The President is one man; a presidency is defined by a number of people.
On Thursday, President Rodrigo Duterte told ambassadors of countries of the European Union to leave the Philippines in 24 hours for their unrelenting criticism of his war on drugs.
This is not the first time the President has uttered an outrageous, emphatic, divisive, objectionable statement. After more than a year, we have learned not to regard these words as absolute truth. We know now that soon after such statements are made, we will be told that it was all a joke, that we should not interpret his worlds literally, that he really meant another thing, that he was overcome with emotion, that he was not feeling well.
That is exactly what happened.
This time, Malacañang spokesman Ernesto Abella said, it was the media’s fault. Because media reported that the EU wanted the Philippines expelled from the United Nations, the President became so choked up with anger that he wanted the diplomats out the door, pronto.
Media. Always the media. How terrible, how negative, how critical the media.
Ironically, just a few minutes before this outburst, the President was exhorting government workers to provide accurate information.
“To my fellow workers in government, especially those who form part of the Communications Office, I enjoin you to remain committed to your duty to upholding the truth at all times. Never exaggerate, never misinterpret, never agitate as you communicate our platform of governance. In other words, do not be arrogant.”
But as these same officials pointed to the media as the culprit for Mr. Duterte’s latest embarrassment, we cannot help wondering: should we not take personal responsibility for the information we choose to believe and that which we reject?
Should not a chief executive be guided by his own good sense, and, failing that, by impeccable complete staff work that his handpicked staff members executed. His closest advisers, knowing his temperament and propensity to get carried away by what he reads, should resist the temptation to be Yes Men and Women. They are precisely there to advise him, enlighten him, tell him he is wrong, bring him back to earth and talk sense into him—not applaud him all the time, nodding their head like fools.
In their failure to deliver, the President looks even less credible, more unhinged, more desperate than ever.
This erosion of stature is the last thing he, and all of us, need in these dire times.