Duterte apologizes to Sereno
DAVAO CITY, Philippines—In sharp contrast to his threats and fighting words early this week, President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday night apologized to Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for the “harsh words” he had flung at her over the inclusion of seven trial judges on his list of officials allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade.
“I apologize to the Chief Justice for the harsh words I’ve said, it was never intended,” Mr. Duterte said barely two days after he slammed the chief magistrate, who had responded to Mr. Duterte’s narcolist by telling the judges named not to heed police summons unless they were served warrants for their arrest.
“Because of the magnitude of the (drug) problem, it was my way of solving the problem within the ambit of my power as President,” Mr. Duterte said, adding that he no longer wanted a repeat of the tangle he just had with Sereno.
In a press briefing on Friday, Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te said: “The Chief Justice appreciates the President’s latest remarks (but) she will no longer say anything on the matter.”
But while it appeared that Mr. Duterte wanted to reconcile with Sereno, he seemed to be on the warpath yet again against another government official who he said was criticizing him too much.
“You know I was the whipping boy of the NGOs (nongovernment organizations) and the human rights stalwarts. But you know I have this special (tiff) with someone. She is a government official. One day soon, I’ll have to let her go in public and I will have to destroy her in public,” he said.
When asked who the official was, Mr. Duterte said: “That’s the riddle there.” He added: “Just wait. (People) might have thought that I never listened to them. So while they were (watching) what I’ve done, I’ve also been busy with the help of another country listening to them,” he said.
Mr. Duterte on Tuesday lashed out at Sereno for her letter urging him to abide by the rule of law in his fight against drugs, while also raising concerns about extrajudicial killings. The President’s naming on his narcolist seven judges, four of them incumbent, was “premature,” the Chief Justice said in the letter sent the President on Monday.
In a speech before soldiers at Camp Evangelista in Cagayan de Oro City, Mr. Duterte chided Sereno for insisting on warrants of arrest against drug suspects, saying it took the courts too long to issue them and that there were some 600,000 people involved in drugs.
He also warned the Chief Justice against fomenting a constitutional crisis that, he said, might force him to declare martial law.
The President’s apology to Sereno has assuaged fears about the declaration of martial law and “quickly erased worries of a conflict between the executive and the judiciary,” Sen. Leila de Lima said on Friday.
“We can also rest assured that the possible declaration of martial law is not administration policy, if the President did not intend to say those harsh words in the first place,” De Lima said, adding that “whatever comes out of the President’s mouth can be construed as policy, which was why it would be helpful if the Palace would clarify which of the Chief Executive’s pronouncements are policy and which are not to avoid confusion.”
Heat of passion
The President’s chief legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, said Mr. Duterte’s apology just shows that in the heat of passion, he may utter strong pronouncements. Otherwise, he added, the President is a gentleman and respects women.
Mr. Duterte blamed the media for his outburst on Tuesday, saying that they persistently asked him to name the judges involved in illegal drugs.
“You asked for it,” Mr. Duterte told reporters, “Even the media (kept asking), ‘When are you going to reveal the (names of the) judges?’ … Every time I face you, somebody will just stand up and say, ‘When are you going to reveal the list?’”
He added: “You’re demanding information. If you can easily ask (for information) from other offices, the more you should be able to ask it of the President,” Mr. Duterte said. “We have FOI (freedom on information) now,” he said, referring to the executive order he had issued that required all government offices in the executive department to be transparent in all their official transactions.
“My job is to inform the people about their surroundings and the threat that illegal drugs might bring to their lives and those of their children,” Mr. Duterte said. “I don’t have to go into the motion of waiting for the warrant of arrest. As President, I have the duty to inform the public.” TVJ
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