Duterte takes control of the narrative » Manila Bulletin News

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By Getsy Tiglao

Getsy Tiglao

The pictures of President Rodrigo Duterte having a meal, talking, and hugging the parents of the slain 17-year old Kian Loyd de los Santos were worth a thousand words indeed.

With these images Duterte immediately subdued the simmering tension brought about by the death of Kian apparently at the hands of errant policemen in Caloocan City. It was also a timely quashing of any nefarious plans at a power grab using 1980s-style necropolitics.

Kian’s parents Mr. and Mrs. Saldy and Lorenzana de los Santos were the ones who sought the meeting with President Duterte, signifying that the opposition had failed to convince the parents to take part in an oust-Duterte movement. Rubbing it in, the group had a photo of them making the Duterte fist-bump symbol at the end of their two-hour long meeting in Malacañang.

At the start it looked like the opposition had gained the upper hand with their visits to Kian’s wake, their dramatic overtures at the recent Senate hearing, and the lame attempt to convert what should be a somber funeral march into a political rally. Then the boy’s parents visited Duterte and it was game over for the other side.

Kian’s parents said they only want justice for their son who was accused by police of being a drug courier although this is now in dispute. The President promised them an impartial probe with no interference in the case. “We will not cover up any abuses,” he vowed.

Duterte’s critics severely underestimated the political savvy of the former mayor of Davao. With this case involving a minor, and with the incriminating evidence of the CCTV video, Duterte pulled back on his sometimes over-the-top defense of the police (the death of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa while in jail comes to mind).

He also wisely skipped the wake of Kian, saying that if he had gone there it would be “pregnant with so many suppositions,” such as the public taking it to mean he was apologizing or admitting the police was at fault. This would put too much pressure on the Philippine National Police (PNP), he noted.

“I cannot do that because the organization of the PNP is under me. I would be the last person to condemn them without a valid investigation,” Duterte said. The policemen involved in the death of Kian have been suspended and the Department of Justice’s head office is leading the probe.

Duterte’s control of the Kian narrative was appropriate as this case could have been exploited by his enemies, both here and abroad, in order to bring down his administration. For instance, the President’s constant critic, the United Nations Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, just had to butt in with her catty tweet to the President. “Yes, Pent (sic) Duterte, this is murder.”

Ah, that would get Duterte’s goat. Asked about this in a press conference, Duterte hurled a number of native expletives at Callamard, asked her nationality, and was told that she was French.

“Make her come here,” Duterte said in Pilipino. “Look at the situation. Do not ever give me that kind of shit. This is the Republic of the Philippines, this is not the territory of France. She’s an idiot. She’s not listening to what I’m saying.”

This is what Filipinos love about Duterte: his raw, blunt honesty. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly, especially foreigners who are interfering in domestic affairs. For too long Callamard has been cherry-picking Duterte’s statements for those that she can exploit to advance her own agenda.

Does she know that Duterte said this, during the inauguration of a solar cell factory in Batangas when the Kian case was still new? “What I reminded again the military and the police is that it should be in the performance of your duty. You are not allowed to kill a person who is kneeling down begging for his life. That is murder.”

We are not savages here in the Philippines. This is not Sudan, we have a proper judicial and police system. They’re not perfect but they are working. Duterte has said that if convicted by the court the erring policemen will go to jail. Kian’s parents believe him, why shouldn’t Callamard and the rest of her ilk?

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