Dutertes defend (and attack) amid controversies

Oct. 28, 2023
Davao City 1st District Rep. Paolo Duterte (left), ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro (center), former President Rodrigo Duterte (right)

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – It has been quite long enough to see the Duterte family come out for each other. Not even the inauguration rites for Sara Duterte as vice president held in Davao City on June 29, 2022, saw the family together. Congressman Paulo (Pulong) was absent while the father former President Rodrigo was visibly unenthusiastic throughout the inauguration.

But now, the father and brother have come out for Sara, defending and attacking critics over the issue of the vice president’s confidential funds.

The issue: confidential funds

Vice President Sara Duterte and her allies were questioned during the House of Representatives budget hearings last September for the disbursement of P125 million confidential funds in 2022, which was flagged for two things: that the transfer of the presidential funds for the VP was illegal; and how it was spent in merely 11 (or 19) days during the Christmas season. Leading this scrutiny was Representative France Castro of ACT Teachers Party-list, a member of the progressive Makabayan bloc and deputy minority floor leader.

The House leadership later decided to scrap the P650 million confidential funds sought by Duterte (P500M under the VP office, P150M under the Department of Education) and realign the funds to other agencies especially those in charge of protecting the West Philippine Sea.

The vice president, who usually posts statements on her social media pages, was silent over this decision. But this time, it was her father who took the cudgels.

The threat

Rodrigo appeared on his TV program aired on Sonshine Media Network (SMNI) in early October to defend his daughter’s need for confidential funds, mentioning the need for funds to develop ROTC, things that were not mentioned during the House deliberation.

But while defending the need for the confidential funds, came this threat from Duterte on the Makabayan bloc:

“Pero ang una mong target d’yan [sa] intelligence fund mo, kayo, ikaw France, kayong mga Komunista ang gusto kong patayin.” (But you are my first target on the intelligence fund. You, France, and the other communists, I want to kill you.)

This prompted Castro to file a grave threat complaint in court against the former president on October 24, the first civil suit filed against Duterte.

Castro said that while she has faced numerous threats as the Makabayan bloc has opposed policies and statements from the former president, and also from Sara who has frequently red-tagged ACT Teachers, she cannot ignore this threat aired on national television and social media.

“Though factually baseless and clearly malicious, I cannot merely dismiss Respondent Duterte’s red-tagging and accompanying grave threats as either figurative, joking, or otherwise benign considering that many victims of extrajudicial killings, illegal arrest and detentions, excommunicado confinements, forced disappearances and other analogous attacks were called or labeled ‘communists,’ members or supporters of the NPA, “terrorists,” and like labels before they were attacked,” Castro said in the complaint she filed.

The video has been taken down on YouTube but is still circulating on social media.

Duterte may face jail time for up to six years and pay a fine of up to ₱100,000 if found guilty. But Castro’s lawyer Tony La Viña said the issue “is about accountability.”

“President Duterte has gotten away with so many things when he was president kasi may immunity siya from suit,” said La Viña.

Pulong’s statement

The next day, Pulong, who has avoided the public limelight after his own controversy in 2017, made a statement criticizing Castro and the Makabayan bloc for being “onion-skinned.”

“…public servants should not be onion-skinned and should not make use of this right as a tool to silence critics. The former President has received much harsher and humiliating criticisms in the past but never filed a case against anyone,” his statement said.

The congressman added: “As public servants, we all are under scrutiny by the Filipino people. If the former President has said something that threatened her, then maybe she should come out clean. ‘Di yung nagtatago tayo sa likod ng so-called “right” na ito. (There’s no need to hide behind this so-called right.)

Castro’s response when interviewed by media was this: “Bakit parang ako pa ang may kasalanan, samantalang buhay ko ang pinagbantaan at muling ni-redtag? (Why does it look like I’m the one to blame here, when my life is threatened and red-tagged again?)

“I filed a grave threats case against former President Duterte because I am protecting myself, my family and my colleagues. Also death threats and red-tagging aired on television must be must be stopped because it endangers the lives of people. It is far different from criticisms and should not be tolerated because it fosters the state of impunity. We have to draw the line,” the party-list lawmaker added.

Unanimous support

The Dutertes have constantly red-tagged the Makabayan bloc without basis, deflecting the criticisms against them.

But this time, Castro and the Makabayan find the whole House membership standing with them against the former president.

In a rare move, House leaders across parties issued a statement to protect Castro and other House members, who have also been maligned by the former president for alleged corruption.

“The former president chose to malign the very institution that for years supported many of his own legislative priorities. We call upon the former president and all parties involved to avoid making threats or insinuating harm against any member of the House or the institution itself,” their statement said. 

Such a statement shows that the once-strong Duterte bloc has lost this battle as allies in the current administration stand for the institution over personalities. (davaotoday.com)

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