Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during a speech on June 1, 2017. A "tired" Duterte has taken a break from public duties to rejuvenate, his spokesman said on June 15, 2017, as Islamist gunmen rampaged through a southern city in the biggest crisis of his year-old rule, sparking speculation about the state of his health. Photo: AFP/Noel Celis

On Monday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte bragged that he used marijuana to keep him awake. No, he did not make the remark at an informal affair but in a speech during the conferment of awards at the ASEAN-National Organizing Council in Malacañang, the presidential palace.

The president was heavily criticized for missing important meetings during the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in Singapore in November. Since marijuana is a downer, maybe he fell asleep instead.

After a few minutes at the Monday event, he said it was a joke. Another joke on Filipinos.

The Philippines has been under a joker since 2016.

Since Rodrigo Duterte became president, the international media have criticized him for his policies, such as the inability to decide on the West Philippine/South China Sea issue, the TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion) law, his bravado, for directly ordering the police to kill drug addicts – a policy that has resulted in more than 20,000 deaths – and the “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program, which might result in a debt trap.

And the president keeps on joking.

Because the president cannot keep his mouth from joking, the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) headed by Martin Andanar created another office that will handle different issues and answer inquiries that will put the Philippines in a positive light.

The Office of Global Media and International Affairs was “informally” introduced to local and foreign media based in Thailand last Saturday during a small dinner at Baan Glom Gig Restaurant in Bangkok hosted by Andanar. J V Arcena, a former TV5 newscaster, was appointed the chief of the newly created office on November 11, while Julianna F Javellana is the chief for international relations.

“The main objective of our office is to connect the government policymakers with the international media, and to serve as your channel to get access to the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte,” Arcena said.

The Office of Global Media and International Affairs is mulling the possible reintroduction of press attachés in China, Singapore and Thailand. A press attaché is an official in an embassy whose official function is to answer inquiries from the host country’s or other media.

There are currently no press attachés attached to any Philippine embassy. The last time there such a position existed was during the administration of Joseph Estrada in 1998.

Andanar said approval for re-establishing press attachés still depended on the Philippine Senate prior to the approval of an executive order reverting the PCOO to the Office of the Press Secretary (OPS).

“We are just waiting for the signature of the president and the Senate’s approval for the budget,” Andanar said.

At the event in Bangkok, the team also distributed a “Handbook for Media Security” and a pamphlet on global media affairs. The handbook touted the dos and don’ts of protecting the families of media practitioners.

Jonathan Head of the British Broadcasting Corporation and Financial Times Southeast Asia bureau chief John Reed were present at the dinner, as well as local and foreign news reporters and correspondents from  The Guardian, the Bangkok Post, People’s Daily, Spring News, Japan’s Fuji Television Network and Asahi Shimbun, Pinoythaiyo, and

Malacañang does not really need press attachés. Duterte’s mouth is enough to catch the attention of the world.

The spin doctors always remind the people not to take Duterte’s words seriously, because he is a “joker.”

Unfortunately, the joke is on us – the Filipino people.

Eunice Barbara C Novio

Eunice Barbara C Novio is a Thailand-based freelance journalist. She is also a lecturer at Vongchavalitkul University in Nakhon Ratchasima. Her articles have appeared on Asian Correspondent, America Media, and The Nation. She is also a contributor to the Bangkok Post and Thai Enquirer and a stringer to's US Bureau. She won a Plaridel Award from the Philippine American Press Club.