GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 05 October) – President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, speaking to newly-appointed career officials in Malacañang last September 27, made a statement in Tagalog which his critics gleefully interpreted as an admission of his responsibility for the extra judicial killings in his two-year anti-drug war. Frantic denials and clarifications from his top apologists hogged the top stories online in the next five days.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque in dismissing the critics said the President was not serious, that his statement about EJK killings as his only sin did not mean admission of responsibility for them.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo considered the statement as a “matter of language” that was misinterpreted – the President being a Bisaya (Davao Bisaya) was unable to express exactly in Tagalog what he meant to say.
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What did the President say in Tagalog?
From various reports, we picked this: “Ako, I will talk to — eh, political exercise now. What are your sins? Ako? Sabi ko nga sa military, anong kasalanan ko? Nagnakaw ba ako diyan ni piso? Sige daw. Did I prosecute somebody na ipinakulong ko? Ang kasalanan ko lang ’yung mga extrajudicial killing.”
This is from John Nery’s column, “The Sins of President Duterte”, (PDI, Oct. 2, 2018), citing the official transcript prepared by the Presidential Communications Operations Office as his source. Except for “— eh”, that in other quotes reads “… to a political …”, and “Sige daw”, not in other quotes, this quotation is the same as those in various reports.
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What did the President tell his audience – the newly-appointed career officials?
He talked of “sins” or “kasalanan” vaguely referring to “political exercise”. By “sins”, he must mean “crime”, both “kasalanan” in Tagalog and Bisaya – or plain “wrong”.
In asking, “What are your sins?”, the President was not referring to violations of the Ten Commandments but to violations of man’s moral and legislated laws – plainly, “What wrong have you done in government?”. He did not intend to hear their confessions but was rhetorically preparing to make his own confession, that is: “I am not corrupt; I am just. On the other hand, however, my only sins are extrajudicial killings.”
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Panelo amended the President’s statement.
From the PCOO official transcript, Panelo quoted only “Ang kasalanan ko lang ay ang extrajudicial killings”. [Note: He changed “’yung mga” in the official transcript to “ay ang”.] Then he clarified that this is not what the President had wanted to say.
What did the President want to say?
Panelo explained: “Ang ibig niyang sabihin, ‘ang isyu lang laban sa akin ay extrajudicial killings,’ iyon ang ibig sabihin nun. Alam mo, Bisaya si Presidente.”
And he reiterated what the President, he thought, had wanted to say” was: “… iyan lang ang issue niyo sa akin, EJK. Ang isyu niyo lang sa akin bilang presidente ng bansa ay extrajudicial killing”.
Note well: “Ang kasalanan ko lang ’yung mga extrajudicial killing”, the President’s original statement in Tagalog, became “Ang isyu lang laban sa akin ay extrajudicial killings”, still in Tagalog. In the President’s own words, “extrajudicial killing” is “kasalanan ko”; in what Panelo thinks the President meant to say, “extrajudicial killing” is “isyu lang laban sa akin”.
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Did the President state exactly what he meant? Was he misinterpreted by his critics and the press?
Had the President expressed himself in Bisaya, he would have said: “Ang kasalanan ko lang kanang mga extrajudicial killing” – “kanang” is “’yung” in Tagalog. If the texts in Tagalog and Bisaya are exactly the same except for one word, what was mistranslated or misinterpreted? In English, it would still be “My only sins are the extrajudicial killings.”
Whether in Tagalog, Bisaya or English, the statement is plain and simple admission or confession. Panelo amended the statement into what he thought the President should have said: “Ang isyu lang laban sa akin ay extrajudicial killings.” In English, “The only issue against me is the extrajudicial killings.”
As a confession, the President admitted his guilt; as an issue, the President can prove his innocence. But in the first case, Panelo, Roque, et al. should not accuse the President’s critics and the press of misinterpretation or distortion. What Panelo thought the President meant to say was not what he said as appearing in the official transcript of the speech.
If there had really been a misstatement, it was the President who did – not because he is a Bisaya but because of his style of extemporaneous speaking — rambling and disoriented rather than carefully thought and focused.
Blame the court if his plea, on record, is “Guilty” instead of “Not Guilty”?
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Patricio P. Diaz was editor in chief of the Cotabato City-based Mindanao Cross and later the Mindanao Kris before returning to General Santos City. You may email him at [email protected])