Confusion reigns over on and off Dutertepresscon

MANILA – The entire country was abuzz this week after Malacanang announced over the weekend that President Rodrigo Duterte would address the nation on Tuesday, Sept. 11.

Believers and critics engaged in a wild guessing game, with one side believing that the president would declare martial law, and the other side hoping he would announce his resignation.

It is worth noting that Sept. 11 would have been the 101st birthday of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whom Mr. Duterte professes to idolize. During the martial law era, Sept. 11 was even declared as a national holiday, sometimes called National Thanksgiving Day.

No bombshell announcement was made on Tuesday.

Originally scheduled for 3:00 pm in the presidential Palace, it was announced by Special Assistant Bong Go that Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo would co-host a “showbiz style” press conference.

One hour before the scheduled presscon, Malacanang announced that the event had been cancelled. Then the Palace said it was on again, but would not be a presscon at all. Instead, it would be a tete-a-tete between Mr. Duterte and Panelo.

(Since by definition tete-a-tete means a private conversation between two people, what actually took place was not a tete-a-tete at all, but rather a regulated, scripted “chat” between the two, answering questions that had been pre-approved by Malacanang. Moreover, only government media was allowed to cover the event.)

In the rambling conversation, the president showed his irritation not only at Trillanes, but also anyone in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who supported the opposition senator. “You can kill me, you can oust me,” he told the AFP backers of the former Navy officer.

In social media, commenters noted the apparent “obsession” of Mr. Duterte over Trillanes as proven by his referring to the lawmaker on numerous occasions even when there was no connection of the senator to the topic being discussed.

In one instance, he said Trillanes had the makings of a dictator. In two instances, he accused the mother of the senator of hogging supply contracts with the Philippine Navy when Trillanes was an active officer of the service.

He dared the AFP who backed Duterte to make their move, addressing the rumor that “something” was being planned by the military for Sept. 21, incidentally the date when Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law back in 1972.

The only new development gathered from the conversation between Messrs. Duterte and Panelo was that the president vowed to take over the review of applications to be the country’s third telco. He promised to confirm the new player no later than November of this year. The president had earlier ordered awarding of the third telco franchise to a foreign player by March of this year, but this was bogged down by the government bureaucracy.