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Tete-a-tete

Tete-a-tete, according to the dictionary, is a private conversation between two people. Its synonyms include: dialogue, chat, chitchat, heart-to-heart, and, one-on-one.

President Rodrigo Duterte had a “tete-a-tete” with his legal adviser Sal Panelo which turned out to be the biggest disappointment this week for many Filipinos. First it was said that the President would address the nation at 3:00 pm on Tuesday, Sept. 11.

When something like this is announced, people are alerted because it is not often that a sitting president “addresses the nation.” Outside of the yearly State of the Nation Address, such announcements only happen when the President wants to speak to the nation on urgent, pressing issues. This was what Filipinos expected and most of us made time to hear what Duterte had to say.

I did not hear anything about a press conference but apparently, the media prepared for one as evidenced by the set-up that was shown by many practitioners. It is impossible that the media got it wrong because if it was the case, such set-up would not be allowed in Malacañang.

Barely an hour before the presidential address was scheduled to begin, an announcement was made that the press conference was canceled. No reason was provided. Then this was followed by Bong Go’s announcement that the presscon was canceled but Duterte’s address was still pushing through with only PTV4 allowed to cover. Then yet another announcement was made saying that the address would now become a “tete-a-tete” with the presidential lawyer Panelo.

Calling it such gave the event a semblance of informality as conveyed by the term’s meaning. However, it could not have been informal, or private, because it was the President who would do the talking. Presidential pronouncements are policy pronouncements.

As the confusion was dragging on, I received a few private messages asking if there was truth to the circulating rumors that Duterte was going to declare a State of National Emergency. Remember that there were also news about military tanks visible on Edsa that day which raised questions from people.

The conversation finally started at around 4:00 pm, or one hour late, and lasted for nearly two hours. Some say two hours that were wasted, others called it “two hours of agony.”

Yes, it was a conversation between the two, with Panelo very respectfully “interviewing” his boss in front of the more than 100 million Filipinos.

It was painful to watch.

It was obvious that President Duterte was consumed by his hatred towards Senator Antonio Trillanes. He did not get what he wanted—to put the senator behind bars. The order to both the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippinesto arrest Trillanes was not carried out. Instead, the AFP issued a strong statement that its loyalty is to the Constitution, meaning, not to any one person, not to Duterte.

The Department of Justice’s “urgent request” to a Makati Regional Trial Court for the issuance of a warrant of arrest was flatly rejected. The RTC said that it needed to retrieve the records of this dead case. Eventually, the RTC opted to follow the normal procedures and ordered Sen. Trillanes to respond to the case within 10 days.

Moreover, the Department of National Defense said that it was Solicitor General Jose Calida who requested for the amnesty papers of Trillanes, and that those papers were given to the SolGen. A few days before this, the AFP also said that SolGen Calida was the one who requested confirmation that the Trillanes’ amnesty application was missing. In short, Calida had the papers BUT asked for confirmation that the same were nowhere to be found, then used it to justify the revocation of Trillanes’ amnesty. Wow.

Note that Trillanes’ Senate committee is investigating Calida family’s corporation that landed government contracts worth hundreds of millions in pesos.

Trillanes remains free and President Duterte hates not getting what he wants. So in the tete-a-tete, he ranted against the senator repeatedly. In fact, he turned the two-hour conversation into a bash Trillanes session. The thing is, he might have made Trillanes more popular because of what he did.

The other target of presidential tirade was the AFP. The recent statements of AFP and DND seem to project a certain level of rejection of Duterte’s statements and orders. At some point in the conversation Duterte mentioned the existence of coup threats. He also repeatedly challenged the military to stage a coup d’ etat against him if they no longer want him as president. I have never heard a president speak like this. To me, he appeared threatened by the military and he was being defensive.

The biggest disappointment to many was the fact that the two-hour chat between Duterte and Panelo did not reveal concrete measures to address pressing problems. To be fair to Panelo, his script included questions on inflation and rising prices of goods, rice shortage, traffic, China, and the and war on drugs. It was a perfect opportunity for the President to show the people that he is in control, that his administration is doing things to address people’s pressing concerns, and that the government is stable.

Instead, Duterte kept rambling on about Trillanes and the threats against him. When he was asked about his health, he answered that his opponents, the communists, Magdalo, and Liberal Party is conniving to oust him. Panelo could not do anything. After all, he was talking with his boss.

The tete-a-tete exposed a threatened Duterte. Despite the macho talk, he seemed weak and out of touch. He offered nothing to solve the country’s problems. Doing the conversation did not do anything good to his image as the president. The gimmick failed.

@bethangsioco on Twitter Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , Salvador Panelo , State of the Nation Address , Salvador Panelo , Department of National Defense , Jose Calida
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