MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte’s first Independence Day speech in Kawit, Cavite was met with protest, but the chief executive remained calm and said he understood his hecklers’ dissent.
Duterte had just started speaking at the balcony of the historic Aguinaldo Shrine when members of left-leaning group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) - Southern Tagalog heckled him, shouting “Duterte traydor (traitor),” “Duterte patalsikin (oust Duterte)," and “Hunyo a-dose, huwad na kalayaan! (June 12, false independence).”
The President was caught off guard but continued with his speech as police ushered the protesters out of the venue and staff behind Duterte scrambled to contain the situation.
Members of the crowd supportive of the President also tried to drown out the heckling with their cheers.
“Our Constitution guarantees freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and free expression,” Duterte said of the protesters.
Duterte also ordered law enforcers to “just deal with them peacefully and [with] maximum tolerance.”
“We cannot agree at all times for all seasons,” he said.
“We may not understand each other, but at least there is a common denominator between us, and that is love of country. Nobody can ever question ang pagmamahal ko sa bayan (my love for our country).”
He said he loves every Filipino, even those who mounted today’s protest against him.
The President then went on to talk about discipline and invited the public, including the protesters, to visit Davao City where he ruled as mayor for over two decades. Duterte has touted Davao City’s prosperity and peace and order situation as the product of his leadership.
“If we don’t have discipline and people continue to ignore the laws and the rules by which we live, we will have a hard time,” he said.
Senior Supt. William Segun, Cavite Police chief, said only 1 of the approximately 10 protesters were arrested. The arrested protester will be charged with a public disturbance case.
Left-leaning groups have been critical of Duterte’s policies such as the war on drugs and Manila’s continued military engagement with Washington.
BAYAN held the lightning protest even as Duterte recently ordered the revival of peace talks between the government and the communist National Democratic Front of the Philippines as he sought to end the decades-long insurgency that has gripped the country.
“Sana maawa ang Diyos sa atin (I hope God will have mercy on us). If it succeeds, my only problem will be rebellion in Mindanao,” he said of the talks.
He also again defended his war on drugs, saying it was his “sworn duty” to protect the Filipino family, especially the youth.
“I just want the Filipino during my time [to have a] comfortable [life]. I’m not expecting any economic miracles. Impossible. I will be humble enough to admit that I can only do so much,” he said.
Tuesday's Independence Day rites in Cavite was the first for Duterte as the country’s chief executive, as he missed last year’s commemoration at the Rizal Park.