If journalists in the Philippines still held any hope of having working relationships with president-elect Rodrigo Duterte after he said last month that they are “not exempt from assassination,” they probably don’t now.
After Duterte spent months on the campaign trail throwing insults at journalists, his press secretary said this week that the president-elect will ban all independent media from his swearing-in ceremony on Thursday.
Instead, news of the event will be broadcast exclusively by a state-run television network and radio station, the South China Morning Post reports. He is the first Filipino president to do so in recent history.
The move is in line with Duterte’s promise to boycott the media: Earlier this month, he subjected a female reporter who was mid-sentence in asking a question to catcalling and then a serenade — all during a televised news conference. Three days after that, he cut his losses and announced he would no longer grant interviews until the end of his term.
And this is just one in a series of attempts by Duterte — who rode to victory on his tough-on-crime credentials as the longtime mayor of Davao City — to distinguish himself from every other president who has led the Philippines since the country’s last dictator was overthrown in 1986.
Duterte has moved the inauguration ceremony from its traditional open-air location in a historical park in downtown Manila into the closed-door, chandeliered ballroom of his presidential palace, where only selected guests and the state-run media will be allowed to observe the proceedings. Attendees will be served coconut juice and deep fried bananas.
And the president-elect has further bucked tradition by choosing an associate justice and former college fraternity brother — not the traditional chief justice of the Supreme Court — to officiate the ceremony.
For what it’s worth, Duterte’s press secretary successfully lobbied the organizers to let accredited television stations set up cameras on the palace lawns — a tiny concession considering that the event will be held inside. The rest of the media will be sequestered in separate palace buildings and able to watch it on a live-stream.
In addition to the free press, Duterte’s own future vice president, Leni Robredo, won’t be invited to the party. Despite winning the vice-presidency, Robredo, whose concern for women’s rights and the poor tend to contradict Duterte’s brand of overbearing machismo, has failed repeatedly to schedule a meeting with the president-elect.
Maybe after initially shocking the press with his lewd and threatening comments, Duterte’s blanket ban on journalists is a way to carefully filter who gets to cover his presidency, and how.
As one of his longtime aides said in response to the outcry over Duterte’s catcalling antics: “No press cons, no mistakes.”
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