I’m not exactly a fan of Senator Leila de Lima who was among former President Benigno Aquino III’s least likable Cabinet secretaries that included Butch Abad, Jun Abaya, Proceso Alcala and Dinky Soliman. But she is a duly elected senator—why should she resign just because President Rodrigo Duterte says so? The fact that the President suggested she should resign can only mean Duterte does not have the hard evidence he earlier claimed he had as he linked the former justice secretary to drug money used in her senatorial campaign.
De Lima rejected Duterte’s call for her resignation saying to do so would be a sign of weakness and an admission of guilt.
What if De Lima had seized the moment and dared Duterte to resign together with her? Duterte even told De Lima to hang herself. Instead, she seemed relieved the President has not yet come up with the proof weeks after he claimed De Lima’s alleged lover and driver, Ronnie Dayan, collected money from detained drug lords in the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa.
That Duterte also said he would leave De Lima’s fate to the Senate would indicate he could not come up with proof. If he has the goods on her, why leave it to the Senate? He made the allegations, he should follow up with evidence and charge her before the proper court. As lawyers would say, put up or shut up. Besides, for the Senate to take any action on De Lima would be opening the door to anyone of them to be targeted by Duterte. The legislative and the judiciary are zealous in preserving their independence from the executive. The Senate is not expected to succumb to the President. Maybe the House, but not the Senate where there are still a few independent souls aspiring for the highest post in the land in the next presidential elections.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said the word war between the President and Senator De Lima is a distraction hampering the work of the Senate. He said he would consult with the rest of the senators to get a consensus of their views on the matter. Pimentel is a party mate of Duterte’s PDP-Laban but it’s a political party founded by his father, Aqulino Pimentel Jr. and Duterte was merely adopted by it during the campaign run-up to the 2016 presidential race.
The President’s Communications Secretary, Martin Andanar, meanwhile, is not helping Duterte any. Andanar told foreign journalists attending an Asean media forum that the international press should come to the Philippines before making unsubstantiated and negative reports about the administration’s war on drugs. In case Andanar does not know it yet, the world press have always been here and watching. These are the Manila-based correspondents of CNN, BBC, New York Times, Associated Press and Agence France Press. Andanar should not confuse the AFP abbreviation of the French news agency with the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
This is the problem when you get a greenhorn from the broadcast media here. Andanar is not experienced enough to deal with the working press. He’s just another pretty face with a good TV announcer’s voice. This was what happened to his predecessor Ricky Carandang who did not last long as former President Noynoy Aquino’s communication secretary. I tried hard not to write anything negative about Andanar to give him a chance to learn the ropes. But he seems to be hanging himself with the same rope he should instead be learning as communications secretary. What we are seeing is a failure of communications. The job of getting across what the President says is difficult enough. But with an irrepressible and loquacious president like Digong, the job of communicating his thoughts to the public becomes doubly hard. Damage control and explaining what was said “in context” becomes the norm and usual excuse.
CNN reported that US President Barack Obama would raise the issue of human rights with President Duterte when they meet at a regional meeting in Laos. We wonder how Duterte would react to Obama’s concern considering the Philippine president reacted strongly against United Nations officials who voiced apprehension about the series of killings of drug suspects.
We hope Obama does not raise Duterte’s hackles. He might tell the US president off and advise him not to meddle in the affairs of a sovereign state. But you never know with the mercurial Duterte. He could do the same to Chinese President Xi Jinping and berate him for encroachment in the West Philippine Sea.