Duterte asked for senators' support during dinner

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte sought senators’ support during a dinner he hosted in Malacañang on Tuesday, March 14. (LOOK: Majority senators in full force at 'intimate dinner' with Duterte)

Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, Duterte’s ally, told reporters that the chief executive asked the 15 majority senators present to give him some time to do his job.

“He asked us to support him. Yun I’d like to put that clear. I know the attitude of the President. He never asks for favors, help. In this particular dinner, he basically mentioned ‘give me some time to clean up the problem of peace and order and the economy, and basically the projects he’s trying to push,” Zubiri told reporters on Wednesday, March 15.

Zubiri and Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto both said the President talked about the death penalty bill but other senators denied it.

“If you’re president, you wouldn’t ask for support? Put yourself in his shoes. Let's just imagine 1 minute that we’re president and you have all senators there. Wouldn’t you say: Please give me a chance to do my job,” Zubiri said.

He added: “I think that’s very human of him. Kasi usually siga sya (Because he's usually proud). For him to actually say help me with programs, give me time, just allow me to do my job, that’s very humanly of him and very humbling of him.”

The dinner came weeks after a Senate revamp with the ouster of the Liberal Party from the majority bloc.

It also coincided with the resurfacing of self-confessed Davao Death Squad members accusing Duterte of ordering killings when he was still Davao City mayor.

Asked why Duterte would seek their help, Zubiri said: “So many people are asking him to resign. So many people are asking him to stand down. So many people are asking to promote destabilization. What he’s saying is: let me do my job.”

But Zubiri said Duterte “didn’t look bothered” during dinner.

'Private, lively'

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella described the dinner as "private and lively."

The President and senators "exchanged views on vital legislative agenda currently pending in the Senate," Abella said in a statement. "Among the pending bills they discussed were the proposed emergency powers to solve the traffic problem in Metro Manila and the proposed comprehensive tax reform package, which seeks to realign the revenue collection of the government, boost the available income of the taxpayers, while guaranteeing the healthy operation of the government and the country’s inclusive development programs. "

Despite this, senators said there is nothing unusual with majority senators meeting with the President. (READ: 'Intimate dinner' with Duterte not meant as loyalty check – senators)

Zubiri said it had also been a practice of past presidents.

“It was not a loyalty check. I'd be lying if I didn’t tell you that every President I met asked political support from both the House and the Senate,” he said.

“GMA used to host us for dinner, to say please help us with our agenda on tax reform. Nothing irregular. All presidents, from time of GMA to time of PNoy, regularly invited majority members of the Senate to dinners in Malacañang,” he added.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III and Senators Joseph Victor Ejercito and Grace Poe, Duterte’s rival in the 2016 presidential polls, shared the same sentiment.

Asked if it was a loyalty check, Sotto told reporters: "I don't think so. [Ang] layo (Far from it)."

“In fairness to the President, wala siyang hiniling, wala siyang tinulak, wala siyang inendorso, wala siyang tinanong sa investigations (he didn't ask for anything, he didn't push for anything, he didn't endorse anyone, he didn't ask about investigations)," Ejercito said.

He added the President did not even ask them about the ongoing probes at the Senate. "Wala talagang pinag-usapan na medyo mabigat na issue. Ni tanong sa investigations kahit in passing wala." (We really didn't talk about serious issues. Even questions about investigations, even in passing, none.)

Poe, for her part, said: “I don’t think so [loyalty check]. Andun naman ako. I don’t think it was really the core group. Bilang kortesiya, pangulo yun, magbibigay galang ka rin."

De Lima, tax reform, drug war

Ejercito also said they discussed the proposed tax reform measure and the return of the war on drugs. He said Duterte showed them a "cleaner" list of local officials involved in illegal drugs, which included barangay officials and other local executives. 

Asked if Duterte mentioned anything about detained Senator Leila de Lima, Ejercito said that Duterte did talk about his fierce critic, telling her colleagues that the government's drug charges against her were based on reports from "international intelligence." 

Because of this, the charges could not have been trumped up, the President reportedly told the senators. 

"Na 'yung mga evidence against her parang international intelligence supplied. It's not only the local ang nag-supply ng intel report against her," Ejercito said. "Inexplain niya na 'di trumped-up charges, na may basis, kasi intel niya ay international report."

(The evidence against her was supplied by international intelligence. It's not only the local intelligence agencies which supplied the intel report against her. He explained the charges were not trumped up, they have basis, because the intel came from an international report.) – Rappler.com