Joke again? Lost in translation? Duterte says he 'ordered' Loot ambush

AMBUSH SURVIVOR. Former Daanbantayan mayor Vicente Loot survived an ambush in 2018. File photo by Rappler

AMBUSH SURVIVOR. Former Daanbantayan mayor Vicente Loot survived an ambush in 2018.

File photo by Rappler

(3rd UPDATE) When President Rodrigo Duterte made the comment before government officials at Malacañang's Rizal Hall on Tuesday, September 17, not few wondered whether they had heard him right. Did he actually admit that?

While ranting about his frustrations over corruption and drug problems in the country and other personalities who had become regular fixtures in his speeches, he suddenly talked about the failed ambush attempt on former mayor Vicente Loot of Daanbantayan, Cebu, in 2018.

"General Loot, putang ina mo nanalo pa ng barangay – mayor. Inambush kita, animal ka, buhay pa rin (General Loot, you son of a bitch, you even won as barangay – mayor. I ambushed you, you animal, but you're still alive)," he said.

In his first month as Chief Executive, Duterte accused Loot of involvement in the drug trade, which the then-mayor denied. Loot survived an ambush attempt in May 2018. 

The President's latest statement was markedly different from what he had claimed in another public speech in December 2018 – that it was former interior secretary Mar Roxas who had ordered the hit on Loot. At the time, after the media reported the President's allegation against Roxas, his spokesman quickly dismissed it as just another Duterte "joke."

On Wednesday, September 18, a day after the media reported Duterte's "admission" that he had Loot ambushed, Panelo used the Bisaya card to explain the President's statement.

"'Inambush kita, buhay ka pa' is uttered by a Bisaya President who is not proficient in Pilipino, the vernacular language used in the capital city of Manila and in most areas in Luzon," Panelo said in a statement sent to media.

According to the interpretation of Panelo, what the President meant to say was, "Inambush ka na, buhay ka pa (You were ambushed, yet you're still alive)."

"It is silly and absurd to conclude that PRRD is behind the ambush just because he misspeaks the Pilipino language which is not his native tongue or first language," Panelo said.

Panelo had used the same excuse to explain what then seemed to be Duterte's admission in September 2018 – a year ago – that his "only sin" is extrajudicial killings. 

Perhaps the Chief Executive should just stick to speaking in English in public events? But then again, Malacañang would likely just dismiss his controversial statements as jokes or misinterpreted, no matter how straightforward they may sound. Remember how the previous spokesman did this?

What is lost?

Whether it was a joke or something supposedly misspoken, Senator Panfilo Lacson – who was among those mentioned in Duterte's rant on September 17 – offered some sound advice, when asked for comment on the President's "admission" regarding the former mayor.

"Midway into his term, we should already be familiar with his penchant for saying something as serious as that and dismissing it as a joke afterwards. Joke or not, Mayor Loot would be better off minding his physical security 24/7," Lacson said. 

Senator Bong Go, Duterte's longtime aide, said in a media interview on Wednesday that another way to look at the President's statement was that it served as a warning to those in the drug trade.

"Biro lang, pero warning 'yun sa lahat – gobernador o mayor man kayo – basta 'pag pumasok kayo sa droga, nandiyan talaga ang risk; ako na nagsasabi sa inyo (It's only a joke but it's a warning for everyone – even if you're a governor or a mayor – that if you enter the drug trade, the risk would always be there)," he said.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, meanwhile, said something more important is lost whenever Panelo tries to clarify the President's controversial statements on killings.

"Kung may Google translator, may Duterte translator din. 'Yan si Secretary Sal Panelo.... Kapag umamin ng pagpatay ang Pangulo, slip of tongue lang ito kay Secretary Panelo. Pero may 'lost in translation' diyan. At ang lost ay ang katotohanan," Hontiveros said.

(If there's a Google translator, there's a Duterte translator as well. That's Secretary Sal Panelo. When the President admits killing somebody, it's only a slip of tongue for Secretary Panelo. But somethng was "lost in translation" there. And what is lost is the truth.) – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers Cebu and the Visayas for Rappler. He covers all news in the region, but is particularly interested in people stories, development issues and local policy making.

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