Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol gave the public a glimpse of his abrasive character two weeks ago at a public forum on rice tariffs held at the Grand Regal Hotel in Davao City where he was the speaker.
Maya Padillo, the Davao City correspondent of the Daily Tribune, approached Piñol, politely introduced herself and requested the Agriculture Secretary for an interview concerning the forum.
According to another news reporter who was with Padillo, Piñol snapped at Padillo and said, “I don’t want you. You made me a headline! No way. I will not agree to an interview if it will appear in Tribune. I will not allow it!”
The reporter also disclosed after Piñol humiliated Padillo, the Agriculture chief turned to the people at his table and screamed, “They made me a headline — Piñol on his way out. They turned me into a project even if they knew the President was only joking.”
It appears that Piñol was referring to the headline of the 26 February 2019 issue of the Daily Tribune, which contained the interrogative phrase “Piñol on the way out?” That headline came about after Piñol failed to attend a major event in Pasay City where President Rodrigo Duterte was asking around for him.
Piñol eventually relented and gave Padillo an interview, but only after Padillo assured him that the interview will no longer be for the Daily Tribune but for a local publication instead.
Since early this year, Piñol has been at the receiving end of intense public criticism for a rice shortage crisis, which is believed to have triggered unmitigated hikes in the price of the national staple.
Piñol is also facing criticism in Mindanao for his alleged use of the Special Area for Agricultural Development (SAAD) program for political gains. His daughter and siblings are candidates for various elective posts in Cotabato in this year’s elections.
The Provincial Government of Cotabato is likewise at odds with Piñol over SAAD funds. Ironically, Piñol was governor of Cotabato from 1998 to 2007. He tried to run again for governor, but he was twice defeated.
Prior to joining politics, Piñol was a radio broadcaster and a writer for a tabloid. He was also connected with the Philippine News Agency.
Sadly, Piñol is a disgrace to public office and the media.
As a public official — and a high-ranking one at that — Piñol should be open to public criticism, i.e., criticism from the news media — they who monitor public officials for the purpose of providing enlightening information to the Filipino people in whom sovereignty, which is the source of a public official’s political power, resides. It says so in the Constitution and Piñol ought to read it for his own enlightenment.
As a landmark ruling of the Supreme Court postulates, public officials should not be thin-skinned. Nobody forced Piñol to become a public official. He freely and willingly accepted his appointment to public office. Precisely because public office vests Piñol with a part of public power, he must accept public scrutiny.
A saying puts it succinctly — if one can’t stand the heat, he should get out of the kitchen.
Being both a politician and an ex-journalist, Piñol was most certainly aware that he was to speak at a public forum where the news media are expected to be present and where members of the news media will surely ask questions and request interviews. Despite that expectation, Piñol chose to humiliate the Daily Tribune correspondent because he was displeased with the way the newspaper reported an earlier story about him.
In short, the way Piñol comported himself in that incident was unbecoming of both a high-ranking public official identified with a President who enjoys unprecedented continuing public support and a journalist who is aware of how the news media function in a democratic society.
While it may be argued that public officials like Piñol cannot be compelled to give interviews to the news media, public officials must treat members of the news media with appropriate courtesy.
By snapping at the Daily Tribune correspondent, Piñol demonstrated that he is an embarrassment for President Duterte.
Piñol should have made a run for the Senate with the Otso Diretso sa Impyerno ticket. By being on that ticket, Piñol would have no need to apologize for his rude manners.