Duterte: pro-medical pot, anti-ghost

President Ferdinand Marcos hosts a meeting of Seato (Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation) during the Vietnam war in 1966 at the allegedly haunted Malacanang Palace in Manila. Former US president Lyndon Johnson (right) attended. Source: Wikimedia 

Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, who says he will refuse to sleep in his “haunted” presidential palace, has surprised many observers by announcing that he is open to the legalisation of medical marijuana.

The tough-talking former Davao mayor becomes more intriguing by the day, with his contradictory statements and refusal to stick to the predetermined script of a head of state.

The 71-year-old demonstrated a willingness to offend by cursing Pope Francis for increasing traffic congestion in Manila during a visit last year.

And now he risks offending religious conservatives in the 80 per cent Catholic archipelago by signalling a willingness to allow the use of cannabis for medical reasons.

Duterte is uncompromising on drug use and intent on killing dealers but is open-minded on the use of medical cannabis.

“Medical marijuana, yes, because it is an ingredient of modern medicine now. There are medicines now being developed or already in the market that contain marijuana as a component but used for medical purposes” said Duterte told ABS-CBN.

He added that the decision was not entirely up to him.

Despite the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency’s fierce opposition, a bill was filed in the congress to legalise the drug for medical use in 2014, although it faced strong opposition.

“We are at this stage, we have Filipinos who need care, we should give them compassionate care, this medical cannabis. There are a lot of medicines, but they are expensive,” said Representative Leah Paquiz, co-author of the bill.

But “Duterte Harry” said that anyone taking advantage of the rules would feel the weight of his retribution: “Either they follow the rule or they die.”

Conservative Catholics will also be shocked by his recent outburst against bishops.

“You sons of whores, aren’t you ashamed? You ask so many favours, even from me,” he reportedly said. “You know the most hypocritical institution? The Catholic church.”

He accused the bishops of asking for cash from the authorities, claiming it amounted to corruption.

In another break from the norm, he is refusing to live in the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila. Built in 1750, Filipino presidents have lived there since independence in 1945.

Explaining his decision, Duterte told the media: “There are many ghosts there.”

Late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled from 1965 to 1986, allegedly had opponents tortured and murdered in what was known as the palace’s Black Room.

The Marcos family claimed to have been haunted by the ghosts of two former presidents, Manuel Quezon and Manuel Roxas, with daughter Imee Marcos claiming to have seen Quezon’s ghost in the study.

Duterte said he had a ghoulish encounter there while working as a consultant for then-president Gloria Arroyo 15 years ago.

“She once called me around 2am. I was brought to a sitting area with paintings of the presidents, while I waited for her to dress up. The presidents were in different poses, but they were all looking in front. The wind blew or maybe the air-con was on full blast. When I looked again, they were all looking at me. Son of a bitch, I’m out of here. It’s crazy,” “the Punisher” reminisced.

The government’s official website has a page devoted to palace ghosts.

The frequent apparition of an American chaplain, called Father Brown, has been described as both benevolent and malicious.

The Japanese during their Second World War occupation reportedly executed him at the palace.

Duterte said he would work in the palace but wanted to live in the nearby Arlegui mansion, which was used by Cory Aquino and her successor, Fidel Ramos in the 1990s.

Not everything about Duterte is negative. While it is not always clear if his pronouncements are genuine, he says he plans to shed many of the perks of office.

While Imelda Marcos used to amass designer shoes and stockpile Heinz Sandwich Spread from Britain (a peculiar acidic paste popular in the 1980s with an uncanny visual resemblance to vomit), Duterte says he wants to cut expenditure.

Digong, as he is affectionately known by his fans, says he will sell off the “obscene” presidential yacht and convert the fleet of aircraft for emergency use.

“I will travel using commercial aircraft,” he said.

While the Philippines’ political elite was in need of a shaking up and a reminder of the poverty that grips the majority of citizens, Digong needs to employ some kind of spin-doctor to help him moderate his outbursts.

After he takes the oath of office on June 30, he will find his kneejerk proclamations destabilise the markets and upset his tight-lipped counterparts in Hanoi and Beijing. While Digong is clearly keen to cut government expenditure, employing an adviser or a sounding board for his ideas might well be money well spent.