July 20, 2019
ON July 11, 2019, Manila Times President and CEO Dante Francis “Klink” Ang 2nd, together with Beechie Fernandez of The Daily Tribune, had an interview with President Rodrigo Roa Duterte in Malacañang. I will endeavor to make a summing up of the interview to show how Klink and Beechie had masterfully framed their questions such that the President could not but, also masterfully, craft his answers like he was delivering his State of the Nation Address (SONA) already. Although the President cautioned that he did not aim to hold that “kind of event before a SONA,” he, nonetheless, declared that he would be glad to “use idiom on the rough edges of what you would like to know…”
Given that assurance, Klink shot his first question: “Looking forward to the next three years, what will be your top priority measures…?”
That was it. The President appeared teed off on what he would otherwise be discoursing on on Monday at the podium of the Batasang Pambansa, for which members of both houses of Congress, together with foreign dignitaries and members of Philippine social and political elites, will assemble. They will be there to view the annual spectacle in which the President is expected to regale his audience with a litany of accomplishments from the period past to ambitious plans for the future. Try glancing at the following Q&A while you watch President Duterte deliver his SONA, and see if the President had not made that address 12 days ago.
To Klink’s initial salvo, the President lengthily answered thus:
“We have passed many laws. PhilHealth, the education program, the Build, Build, Build. We have made progress tremendously. Though I would say that you have to do more in the agricultural sector. But we have improved on law and order condition. We have professionalized our police. The long way. The hard way. But I think we have attained actually a minimum of efficient police organization. We are happy about that… And so many other things. For example, I have done away with irrigation fees. And of course I have to [go] back again. The doubling of the salaries of our soldiers and uniformed personnel in government. And many others, but this time, the second half, I think I will concentrate more, if funds are there, [on getting] the Philippine Coconut Authority organized. If there is some money, then we’ll have to see how it is spent wisely.”
The President commented that it was humanly impossible to trace those farmers who contributed to the coconut levy fund and return to them the money they had contributed. Instead, he proposed that “Congress must come up with something more rational” by way of putting the coconut levy funds to good use, for instance, in enhancing research in order to rehabilitate the coconut industry.
“So, agriculture would be the major thrust?” asked Klink.
“Yes, major thrust,” said President Duterte. “You know that most of the poverty is in the provinces. Lalo na sa agriculture (Especially in agriculture).
To a question by Beechie as to whether agriculture would be the centerpiece of the President’s SONA, Duterte agreed but explained that coupled with that concern would be how to spend the budget in improving government services.
“For example yesterday I went to investigate the Customs,” said the President. “Well, if they’re not going to… If they are not really [going] to resign, I can give them the option. About 63 of them. I found out in one day that their continued presence in this Bureau of Customs is detrimental to public interest.”
A follow-up question by Beechie clarified the fact of agriculture being the centerpiece of government program for the next three years because of financing from the coco levy fund. She asked what happens to the land that had been converted into subdivisions, malls, condominiums, resorts and other industrial sites.
“Automatically this should be included in the fund to improve the industry of coconut,” the President promptly replied. “If you are not into coconut planting, naturally you are out.”
The President went on to cite how some enterprising businessmen had the propensity of converting prime agricultural land into commercial and quasi-commercial sites, “getting nearer to the borders of the actual coconut plantations.”
It was at this juncture that Klink asked, “Sir, the last time you mentioned you intend to push the land use act. Is this part of your program to fix the agricultural sector?”
“Yes…,” replied the President. “The land use is very important so that we’d know how much still can we afford to address a certain hectarage… and whether or not we still can be a sustainable country by consuming what we plant. Although it’s a long shot right now, I would say.”
Beechie then asked whether part of the agricultural centerpiece is the idea of luring back people in the provinces to agriculture. Before she could finish her question, the President answered, “That would be a good strategy. Other countries did it. We did it during the time of Marcos.”
The discussions were so exhaustive that tackling the agriculture issue alone would not fit into the limited space of this column. So before I run out of space, I will only cite two more matters taken up: the rumor of a military coup against Duterte and China-Philippines relations.
On the first issue, President Duterte said: “ If you want a coup d’etat fine, but let me know. Do not bring your armor there and your guns. That would be too stupid and corny. All you have to do is call me. We have coffee here. And if you say, ‘Panahon mo na. Wala kaming maaasahan sa ‘yo. Okay I’ll step down. And so I would say that the decision of Marcos and Erap not to allow a fight between his presidential guard and… puro army… sila sila lang ‘yan. Tama ‘yun. When you are no longer needed, you do not call your army to fight the army. They will only be fighting among themselves…”
On the ultimate issue, the President embarked on a lengthy narrative.
“I went to China to just buy guns on credit… I told them can you give me liberal terms… [He — President Xi Jinping] said no need. I give it to you for free. Tapos napag-usapan namin itong relasyon natin. I went direkto for the… Sabi ko, by the way… Nandiyan ‘yan sina Cimatu, si Dominguez, si Lorenzana, si Esperon… Everybody in the Cabinet… I am going to a certain portion of the China Sea because I will dig oil. ‘You cannot do that.’ ‘No, no. That’s ours… Sabi ko sa kanila…A little bit of a debate but in a soft voice. Sabi niya, ‘You know, we just restored our normal relationship. We are very happy that you are here. We can talk about it some other time. Wag ngayon because sabi niya, sa bunganga niya, it might mean trouble. From the lips of Mr. Xi, ano ang ibig sabihin niyang ‘mean trouble’? Sabi ko, ‘No. I don’t want war. I cannot win a war.’ ‘Ah, we are not going to war.’ Pero ako talaga, Sabi ko pag-uwi ko, there will be a time that I will bring this matter personally to you. Ang sa idea ko, when they start to dig oil.”
Beechie cut in, “When is it, Mr. President??
“Malapit na sana. Pero it was… naputol because of di ba, there was a ruckus again? Itong banggaan. |Alam mo, nung sinabi ni President Xi Jinping, we can even give you 60-40, 60 inyo, 40 sa amin. I was so happy. Iyun ang sinasabi ko, one day. Because China is in possession of the China Sea. He is claiming the entire ocean. The first nation ever to do that and I’m still wondering how it can be done. They just claim the entire ocean. Tapos sabi nila. Basta yun ang sabi. Binabantayan ko ang oil. Nung nanduon na sila sa oil, nagsabi na ako sa ambassador. What’s your plan?”
Let’s put to rest this question here. Two days from now, the President will be addressing the Congress in his fourth state of the nation address. Surely he must have answers to questions more elaborate and explosive than those spoken in a one-on-two interview.
Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net