MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday said only he and the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos cared much for the country's soldiers, as he again promised a comfortable life for troops who have been on the frontlines of the government’s war against terrorists and communist insurgents.
“Walang ibang presidente, dalawa lang, ang nakapagbigay ng atensyon na kinakailangan para sa isang sundalo. Ako lang pati si Marcos. Marcos was also a lover of soldiers,” Duterte said in his speech in Camp Teodulfo Bautista in Jolo, Sulu.
Duterte is a known friend to the Marcos family, granting the late strongman's burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani last year. His late father Vicente served in Marcos' cabinet before the declaration of martial law.
Marcos had a strong grip on the military until his government was toppled by a popular revolt in 1986. His martial rule saw thousands of human rights activists detained or killed. The military during his time was also accused of corruption.
Duterte has been repeatedly promising to improve living conditions of soldiers by increasing their pay and providing proper healthcare for those maimed while fighting government enemies.
“I have told you, if you have a problem. I give you my number. If you cannot solve your problem here or hindi kaya solbahin, just call me,” he told the troops before him.
“Maybe, just maybe, kaya kong solbahin. Kasi ako bilib ako sa serbisyo ninyo. Saludo ako.”
Duterte made these remarks as fears and criticism mounted from the political opposition over his musings about the establishment of a revolutionary government, a scenario where the military will likely play a critical role.
He has already rejected the idea of setting up a revolutionary government, which involves sweeping changes including the scrapping of the Constitution and the declaration of government posts as vacant.
But cause-oriented group Tindig Pilipinas, which counts prominent political opposition figures as members, is still not convinced the President has abandoned the idea of setting up a revolutionary government, citing the Chief Executive’s tendency to be indecisive.
Duterte’s former professor, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Maria Sison, meanwhile, said Duterte’s hold on the military is much weaker than that of the late dictator.
“Government and AFP resources under Duterte are far less and weaker than under Marcos,” Sison, chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), told ABS-CBN News in an earlier interview.
Sison has been swapping insults with the President since the termination of peace talks between the government and the NDFP, questioning his mental capability in handling the government.
Duterte, for his part, threatened to arrest the latter if he decides to set foot in the Philippines after being in exile in the Netherlands for about two decades.
Duterte was in Sulu to confer awards on more soldiers who fought Islamic State-inspired terrorists in Marawi City.
The President gave gifts to the awardees, including watches, and even promised to bring them to Hong Kong for vacation and provide money for their Christmas party.