Tête-à-tête was Duterte’s idea: Panelo

MANILA – Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said Wednesday his tête-à-tête or one-on-one conversation with President Rodrigo Duterte was the Chief Executive’s idea.

Panelo said the televised conversation was introduced to him by Duterte during the President’s recent five-day official visit to Israel.

Nagkakwentuhan kami. Out of the blue, sabi niya sa akin, Sal, mag-usap nga tayo. Wala naman siyang sinabing sa ere. Basta mag-usap tayo, tanungin mo ako, tapos I will respond to your question. Pinabayaan ko na lang yun. (We talked. Out of the blue, he said to me, ‘Sal let’s talk.’ He did not say on air (televised). He just said, ‘Let’s talk. You ask me, then I will respond to your question.’ I just ignored it),” he said in an interview with dwFM.

Panelo said it was Special Assistant to the President (SAP) Christopher “Bong” Go who informed him only last Tuesday that the tête-à-tête will push through on the same day.

After that, tinawagan na ako ng office. Sir, sabi niya, call time is 2:30, alas tres kayo mag-usap ni Presidente (After that, the office called me. Sir, your call time is 2:30, you and the President will talk at 3pm),’” he said.

During their televised one-on-one conversation, Duterte had discussed pressing issues ranging from his relentless campaign against illegal drugs and corruption to economy and politics.

Ang tingin ko kay Presidente, maraming beses na kasi siyang ini-interview ng media, pero masyadong short. Kulang ang panahon na magpaliwanag siya ng gusto niyang sabihin. Siguro, he thought of this interview tête-à-tête with me para mas maraming siyang maikukuwento, masasabi (I think the President, he has been interviewed by the media on many occasions but in a very short time. Perhaps he thought of this interview, tête-à-tête, with me so that he can speak more),” Panelo explained.

The private conversation lasted for one hour and 30 minutes, where the President assured that his economic managers are finding ways to address the rising prices of essential commodities.

Duterte said he is aware of the inflation and that his administration is doing its best to overcome it.

“The economic life of a country cannot be all beds of roses. So marami akong option. Wala naman hinto ‘yang importation natin (So I have many options. We are not stopping our importation),” he said.

The President said he has been advocating the removal of tariffs on imports of food products.

Meanwhile, in a bid to provide cheaper and faster Internet, Duterte said the third telecommunication player is expected to be announced before the year ends.

He said if the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) fails to bring in the new telecom player by early November, he vowed to “take over.”

Duterte also tackled the issue involving Senator Antonio Trillanes IV’s amnesty, which the President declared void ab initio (from the beginning) through his Proclamation 572.

He explained that the amnesty granted to Trillanes was one of the glaring mistakes of the administration of President Benigno Aquino III because it was approved by former defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

Duterte explained that the granting of amnesty is an exclusive power of the President and should not be done by his alter ego.

“An act of amnesty is always an act of state which cannot be done by a mere Cabinet member, especially if that Cabinet member was the one or was one of those who investigated and made the recommendation and approved the recommendation himself,” he said.

The President also denied that he is out to silence his critics.

Duterte, however, said he is not afraid of destabilization plots, including one allegedly being organized by Trillanes’ Magdalo group, said to be with the help of Communist Party of the Philippines and other groups opposing his presidency.

“They have combined and we have the evidence and we have the conversation provided by a foreign country sympathetic to us,” he said.

Duterte said the “foreign country,” which he did not identify, has agreed to his request to declassify the conversation and “show it to everyone.”

The President clarified that he will not stop the military and police if they believe he is no longer competent as president.

“I said my clear stand on the matter. If the armed forces think that I am not competent, that I am not qualified to be sitting here as President, I have discussed this matter with them in a command conference, bahala kayo (it’s up to you),” Duterte said.

“If you want another President, fine. I will not allow you to fight your own soldiers. So I would not allow my soldiers to kill another soldier or a policeman shooting another soldier. Eh kalokohan ‘yan (That’s ridiculous),” he added.

Meanwhile, Duterte maintained that the passage of the Bangsamoro law would contribute in achieving the long-lasting peace in Mindanao.

“Problem is this Bangsamoro Law must pass because if not, it would again create trouble there,” he said.

On the worsening traffic along major thoroughfares, including EDSA, Duterte said he still believes his request for emergency powers would have expedited transport projects that would help lessen traffic problem.

However, Duterte said he is no longer pushing his request for emergency powers because Congress has claimed that his proposal is prone to corruption.

The President also reiterated his promise to finish his fight against illegal drugs, as well as his campaign against graft and corruption.

Meanwhile, the Chief Executive announced that he is now scouting for a new head of the National Food Authority (NFA) after administrator Jason Aquino requested that he be relieved.

He said he believes that the NFA rice shortage is caused by “man-made manipulation” such as hoarding.

Duterte said he is considering the abolition of the NFA Council, the NFA’s policy-making body.

On the proposed shift in the form of government from unitary to federalism, Duterte said federalism “might help” but cannot guarantee prosperity.

“But it might help distribute the wealth of the nation among the local units,” he added.

He said federalism is “gaining ground” in the provinces because these  have always lagged behind Metro Manila and other urban areas in terms of development. (PNA)