Rodrigo Duterte in one of his sorties in Metro Manila. Filephoto by MARIO IGNACIO

Waiting for Duterte’s metamorphosis

ON June 30, President Benigno Aquino III steps down as the 15th president of the Philippines and Rodrigo R. Duterte becomes the 16th president of the Philippines.

From now on, every pronouncement of Duterte will be official. If he curses, every putang ina will have the stamp of the presidency.

A source who was present during Duterte’s meeting with the ambassadors of the United States, United Kingdom and Germany two weeks ago, said the then president-elect was a far cry from what foul-mouthed Duterte they saw in press conferences and speaking engagements. He was “prim and proper” and uttered only pleasant statements, he said.

But he said, “It was surreal.” One can see and feel that he was not his natural self and that something from within was raring to come out.

Duterte had promised that once he has taken his oath as president of the Philippines, “There will be a metamorphosis.”

“That’s going to be a metamorphosis in the mind, steadily from a caterpillar it blossoms into a butterfly,” he announced the transformation in-the-making during one of his post-election press conferences.

So no more putang ina, gago, gaga, ulol and other invectives in the next six years?

Not likely but the public will no longer hear them. As president, Duterte will have the whole government machinery to polish his image – edit his speeches and remove jarring portions.

That’s easily doable. The President not holding press conferences is one way to do it. It doesn’t mean, however, Duterte will not talk directly to members of media. He will just give interviews to selected journalists.

We do not mean something like the interview with dancer and singer Mocha Uson. That was not an interview in the journalism standard. That was a fan-idol meeting. That was good propaganda.

Journalists don’t engage in propaganda. Journalists interview persons-in-power to get information and clarify issues that would be useful to the public in the decisions they make.

We don’t think Duterte will altogether eliminate press conferences. Maybe he’ll limit them when there are issues of national importance that he has to announce or clarify to the public.

That is not unusual. Of the post-Marcos presidents, only Fidel V. Ramos held regular weekly press conferences. Cory Aquino did not have regular press conferences. Same with Joseph Estrada, Gloria Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III.

They had spokespersons who conducted daily press briefings.

Again, except for Ramos, all the four past presidents actually did not understand the role of media. They resented it when media did not trumpet their so called “accomplishments.” They thought media was an extension of their press office.

Duterte said only the government TV station will be allowed to cover him. Private media outfits will have to get their news reports from TV4. This is a throwback to the Marcos martial law era.

Maybe Duterte and his advisers think that they will be able to sanitize media reports this way. They will be surprised.

Spared of his two-hour long press conferences (plus another four hours of waiting) reporters will have time to look around for other stories. Duterte and his people may not like what diligent reporters will discover.


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Founded in March 2008, VERA Files is published by veteran Filipino journalists taking a deeper look into current Philippine issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

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