Of expectations, that is. When it was announced that the President would address the nation on Sept. 11, the generation of martial law babies and those older immediately (and ominously) connected it with the great dictator’s birth anniversary. By the next day, the Armed Forces had to issue the kind of statement that triggers panic — don’t panic, it said.
Reacting to social media chatter and reporters picking up on the buzz and asking the AFP if, indeed, there was an ongoing movement of armored military vehicles, the Armed Forces replied, no; but even if there were — and there are, and have been, and will be — movements of armored vehicles, that’s to be expected in the vicinity of armed camps, so stay calm, don’t panic, do not fall prey to the evil designs of rumor-mongers.
But that can be explained away as an excess of zeal on the part of the military. What really put the current state of the ruling Noob Society on full display was when the Palace made an announcement early yesterday afternoon. The next 20 minutes or so that gripped the nation can be summarized as follows:
Presidential Communications Operations Office: No presidential presser anymore, we can’t say why.
Bong Go: No presser but speech to proceed at 3:15.
Salvador Panelo: No presser was scheduled in the first place.
Harry Roque: No cancellation happened; what was scheduled will push through but under modified format.
Indeed, what there would be, Roque purred, was a “tête-à-tête.” Panelo would read questions from the media, which, however, would be barred from the actual tête-à-tête. The Malacañang Press Corps had been biding its time, literally kept in the dark — someone, somewhere, didn’t think it was necessary to switch on the lights in the media briefing room. But rumblings of discontent, shared by foreign and domestic media practitioners alike, provoked a withdrawal of questions from the forthcoming tête-à-tête.
In the end, the tête-à-tête proved a test of patience, as the President’s complexion bore a startling — and distracting — resemblance to Among Ed Panlilio (hopefully, a makeup artist somewhere is going to take the blame). A foreign journalist from abroad commented online that it was a scene straight out of the Vladimir Putin playbook. For the domestic crowd, the only thing missing was the late Ronnie Nathanielsz, though Panelo proved an equally obliging substitute — exclaiming, at one point, with pointed enthusiasm, that the President looked very healthy, indeed.
The President ended up revealing what had been clear since his particularly ill-tempered press conference when he returned earlier than expected from Jordan: The scheme of the Solicitor General to pin down Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV has caused unforeseen complications, not just in terms of a debate within the Armed Forces and general contempt over the move’s legal reasoning on the part of the legal community, but also the continuation of the erosion of the perception that the President’s word is, literally, the law.
Judges dug in their heels — or, to be precise, shuffled their papers — saying they had to hold hearings and study the case. This led to the military and police taking on a more neutral stance, subordinating their actions to the courts, leading, in the end, to a swift, surprising consensus to let the courts handle matters without rushing to an actual arrest.
If the past two months have seen the startling transformation of the President from a strongman whom no one dared oppose, to a tired, cantankerous senior citizen overwhelmed by events, then the Trillanes saga offered the chance to prove who’s boss. It’s turning out that there remains residual self-respect among legal practitioners to resist the Executive’s whims—gently, but firmly enough (so far).
The President’s bullying and hectoring has found its match in Trillanes, who has never been subtle and whose lack of subtlety is apparently tailor-made for confronting the current Chief Executive. Indeed, the whole message in the presidential tête-à-tête, if there was one to be found, was that the President has discovered the limits to his power and charisma. There are lines more and more of his subordinates won’t cross. He needed to save face, and so he had a chat on TV.
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