CHESS is a mind game of strategy between protagonists that involves tactical moves and counter-moves. And the winner purportedly is the one who thinks ahead by several moves.

The Duterte presidency has been involved in an exciting game of chess of late pitted against several players – akin to an exhibition tournament where the grandmaster simultaneously clashes against several amateurs. But in this political chess, it is not simply an exhibition; and the adversaries are not of lesser caliber; and the spectators are left guessing as to the next moves of the combatants.

Several recent moves may be part of a larger scheme to throw him off balance and could be a concerted effort towards an eventual checkmate. Ponder upon the following: the re-emergence of Arthur Lascañas as a perjured prime witness against the Deegong accusing him as the patron of the Davao Death Squad (DDS); the recent video clips released by VP Leni Robredo in the international media on the DU30-authored extra-judicial killings (EJK); and now the first impeachment complaint against Duterte by the Magdalo party-list representative Gary Alejano, all within the space of one month. One can’t help but conclude that this could be part of the “destabilization” directed against the DU30 administration.

As a flashback, the Magdalo group, led by an active Navy officer mutinied against the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in that infamous Oakwood episode of 2003; the same officer Antonio Trillanes is now a senator of the land and the bete noire of the Deegong. And they are at it again, throwing rocks at the DU30’s ship of state, hoping and waiting for it to sink.

And now the minority partisans of this deadly political chess game are drawn into the fray once again taking sides; the fanatical Red and Blues defending the status quo and the Yellows relishing the role of the opposition. The moves and counter moves are currently fought in social media and in the halls of Congress – deflecting attention from the all-important task of good governance. The greater segment of the citizenry, we, mere onlookers, no doubt could be the biggest losers.

PRRD could be his own worst enemy here if he continues to be waylaid by these irritants – for indeed, they are. I have no doubt in the President’s sincerity to do good for the national constituency as he did well with the local community as a city mayor. In fact, Gina Lopez, the beleaguered environment secretary has described Duterte as “the real thing”. His economic programs as enunciated by his economic team are laudable, but it needs his personal attention. His election promise to usher in a new governance paradigm, rejecting the defective unitary form of government through a shift to a parliamentary-federal form will need the revision of the 1987 Constitution. This is his other priority and he needs to stay in focus.

But let us examine closely his current predicament and see if these are really worth his being derailed from his chosen path. First, he has barely warmed his seat in office and an impeachment complaint has been filed. But what will it take for this to prosper in the lower house; just another numbers game and the endorsement of the leadership. He has the backing of his super-majority – and its leadership in his pocket. There is no way impeachment will succeed.

Second, the noisy opposition is mulling over the possibility of filing cases in the International Criminal Court for crimes committed during his stint as a city mayor and on human rights violations. PRRD need not concern himself with his own defense. He has a thousand lawyers who can carry the burden of litigation if ever it will come to that; not to mention that the Lascañas and Matobato confessions, perjured witnesses all, are being used to make these cases against him. Legal luminaries doubt these will prosper at all.

Third, VP Robredo’s rant at a United Nations commission may bring her sympathy internationally and girl scout points but bluster does not get an international criminal trial going. PRRD need not concern himself with the fall-out if any, and social media is heavily on his side.

Clearly, Trillanes, a major instigator along with the Magdalo group and the disgruntled LP congressmen and senators who lost juicy committee chairmanships are doing everything to “destabilize” this administration. Even then, this is expected and par for the course. The Deegong from the very start of his regime has attracted controversy and in fact has in some bizarre way, sought it. These are merely bumps on the road and he will survive them. As the saying goes, “…what doesn’t kill him can only make him stronger”.

The Deegong—with 80 percent of the people’s approval; the political support of his elected super-majority; and the near-subservience of a bureaucracy long inured to patronage—has the singular ability to lead this country where he said he would: out of the clutches of corruption and poverty towards the promise of real “pagbabago”. He simply needs to keep his eyes “on the ball” as it were.

To paraphrase Michelle Obama: “If they take the low road, we go high”. It is high time for the President to do the same. Though somewhat aberrant, we are still living under the precepts of democracy, where criticisms and controversies may arise at any time.

What would really take PRRD to face these head-on? Perhaps it is time for a game changer. Buckle down and work diligently towards the fulfillment of his electoral promises; become less ambiguous on his responses to questions given by the media; and simply stay on message.

Simply put, still be the Deegong without the expletives!
AS an adult in the news business, the Manila Times as a matter of policy does not dignify a piece of fake news or fake story, by commenting on it as if it should be seriously considered by our readers and the Filipino nation.

But there are times when we make an exception because the fake story is deceiving too many; and it has the potential to shape international perception of our country and our people in a highly negative way.

This is the situation we face with the unsubstantiated story authored by Mr. Richard C. Paddock. which the New York Times published in the World section of its edition of March 21, 2017.

The story is grandly titled “Becoming Duterte: The Making of a Philippine Strongman.” It is illustrated with full-color photos of various incidents in Duterte’s life.

It relates multiple stories about Duterte, and summarizes many of his outrageous statements and claims. It purports to quote some of DU30’s relatives and his acquaintances who agreed to be interviewed.

It levels at Duterte the charge that he sees himself as a killer-savior of the Philippines. Killing for him is the solution to key problems of the country.

Paddock writes of various killings in the country, some of which he says involved Duterte at the trigger. Yet whenever he has to substantiate an allegation he retreats by claiming that it is hard to prove. He cannot cite specific cases.

Typical is how he cites a sadistic story where Duterte allegedly throws a criminal suspect out of a helicopter, Paddock did not even supply his name.

Overall, it is hard not to agree with the charge of Duterte’s spokesman and press secretary Ernesto Fabella that the NYT story is just a clever hack job.

Mr. Paddock is unbelievably lazy as a journalist. He will not validate any of his allegations with serious fact-checking. No one corroborates his grisly tales.

For instance, he claims that in nine months. President Duterte has exceeded the number of killings during the 20-year rule of President Ferdinand Marcos — by claiming that there are now over 7,000 killings under Duterte, while there were 3,600 under Marcos.

The numbers are wrong with both Presidents. Both statistics are false and have not been validated by fact-checking.

No serious work of journalism has made the claim that 3,600 were killed under Marcos. It was Amnesty International which first made the claim. But when challenged, AI admitted that it could not validate its figures.

The problem is the same with the contemporary figures regarding killings under Duterte. Manila Times columnist Rigoberto Tiglao has exposed the 7,000 figure as a concoction of a Philippine website, rappler.com, whose numbers were used by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the United Nations and Western governments to criticize Duterte and make him call off his drug war.

This is not a defense of President Duterte and his war on drugs (which the Manila Times has squarely criticized on several occasions). This is rather a call for better and fact-checked journalism.

It would have been different if the paddock story was published as an op-ed article. But NYT ran it as a news story and analysis in its world section.

We criticize the New York Times in its handling of the Paddock story, because by reason of its prestige and influence, we did not expect to see it purveying a false story. We expected it to be more factual and reliable, by demanding fact-checking from its reporters or contributors.

The net result of the Paddock story is that it contributes no new facts about President Duterte, other than some hitherto unknown personal family anecdotes. It has no facts to report.

Far truer, is that NYT and Mr. Paddock have added to the growing urban legend of Duterte and made it global.

According to the Oxford dictionaries and other respected dictionaries, an urban legend is “a humorous or horrific story or piece of information circulated as though true, especially one purporting to involve someone vaguely related or known to the teller.”

Fake news, by definition, resembles an urban legend. According to Politifact,

“Fake news is made-up stuff, masterfully manipulated to look like credible journalistic reports.”

That unfortunately is what Paddock’s story on Duterte amounts to.