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Duterte’s jokes aren’t funny anymore: Military getting mixed signals from the Commander in Chief

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Hours after President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office on June 30, 2016, he was given a national security briefing which covered everything from the status of combat operations to details about the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Transformation Roadmap (TR).

The TR is an 18-year program that aims to build the military’s capability and professionalism so it can fulfill its duty of securing the State and the integrity of national territory.

As the briefing drew to a close, all eyes were on Duterte for his reaction. To everyone’s surprise, the Commander in Chief remarked: “Okay, let’s buy more helicopters!”

The generals and Cabinet officials broke into guffaws.

The casualness with which Duterte approached the briefing would later be seen in his other encounters involving the military.

At visits to military camps, for instance, Duterte would behave like he’s in a drinking session as he regaled soldiers with crass jokes about himself, his enemies and women.

Behind the laughter, however, soldiers and their superiors are confused about the messages they were getting from the President.

An batallion commander recalled the puzzled look he and his comrades had when Duterte ordered the AFP to join the Philippine National Police’s war on drugs.

When the officer sought clarification, and found no written order, he remarked: “If the President insists, baka walang matira sa PNP.”

A general tried to explain Duterte’s unorthodox leadership style in a lunch with officers and some civilians.

“The President tests an idea by floating it to his followers. If the 16M DDS (Duterte Diehard Supporters) agree, President Duterte says it’s a policy. If the DDS disagree, he says it’s a joke,” the general said, eliciting nervous laughter from the audience.

He later stressed that his remarks should not be taken seriously.

Despite Duterte’s rank as Commander in Chief, another general said the armed forces would not blindly follow orders.

“The AFP is different from the PNP. Your AFP has matured. We will not obey illegal orders,” he said.

As think tanks and security analysts sound the alarm over China’s installation of missile systems on artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea, soldiers are waiting with bated breath on what Duterte will do.

Will he order the military to step up patrols in the area or joke once again about making the Philippines a province of China?

While soldiers have sworn an oath to protect and preserve Philippine territory, the Commander in Chief seems fine with letting China carry out its own “Build, Build, Build” program in the disputed waters– as long as the missiles are not aimed at the Philippines. (Fe Zamora)