Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday showed how petty he could be when he attacked Rappler journalists for allegedly having foul body odor.
Duterte has often attacked Rappler, whose hard-nosed coverage of the president and his policies has made it something of an outlier in the Philippine media environment. In January of last year, Duterte even went so far as to dub it a “fake news outlet” for publishing a story that alleged that his then-special assistant — now Senator Christopher “Bong” Go — inappropriately intervened in a multi-billion-peso Philippine Navy procurement deal.
(Oh, by the way, Rappler turned out to be right; Go’s name appeared on key documents related to the deal.)
A month later, Duterte banned Rappler reporter Pia Ranada and executive editor Maria Ressa from Malacañang Palace. The ban was later extended to cover the site’s correspondents, who have been barred from covering Duterte’s provincial visits.
Speaking to members of the League of Vice Governors of the Philippines during their oath-taking in Malacañang yesterday, Duterte said, “This Rappler, you sons of bitches. Your underarms stink. I’m really rude to them. You leave me with no recourse. You’re really attacking me on drugs and everything.”
The president also accused Rappler of magnifying the accusations of Peter Advincula, the self-confessed star of the viral Ang Totoong Narco List (“The Real Narco List”) videos who initially claimed that members of Duterte’s camp were benefiting from the illegal drug trade.
However, Advincula recanted his story and accused opposition politicians and clergymen of conspiring with him to produce the videos with the intent of removing Duterte from office.
After attacking Rappler, Duterte attended an event organized for the Malacañang Press Corps last night where he sang a different tune and vowed to protect press freedom in the Philippines.
“Rest assured that the government will never waver in its duty to uphold press freedom, to promote free speech, cultivate a safer environment for journalists even as we work together in safeguarding our democratic institutions,” he said.
The local media has often been the subject of attacks, both literally and figuratively. Earlier this week, the printing press of the tabloid Abante Tonite was burned down by four unidentified men.
Rappler, meanwhile, is facing a multitude of charges, from cyber libel to tax evasion, and several journalists, including Rappler‘s Ressa and Vera Files founder Ellen Tordesillas, were accused by the Duterte government in May of conspiring with opposition politicians to topple the president. Ressa and Tordesillas have denied the accusations.