THE ancient Greeks knew the value of dialogue as a tool for instruction and perhaps this is what the Palace had in mind when it suddenly canceled a press conference scheduled right after President Rodrigo Duterte was to address the nation at 3 pm, and replaced it with a “tete-a-tete” between the Chief Executive and his chief legal counsel, Salvador Panelo.
But by going this route, the President lost the opportunity to address the people honestly and directly, in favor of what appeared to be a scripted exchange with an obsequious subordinate.
In explaining the sudden change in format, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque assured Palace reporters that their questions, which had been collected from them the night before, would be put to the President anyway, only by Panelo. But a scripted question-and-answer session is far cry from the true, open dialogue that a press conference brings, where journalists can ask followup questions, seek clarification, or even test the President’s statements with contravening facts.
Much speculation had accompanied the President’s announcement from Davao that he would address the nation Tuesday.
Newspaper columnists with space to fill and broadcasters with time to kill suggested that Mr. Duterte would squarely address the rise in the rate of inflation, which hit a nine-year high of 6.4 percent in August, driven by rising food and fuel prices.
Others suggested he would address his decision to revoke the amnesty granted to one of his most prickly critics, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, and suggestions that he was doing so merely to silence him.
Still others felt he would expound on his revelation that the opposition Liberal Party, Trillanes and communist rebels were conspiring to oust him.
Mr. Duterte covered all these bases in his tete-a-tete, but did not go beyond what we already knew.
His statement that the economic managers were now working on the problem of inflation gave us little reason for optimism, because it was these same officials who allowed prices to escalate in the first place.
His assurance that the police would raid the warehouses of rice hoarders was old news. He had issued that warning several times before. Nor did he offer us any hope of true food security that is provided, not by imports, but by our own agricultural productivity.
And except for citing unspecified intelligence resources, the President offered no new evidence of a conspiracy between the Liberals, Trillanes and the communists. If anything, the session offered us a glimpse of just how obsessed he is with Trillanes.
Was there really a need to compare what he, as President, did for the military, with what Trillanes, as a senator, did?
What we really needed from the President was a clear sign that he is on top of the situation and that he knows exactly how to lead us out of our current troubles. Sadly, he did not provide this—and being almost an hour late for his appointment with the nation hardly helped.