A palace spokesman seemed particularly agitated last week when an administration ally in the Senate suggested he was acting like the defense counsel for China.
Senator Panfilo Lacson made his remark after Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo expressed doubts about the account provided by Filipino fishermen whose boat was rammed and sunk by a Chinese vessel on June 9 near the Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea.
By all accounts, the Chinese vessel abandoned the 22 Filipino fishermen in open water, where they were rescued hours later by a Vietnamese boat. Some of the fishermen also claimed the incident was intentional.
But from the Palace, Panelo said conflicting accounts concerning the sinking would cast doubt on the accounts provided by the Filipino fishermen.
At a forum last week, Lacson chided Panelo for so quickly casting doubt on the accounts of the Filipino fishermen even before the investigation into the incident had been completed.
If Panelo were in a courtroom, Lacson said, he would have said, "For the defense, representing China, your Honor.”
The Palace spokesman fumed.
"The perception that my pointing out of certain circumstances surrounding the Reed Bank incident previously unknown to us, creates the impression that I’m acting as China’s counsel, is sheer non sequitur, as well as a shallow analysis of my examination of the incident," he said in a statement.
"As a lawyer I have been trained to dissect a situation, to arrive at an intelligent and rational study of the whys and wherefores of a subject of an inquiry," he added.
Panelo also attacked administration critics for their “pretended nationalism.”
"The Reed Bank incident is being dressed with misplaced emotionalism and pretended nationalism by those who are bent on politicizing an otherwise ordinary navigation incident into an international fracas," Panelo said.
"They hope to succeed in getting the approbation of the nation on a misguided theory that the administration is pursuing a foreign policy of subservience to China, a belief that is both wrong and unacceptable," he continued.
The presidential spokesman is correct when he speaks of perceptions, but shooting the messenger will do nothing to dispel the image that the Palace has already created by its own words and deeds.
In truth, most thinking Filipinos do not need Senator Lacson to point out the obvious.
The same official who criticizes the “shallow analysis” of others not too long ago held up diagrams showing the purportedly links between journalists, lawyers and opposition politicians, claiming these were proof positive of a nefarious plot to overthrow the government.
His “intelligent and rational study” at the time boiled down to this: The President presented the diagrams, therefore they must be true.
And then again, this administration is hardly in a position to speak of pretended nationalism. In this same spirit, we recall, a candidate who was to become President said he would jet ski to one of the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea and plant a Philippine flag on it.
In the past, this presidential spokesman has made much about being a lawyer, often implying that because of their knowledge, lawyers such as the President can do no wrong. This non sequitur argument fools nobody. And even a lawyer for China would know the old saying, if the shoe fits, wear it.