Malacañang denied Wednesday that President Rodrigo Duterte had admitted he ordered the ambush of former mayor Vicente Loot whom he accused of involvement in the illegal drug trade.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the Chief Executive, who hails from Davao City, only “misspeaks” the Filipino language since he is not proficient with it.
In a speech on Tuesday, Duterte said he ordered the ambush of Loot, a former Daanbantayan, Cebu mayor, who was implicated in his list of alleged narco-generals in 2016.
Speaking at a Malacañang event, Duterte said, “General Loot…nanalo pa na mayor. In-ambush kita, animal ka, buhay pa rin.” (General Loot…you even won as mayor. I ambushed you, you’re an animal, still alive.)
According to Panelo, what Duterte meant to say was, “In-ambush ka na, buhay ka pa.” (You were ambushed, but still alive.)
“Let us be clear and categorical: The President did not order the ambush of Gen. Loot,” Duterte’s spokesman said.
Loot survived the May 2018 attack that left four others injured.
Panelo also said the public was now “familiar (with)” and “used to the language” of Duterte.
But three senators said the statement—before Malacañang issued a clarification—of Duterte that he ordered the hit on Loot should serve as a warning to the latter and other government officials linked to illegal drugs.
Whether Duterte was joking or not, he said Loot would be “better off minding his physical security 24/7.”
“Well, you should ask him first if he was joking or serious when he said that,” Senator Panfilo Lacson said.
“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.”
Senator Christopher Go, former special assistant of Duterte, said the President was just joking. However, he said this was also a warning to Loot.
Saying it’s just the way the President speaks and delivers a speech, Go noted he would not make an admission about the ambush.
“Why would the President do that,” he also said.
“That’s a joke. But a warning to, all that if you engage in drugs, if you are a governor or even a mayor, if you enter drugs, [you are] at your own risk,” he said.
“I was the one who told you, I’ve known the President for the past 21 years, whether it’s true or whether it’s not true, we watch what he said in his speeches or in his whispers or body language, bantayan na lang po,” he added.
Asked if he thought the President really ordered the ambush of Loot, Go answered in the negative.
“The President will not do that. And he will not admit in public that he will do that,” he said.
Loot, a former general, and his family survived the ambush at a wharf in Daanbantayan. In 2016, Duterte tagged Loot as one of the five “narco generals” but they all denied the allegations.
The President earlier denied any role in the 2018 ambush of Loot and even accused former Interior secretary Mar Roxas of ordering it.
Panelo stressed what Duterte meant was that Loot was still alive despite being ambushed.
In his speeches, the President speaks in a variety of languages such as Bisaya, Tagalog, and English.
“I wasn’t the one who ordered for his ambush. It was Roxas. Roxas ordered his ambush, not me,” Duterte said in Visayan during a speech in Davao City in December 2018.
Malacañang has dismissed the matter, saying it was a joke and not an accusation.
Loot was director of the Philippine National Police Training Service and director of Police Regional Office 8 before retiring.
He later entered politics and won as mayor of Daanbantayan, Cebu in 2016.