MANILA, Philippines – In an unprecedented move, President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday went out of his way to talk to left-leaning protesters immediately after delivering his second State of the Nation Address at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City.
But while the move was something not done before by Duterte’s predecessors, this did not result in conciliatory gestures between the chief executive and his critics as the President’s talk with the protesters just revolved around his demand that they account for their alleged attempt to kill him through an ambush.
“In-ambush n’yo ako. Anong gusto n’yo? Paano kayo mag-peace talks kung pinatay ako [You ambushed me. What do you like? How can you pursue peace talks if you killed me]?” the President told a group of protesters led by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).
“Eh tuloy tuloy tapos pinatay n’yo ako sinong kausapin n’yo [If you killed me, to whom would you talk to]?” he said.
Duterte was referring to the July 19 alleged ambush by the New People’s Army in Brgy. Katipunan, Arakan, North Cotabato that killed a militiaman and wounded four members of the Presidential Security Group, which the NPA denied.
He said leftist activists should learn mutual respect and not kill him. “Magrespetuhan tayo wag n’yo ko i-ambush.”
“‘Yan ang gusto n’yo? Sirain natin ng bayan? Sirain natin. Magrespetuhan tayo o hindi [Is that what you like? For us to destroy the country? Are we going to respect each other or not]? he told the protesters.
The President warned the activists that if they won’t stop and if war was what they wanted, he would be ready to give it to them.
“Ayaw n’yo magrespeto? Ambush-in n’yo ako. Magtiis tayong lahat…Sino may armas d’yan? Paputok kayo…Kung wala kayong respetuhan, pag ‘yan ang gusto ninyo ibigay ko sa inyo…Hindi ako matakot sa mga ganyan ganyan kay galing ako d’yan,” Duterte said.
[You don’t want to give respect? Ambush me. Let’s all sacrifice…Who has arms there? Fire them…If you have no respect, if that is what you like, I’d give it to you…I won’t fear those things, I had been there before.]
In a statement issued Monday, Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. acknowledged that Duterte’s move to talk to protesters after the SONA was unprecedented.
But Reyes said “it would have been more meaningful if he made clear commitments on the basic issues of the people.”
“The audience’s strong negative reaction and feeling of dismay come from the President’s lack of positive responses to the issues they posed, including the peace talks, political prisoners, contractualization, land reform and so on,” he said.
Reyes said that during his talk with Bayan members, Duterte “made no commitment to resume peace talks and instead repeatedly harped on a fictional ‘ambush’ against him.”
“When asked about land reform and contractualization, he pointed to his Cabinet secretaries. When asked about releasing political prisoners, he said the military will object. Those responses did not get him adherents at the rally for sure,” he added.
Reyes said the President’s asking for respect amid the intensifyng criticism of his administration was “not really the problem” but the chief executive’s continued attacks against the people through his words and deeds.
“While we are strongly criticizing his regime, the lines of communication have remained open especially if this is for the benefit of the people. Pero wala siyang tigil sa pagbira, sa salita at gawa. At marami na ang nasalanta at masasalanta pa,” he said.
“What should he have done? An immediate positive gesture on his part would be to demilitarize rural communities and move to revive the peace talks. That is something concrete. Sa halip na banta ng pambobomba at karahasan [Instead of threats to bomb and spread violence]. Sa halip na insultuhin ang mga Lumad sa kanyang SONA [Instead of insulting the Lumad in his SONA],” added Reyes.