MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine president vented his anger toward his fiercest political critic on a state TV talk show Tuesday, prompting opposition calls for him to focus instead on worsening inflation, rice shortages and an approaching powerful typhoon.
President Rodrigo Duterte attempted to explain the legal offensive he has launched against opposition Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV. He linked Trillanes’ political group to an alleged plot to oust him, and said he has ordered the release of intelligence provided by a foreign government about the alleged plan.
Duterte’s decision to withdraw a 2011 amnesty granted to Trillanes, a former navy officer who joined past mutinies, has forced the senator to seek refuge in the Senate, where he has been marooned for a week and gained wide media coverage.
The 47-year-old senator has brought his fight against Duterte’s actions, including an order for his arrest, to the Supreme Court, which rejected the senator’s plea to block the presidential order and ruled that two lower courts should handle the case.
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Concerns have been raised that Duterte’s moves may undermine judicial independence and that the political impasse may ignite restiveness among troops in a country with a recent history of military uprisings.
Military chief of staff Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. warned troops over the weekend “not to meddle or take part in partisan politics.” Military officials and even Trillanes say that the military remains united, but Duterte repeated that he was ready to step down anytime and would not allow infighting among state forces.
“If the armed forces think that I am not competent, that I am not qualified to be sitting here as president … it’s up to you,” Duterte said. “You want another president? Fine.”
Opposition politicians said Duterte’s TV appearance, which lasted more than an hour, should have focused on growing public concern over inflation, which hit a nine-year high last month, rice shortages and poverty. A powerful typhoon churning over the Pacific is forecast to lash the country’s agricultural north later this week.
Disaster-response agencies have begun forming contingency plans.
“President Duterte should snap out of his fantasy with destabilization plots, roll up his sleeves and start working,” opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros said, adding that people “need a reliable leader, not just a tough talker. The people yearn for democracy, not tyranny.”
Duterte denied that he was preoccupied with muzzling critics instead of addressing national problems. “The fact that they are doing it every day only goes to show that I am giving them the time of their lives to just talk and talk and talk,” Duterte said of critics.
Replying to questions about other national issues, Duterte announced changes in a government food agency and bared a plan to resolve a delay in the entry of a telecommunications company to improve Internet connections. Economic managers were working to tame inflation, he said.
In his parting words, Duterte defended his deadly crackdown on illegal drugs, touched on his fight against corruption and then rambled back to alleged threats by his opponents to force him from power.
“You start it now and don’t delay,” the tough-talking president said. “That’s their plan. If they can’t do it through explosions, then assassinate. I’ll be happy to die in your hands, at least it’s not death from illness.”