Duterte talks about Trillanes, ouster plot, rice supply woes, third telco player in interview

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 11) — President Rodrigo Duterte did not hold back in discussing the country's issues during a sit-down interview with his chief legal counsel Tuesday.

The tete-a-tete, announced by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Monday, was initially described as an "address," but Special Assistant Bong Go later called it a "press conference."

It was scheduled at 3 p.m., but was called off less than an hour before it was supposed to start. The interview with Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo was broadcast by state-run PTV later in the afternoon.

Protests marked the President's interview, with some student protesters saying they wasted their time by watching the tete-a-tete.

They said there were no solutions given to the country's pressing woes, only attacks against Duterte's critics.

Political analyst Dindo Manhit spoke to CNN Philippines after the President's interview, saying it was an opportunity for Duterte to talk about what he saw as threats and challenges.

"The President wanted to talk about it, not addressing the opposition, not addressing people who were critical of him, but I think the general public," Manhit said.

He said, "What I see here from a political point of view is that the President wanted to talk to the people – his constituency – through broad media reach and explain his stand on issues confronting his government."

Something that may not have happened in a press conference because there would be less opportunity to "control the message... control the narrative if it were the independent press corps."

Zeroing in on Trillanes, ouster plot

The President started off by discussing the case against Trillanes, whose amnesty he invalidated by signing Proclamation No. 572 on September 4.

He said one of the "glaring mistakes" of the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III was granting Trillanes amnesty.

"(Ex-defense chief Voltaire) Gazmin signed the amnesty itself. It is not possible to do that. Why? Because an act of pardon or amnesty is an act of state. It cannot be delegated to anybody but only to the President," he said.

Edwin Lacierda, former presidential spokesperson, in a statement during Duterte's interview, said "government lawyers keep inventing and changing the legal basis for the revocation of Sen. Trillanes' amnesty."

"However, Proclamation No. 572 rests only on one legal basis: the absence of an application for amnesty. By changing the legal basis, the State impliedly admitted that Proclamation 572 is deficient. Without a shadow of a doubt, the government lawyers themselves just voided the president's own proclamation," he said.

The President also said he has proof of critics plotting to oust him.

Duterte said the Communist Party of the Philippines and its exiled founder Jose Maria "Joma" Sison, the Magdalo group, and other critics were in "constant communication" to unseat him.

"They have combined. And we have the evidence and we have the conversation provided by a foreign country sympathetic to us," he said.

Duterte said he would ask the evidence to be declassified soon.

He also said soldiers who believed Trillanes did anything good for them should join the senator, and challenged Magdalo to begin working for his removal from office.

The President also said he was not afraid of alleged plans to have him killed.

"Sabi ng ano na, 'yan ang plano nila ngayon. Kung hindi na madala sa paputok-paputok, mag-assassinate. Kaligaya ko na lang mamatay sa kamay ninyo. At least hindi mamatay sa sakit. Ano ba naman 'yang bala? Hindi nga umabot ng isang segundo 'yung tiis mo diyan," he said.

[Translation: I've heard those were their plans now. If they can't make it happen though explosions, an assassination. I will be glad to die by your hand. At lease I won't die from illness. What's a bullet? Your suffering won't last for even a second.]

Duterte also accused the senator's mother of involvement in transactions with the Philippine Navy, where Trillanes also served.

The accusation came after Trillanes said he would file a resolution to call for investigation of the unfinished infrastructure projects, which are allegedly linked to the firms of Special Assistant to President Bong Go's family members.

Rice, NFA woes

The President said he would look into finding a new head of the National Food Authority (NFA) after revealing the current chief, Jason Aquino, expressed desire to leave his post.

"He (Aquino) said he's tired and cannot cope up with the laro dyan sa [dynamics there] inside, which is always ordinary happening in the government because we cannot be in agreement all the time. I will scout for a new one," Duterte said

He also said he would recommend the abolition of the NFA Council, saying the agency served no purpose.

The President said there was no shortage of rice, and "man-made manipulation" was the problem.

Duterte did say, however, he might consider Sabah as a possible source of rice for the country.

Third telco player known by December

The President also addressed the country's need for better telecommunications (telco) services.

"Maybe late, early November, pag wala pa, I'll take over. Ilagay ko iyan sa [I will put it under the] Office of the President," Duterte said.

In August, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) released the criteria for third telco player selection.

In an exclusive interview with CNN Philippines' Business Roundup on August 17, DICT Acting Secretary Eliseo Rio, Jr. said several companies were vying to become the country's third telco player.

"I will resolve it by late October, [early] November," Duterte said. "By Christmas, alam na ng mga tao sino ang third player [people will know who's the third player]."

Labor strikes affect investments

The President said strikes and the involvement of leftist groups also factor in business investments in the country.

"Ngayon wala tayo masyado. Nandiyan pa yung KMU (Kilusang Mayo Uno) – sige, strike. Strike, strike nila, e di magsara. Sinong magutom?  Pilipino," he said.

[Translation: Now, we don't have much. And then the KMU is there and people are carrying out strikes. Businesses are closing down. Who goes hungry? Filipinos.]

"Walang negosyante ngayon na papasok na after three months, mag-strike kayo. Malugi kapital niya, kaya yung mga tao na 'yan, nagsiawatan. Kasi sa China walang strike, wala lahat. Trabaho lang," he added.

[Translation: No businessmen will come here because after three months, there's a strike. They will incur losses, so they will leave. In China, there are no strikes. They just work.]

The KMU released a statement after the President's interview, saying the right to strike "is a universal workers' right guaranteed by international and domestic laws."

The number of strikes was a result of the President's "failure to end contractualization, refusal to address the rising prices of commodities by implementing a significant wage hike and of the government's fascist attacks against trade union and human rights."

In a separate statement, the Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines also said red tape, graft and corruption, poor infrastructure, and a worsening peace and order situation, particularly in the countryside, are discouraging business investors.

Watch the President's interview with Panelo here.

CNN Philippines' Eimor Santos, Regine Cabato, Robert Vergara, Alyssa Rola, Pia Garcia and Makoi Popioco contributed to this report.