Unwarranted accusation? Palace says Duterte not serious with Loot, Roxas ambush claim

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 19) — President Rodrigo Duterte was not serious with his earlier claim that former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas planned the failed ambush of a Cebu government official, his spokesman said Wednesday.

In a media briefing, Panelo told Malacañang reporters that Duterte's remark on Roxas' alleged plot against Daanbantayan, Cebu Mayor Vicente Loot was, again, just a joke.

"If it's a joke then it's a not an accusation. And as the President said, you can't stop me from making jokes," Panelo said.

The spokesman added the comment was done as an "expression of displeasure" against the retired police general Loot, who Duterte had claimed was involved in illegal drugs.

"It appears to me that it was said in jest, given the fact that then General Loot is a pet peeve of the President because he's involved in drugs," he said.

"If you notice in some of his speeches, when drugs (are) the subject matter of his discourse, he always named Loot."

Speaking to Lumad leaders and barangay captains in Davao City Tuesday night, Duterte claimed it was Roxas who had ordered the killing of the former police general.

"Tan-awa, pila ka generals ang involved? Asta si Loot ug si Garbo. Si Loot kaduha na na-ambush, dili mapatay-patay. Dili ako nagpa-ambush ato ha, si Roxas. Katong ordera na to kang Roxas to, dili ako," the President said in Bisaya.

[Translation: Look, how many generals are involved. There's Loot and Garbo. Loot was ambushed twice, he couldn't die. I wasn't the one who had him ambushed, okay, it was Roxas. That order came from Roxas, not me.]

"Kay gi-ingnan man na siya, kanang imong Garbo, imong senior police aide, naa na sa droga. Mao tong galagot si Roxas, sulti niya patayin na lang ninyo para hindi tayo mapahiya.  Naabtan sa akong panahon mao na... sulti ni Roxas ambusha daw na si kuwan-- kinsa pa ba ang mu-ambush ug police general," Duterte added.

[Translation: So he was told, your Garbo, your senior police aide, he is involved with drugs. That's why Roxas was mad, he said just kill them so we will be saved from shame. It just happened in my time duterteasdasfdsfnoises Roxas said ambush that person-- who else would order the ambush of a police general?]

Panelo also countered detractors who said it was improper for the chief executive to crack such jokes.

"People make jokes, it doesn't mean bullying someone. If it's a joke, it doesn't involve the reputation of someone, because you're joking about it," the spokesman refuted.

"Whether it's necessary or not, that is his style. And thay style has been factored when he was running for the President and was voted into office overwhelmingly given that input on his style."

Loot-- together with some family members-- survived an ambush by unidentified men in his hometown in Maya Port, Daanbantayan, Cebu last May.

CNN Philippines Digital Producers Alyssa Rola and Luchi de Guzman contributed to this report.