea debate
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