This week’s hot topic is Digong’s seeming “endorsement” of journalist killings on the basis that “most of them are corrupt.” I had one angry friend messaging me links from various news outlets and saying “this is the man you voted for.” In my mind, I was like, “So what do you want me to do? Take it back?”
Instead of replying that way, I just tried to understand him and I told him to calm down a bit. He was a journalism graduate so of course he felt agitated. I read the news reports and it did indeed seem bad. One headline said, “Duterte endorses killing corrupt journalists.” Another read, “Philippine president-elect Rodrigo Duterte said that corrupt journalists were legitimate targets of assassination.” And still another said “The new president of the Philippines says many slain journalists deserved it.” On top of that the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) came out with a statement entitled “Nothing justifies the murder of journalists” decrying Duterte’s broad assertion that “most journalists are corrupt.”
After reading these, I decided that I wasn’t going to be satisfied until I had heard the actual press conference, straight from the horse’s mouth. When I found a video clip, I listened to the back-and-forth between Digong and the reporter, and typed my own transcript as I listened. I played back different portions several times to make sure I had heard things correctly, and then played the whole thing over again while reading through what I had typed. I’m pretty sure my transcript is accurate except for some gutteral sounds and unintelligible utterances. (Click here to see the transcript and video of Duterte’s May 31 Press Conference)
So what is my analysis of what Digong said in relation to the screaming headlines?
Well, it’s quite clear to me that what we have here is a failure of communication. The question went in one direction while the answer went the other way. The question asked was, what is your POLICY on the journalist killings, but Digong’s answer was not about policy. He was explaining why a certain group of journalists got killed which found a specific focus on Jun Pala.
After the initial tirade, the reporter then asked if that was an excuse to kill a journalist, just because he is corrupt?
Now, look at Digong’s answer “Well, that is the reason. You are asking why? That is the reason. Now sinabi mo hindi dapat, you have to debate with the killer, not me.”
In other words, the reporter and Duterte seemed to be at two different wavelengths. The reporter was obviously still trying to frame some sort of policy while Duterte was focused on explaining why these killings happened.
It was not an endorsement, nor was it legitimization or justification of the killings.
When he said, “It’s not because you’re a journalist na ikaw, na you’re exempted from assassination,” he was not implying that it’s legitimate or justified to kill journalists because they are corrupt. What he is saying is that those who want to assassinate journalists will kill them anyway and will not respect the fact that they are journalists. That is far from endorsing the murder of journalists.
Now, if I had been the reporter, instead of letting Duterte dictate the flow of the conversation, I would have insisted on getting an answer regarding POLICY because his initial answer was clearly off the mark. I would say something like, “Excuse me, sir, I understand that some journalists get killed because they are corrupt but what about the many innocent ones who expose powerful people and get killed in the process, what is your POLICY for giving justice to them?”
On the other hand, I do somewhat agree with an open letter written by Marites Vitug imploring the incoming president to be more clear when he communicates, as he is now no longer addressing a small community but an entire nation, and even the world. You will notice in the transcript that there are a lot of half-finished sentences, and the tendency to go on tangents. It is a legitimate request that the president be more concise and clear in giving his statements.
And that is something I can legitimately endorse.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.