Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 11 June 2016


At last, light at the end of the tunnel. I had little hope that President-elect Rodrigo Duterte would, as he has promised, act in a more presidential manner—with dignity, tact, and diplomacy—as soon as he took his oath. Something about old dogs and new tricks. The prospect of a series of faux pas of varying severity, putting the Philippines and its people to a great deal of embarrassment (at the very least), and antagonizing various sectors of the international community, was not pleasant. We really don’t need any more criticisms like that from the United Nations secretary general.

But I think we can pick up our faces off the floor now. There is hope.  He is not afraid to admit that he has made a mistake, and learns very quickly. Admittedly, this conclusion is based on only one example, but I’m ready to grasp at anything.

Behold: He will no longer hold press conferences and grant interviews because: “That’s it. I don’t want to be interviewed. If I commit a mistake, there will be more criticisms…. So it’s better no interview, no criticisms, no wrong statements, no nothing. I will just shut up. I really don’t want it.” Hurrah.

I don’t agree with some members of the media that his decision is “tantamount to restriction of the freedom of the press.” Not at all. It is not the press he is restricting, it is himself.  Duterte’s loose tongue gets him into trouble. Thankfully, he has finally realized it. About time. He is learning not to extemporize, I think. It can be tiresome to keep on saying, “But I didn’t mean it that way!” And in the future, I hope, press conferences and interviews will be more structured and based on written notes or briefing materials. Better safe than sorry. Loose lips sink ships. Pardon the clichés.

Of course, this reduces his attractiveness to the media, who had heretofore almost unlimited sound bites from him that were bread and butter and gravy all rolled into one. Sorry, folks. Our loss (the media’s) is also our gain (the country’s).

But not to worry. There’s still a lot that the media can munch on, without the interviews and the press cons. Take his recent speech in Cebu (I am willing to bet that that was extemporaneous). Aside from the profanity, there’s the bit about the additional bounty for drug lords that may be killed in Cebu: P5.5 million, rather than P5 million—the premium because the people of Cebu are good people.

Whoa. Does that mean he thinks that the people of Manila, or in the rest of the Philippines, are not good people, or not as good as the people of Cebu? What would be the basis of that conclusion? And don’t tell me we can’t ask the questions. Just not in a press con or in an interview.

Then there are the loose ends of his campaign. If there is any compilation of his campaign promises, I have not come across it. With P-Noy, the media and the NGOs had one (if memory serves, there were 103 promises), which P-Noy later incorporated into his Philippine Development Plan, so it was easy to track.  Why not with Duterte?

For example, there’s the matter of what to do about the contractualization of labor that Duterte said he would solve in one week. And, of course, there’s also the matter of his bank accounts, which should not be swept under the rug. We need to find out the transaction-by-transaction history of those accounts. Cuentas claras. If he is corrupt, we want to make sure he does not enrich himself some more in his six years. So we need a baseline. There’s plenty of work for the media here. Shouldn’t the Ombudsman get involved? Especially because she is related by affinity to Duterte, she should be the first one to nose things out. How about it, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales?

Another Duterte issue that needs more mulling over by the media is that of his “first lady.” What role will his mistress be playing? Why does he not just resolve it by marrying her? What are the impediments? Let’s bring it out and discuss it, for heaven’s sake. Or his Buerger’s disease.

My point is that there are loads of newsworthy items that we can feed on other than those that come out of interviews and press conferences. So let’s go to it.

* * *

Talking of loose ends and matters for the Ombudsman, let me start by first apologizing to Readers who send me stuff through the Inquirer. E-mail makes it unnecessary for me to go to the Inquirer offices, except to get my paycheck. And this I do maybe once a year. As a result, any mail that comes to me, I get after a long delay.

My latest mail includes, for example, a Christmas card from Malacañang (signed by P-Noy, swoon); an appointment as consultant to the “Office of the President,” signed by God’s Anointed President, Jesus E. Balingit, complete with a P5-billion bill; invitations to various events (as long ago as last September); a poem about Ninoy Aquino, written in longhand; a letter from the agriculture secretary’s office, disputing facts in my column on the sector’s contribution to growth. I apologize for not responding. Now you know why.

But there were also various suggestions for a column. One that caught my attention was a set of materials on a dynasty in Nueva Vizcaya which listed, chapter and verse, various charges against Carlos Padilla (congressman) and Ruth Padilla (governor). I will send the materials to the Ombudsman. I hope she responds to the “concerned citizens of Nueva Vizcaya.”

Please, Reader. If you want me to respond asap, e-mail me at, or send your correspondence to the UP School of Economics. I am there twice weekly.