Duterte not deaf to allies' advice: Malacanang Palace

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has steered the country towards a "very strong and quite impressive" road so far, said the presidential spokesperson.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has steered the country towards a "very strong and quite impressive" road so far, said the presidential spokesperson. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malacanang Palace doesn't think President Rodrigo Duterte has to change anything about his public speeches as of now because he appears to be adjusting to his new role and has managed to steer to the country towards a "very strong and quite impressive" road in his first 100 days in office.

But presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella hinted that the President has become willing to heed the advice of his allies, specifically majority leader Rodolfo Farinas and Senator Richard Gordon, to act more presidential only if the situation "changed".

In a briefing, Mr Abella was asked if the president would be willing to change and replied with a quote from John Kenneth Galbraith: "When the situations change, he will change his mind and he will change his attitude."

Mr Abella, however, did not say what that situation would be. But at present, Mr Abella does not see any reason for the president to change.

"According to the business people, he seems to be able to chart a course for the nation, which the World Bank has described as very strong and quite impressive in spite of all the noise. The way he's handling it, seems to be pretty much par, he seems to be able to chart a steady course towards progress," said Mr Abella in a press conference in Malacanang.

Mr Farinas advised Mr Duterte "not to speak any more" until he could adjust to the refinement required of a statesman, while Mr Gordon urged him to moderate his language to avoid "falling on his own sword".

As far as Malacanang, the official residence and principal workplace of the president of the Philippines was concerned, Mr Abella said that they have left the situation entirely in the hands of Mr Duterte and would not even think of lessening his public speaking engagements and media interviews.

"He knows how to handle these things and so I'd like to leave it to him. He's a person after his own heart and he knows how to handle situations. So far he seems to have adjusted pretty well. He's coming out of it," said Mr Abella.

"We all adjust accordingly, we all adjust accordingly. But we are not managing any story here. We are only saying that here is a very unique president. He's a very unique person," said Mr Abella.

Mr Abella brought in George Barcelon, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to the Malacanang briefing to give the media a different perspective on Mr Duterte.

Mr Barcelon said that for all his faults, the president at least "listens and has his heart in the right place".

"He's humble and he's honest. We've seen on the TV that he apologised. Rarely if you see somebody on top, at high level, that they realise that they, that, and they're honest enough to say 'I'm wrong,'" said Mr Barcelon.

Employers Confederation of the Philippines emeritus chair Donald Dee said the "noise" coming from abroad about the President's alleged human rights abuses were just "words because they do not understand what is happening here".

In the same briefing, Mr Dee said that while foreign businessmen have been parroting their respective national leaders in saying their investments have been endangered by the President's foul mouth and ruthless war on drugs, he did not expect them to leave because they have been making money in the Philippines, one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

"They did not come here because of any other reason except to make money. Of course, in the process they help our people and we are grateful. But if I keep on making money, then I'm going to stay here," said Mr Dee.

"These countries are using the human rights issues as a way of their own CSR (corporate social responsibility). That is all propaganda. They have sweatshops in New York City but what do they do about it?" said Mr Dee.

He said he was supportive of Mr Duterte because at least he was "transparent" or "what you see is what you get".

"What we appreciate most is that, he's on the ground, he is doing things. If he gets angry, it is only because of his intensity, of his desire to see his objective done and done soonest," said Mr Dee.

Mr Abella said that Malacanang has been taking criticisms or protest actions against the president as part of the terrain.

President Duterte has apologised for likening killing three million addicts to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler's slaughter of 6 million Jews amid an international outcry. Mr Duterte said he was not making light of the Holocaust and deeply sympathised with the Jewish community in recalling their World War II history. However, his words were just a response to critics who had actually compared him to Hitler just because of his determination to pursue the war on drugs, despite the rising casualties.

Despite Mr Duterte's explanation, Belgium's move to reschedule Princess Astrid's visit to the Philippines originally set for May 2017 shows that the international community has not moved on from the latest Duterte outburst.

Although Mr Abella dismissed speculations on Princess Astrid's announcement, Mr Abella said Malacanang respected her decision.

"She has her own standards by which she has to act and although we have not really gotten any formal communication regarding those matters, this is in a sense, a matter of speculation. Although we respect her values, we respect her position," said Mr Abella.