Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler
Rodrigo Duterte’s rape remark is undoubtedly the biggest crisis faced by him and his campaign team so far.
How are they handling it? Not well, from the looks of things.
A day after the YouTube video of Duterte’s Amoranto Stadium rally was posted, Duterte granted an interview right outside his garage in Davao City. He had obviously just woken up, dressed in pambahay (house) clothes.
His 26-minute explanation was more than a little confusing. He said he was sorry for offending people with his “gutter language” and he was sorry for the bloody outcome of the hostage-taking incident.
But he would not apologize for the remark itself, because it was part of his narration of the 1989 series of events. He had first uttered the remark then and he just wanted to be accurate in his retelling.
Major media outfits picked up the story, but initially had different interpretations of Duterte’s explanation. Inquirer’s initial headline called it an apology. Rappler and Philippine Star interpreted it as a refusal to apologize.
But eventually, Inquirer changed its headline. Amidst the confusion, the Duterte-Cayetano campaign staff sent a press release interpreting Duterte’s explanation as a refusal to apologize.
Two days later, before Duterte’s events in Iloilo City, the media received Duterte’s supposed apology from PDP-Laban staff members.
So we have two press releases from apparently different groups within the Duterte campaign team saying two different things though based on the same Sunday interview.
There was an obvious lack of coordination, no doubt because panic had set in. The story was already being picked up by international news groups. The Australian embassy had taken notice, too.
'Passed through his hands'
It seems the lack of coordination has created some bickering between the two camps within a camp. A Duterte staff member called the first press release (where Duterte refuses to apologize) a mistake, calling the "Duterte-Cayetano staff" wrong for sending it.
The “apology” that was sent two days after appears to be an attempt at damage control, prepared on Monday, April 18, by Duterte’s political strategist Lito Banayo.
Banayo had “offered to write a draft statement based on the Sunday interview which was quite disjointed,” he told Rappler by text.
That “apology” draft was shown to Duterte and his assistant Bong Go at around 1 am on Tuesday, continued Banayo. An exhausted Duterte supposedly gave his approval without reading it carefully allowing PDP-Laban staff to send it to media later that morning.
Duterte admitted the statement just “passed through his hands.”
“It was 3 o’clock in the morning after the campaign, pinasa yung papel, tapos binasa ko then, sabi ko, 'Yes, sige okay na' (they passed me the paper, then I read it and I said, 'Yes, this is okay').”
Asked if he forgot about it, he said he must have, out of exhaustion, and the return of the bronchial infection that had previously gotten him sick on the campaign trail.
“Talagang I do not remember, I was really very tired. I had no sleep, almost 2 or 3 days already traveling...Binasa ko na siguro, okay na ‘yan, parang ganoon, so I might have really okayed it but ‘yung sabihin mo na talagang binasa ko na binasa, wala, just parang dumaan sa kamay ko,” he said.
(I really do not remember, I was really very tired. I had no sleep almost 2 or 3 days already traveling. I probably read it, "That's okay," I must've said, so I might have really okayed it but to say I really read it carefully, no, it just passed through my hands.)
Weakness of Duterte campaign
This crisis reveals the weaknesses of the Duterte campaign team. As its campaign manager Jun Evasco pointed out early on, it has been a challenge streamlining the efforts of so many groups operating under the campaign’s banner.
In panic mode, the groups acted on their own, hence the contradictory press releases. As for Duterte, he couldn’t care less about his image. At this point, he would only go as far as granting media interviews to get his message across and then allow his campaign team to sanitize his image afterwards.
Duterte is almost a rogue candidate even to his campaign team, making him so difficult to handle, said Banayo.
"If it was Grace Poe or Mar [Roxas], they would follow a strategy word-for-word. But Duterte is his own man. He insists on his own words," he added.
Another difficulty is Duterte's crazy schedule which often leaves him too tired to fully address or absorb critical moments like this. If the statement was shown to him earlier in the night, Duterte would have "nitpicked" on the wording, said Banayo.
Now, Duterte is taking pains to explain himself during his public rallies. Both in Iloilo and Bacolod, he reiterated that the remark was not a joke on rape but a “slang” to express his anger at Jacqueline Hammil’s rapists. He was “belittling their manhood,” he said in his Iloilo rally, attended by thousands. It’s the same as saying, “you didn’t study but you still passed, you son of a bitch.”
This is the same tactic he used to counter the backlash on the Pope Francis cursing. Now he's using it to show how “angry” he is at government for allowing Pope Francis’ visit to disrupt the lives of commuters.
But will his popularity dip after his scandalous rape quip? Is it too late for him and his campaign team to recover and grab victory from the jaws of disaster? Or will all this still not stick?
What's your take? Tell us in the comments below. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.