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    Wednesday, November 20, 2019-3:39:29A.M.






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Duterte ‘shocked’ after bid to smooth Philippine celebrity feud ends in scuffle

MANILA — A rare attempt by Rodrigo Duterte to play peacemaker ended in failure last week when the usually combative Philippine president tried to smooth over a feud between two celebrities only to prompt a scuffle and hair pulling.

The controversial leader was said to have been “shocked” to see his presidential guards forced to pry two women apart after his efforts to heal a family rift did not go down well, according to local media reports.

Film star Gretchen Barretto, one of Duterte’s most avid celebrity endorsers in his 2016 election campaign, was on Wednesday prodded by the president to kiss and make up with youngster sister Marjorie at a wake for their father Miguel following the latter’s death on Tuesday at the age of 82.

The president, apparently conscious of an ongoing simmering dispute between Miguel’s four daughters and three sons, asked Gretchen to shake hands with Marjorie, according to witnesses.

Gretchen reportedly extended her hand only to be shunned by her sister, who was quoted by sources as telling Gretchen she was being “plastic” — a local slang term alleging hypocrisy — because the president was there.

Minutes later, just as Duterte turned his back to console other members of the Barretto family, another woman suddenly “lunged” at Gretchen, media reports said. A number of other relatives then tried to calm Gretchen down but she was seen pulling the hair of her attacker, who was identified as a niece of patriarch Miguel. Some reports have suggested she was Marjorie’s daughter however.

Presidential security guards then had to step in. The niece reportedly suffered a small cut to her face, and Philippine media quoted a source as saying Duterte was “shocked” by the incident.

The comment from the president prompted a raft of commentary in the local press questioning why a leader who had ordered killings and called the death of innocent children “collateral damage” in his war on drugs would be fazed by mere hair pulling.

Duterte’s tough-guy persona was most recently illustrated on Thursday when the president told businesspeople in a speech that he had given police lieutenant colonel Jovie Espenido the order to “go [to Bacolod city], you are free to kill everybody,” as part of his crackdown on narcotics.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, who was also present for Wednesday’s scuffle, has not commented on the incident.

Gretchen is the live-in partner of businessman Antonio “Tonyboy” Cojuangco, who is part-owner of the Okada Manila casino and also a Duterte supporter, despite being a second cousin of former president and Duterte critic Benigno Aquino III.

She has since made no apology for the hair pulling and instead issued a statement saying her attempt to reconcile with members of the family “was all so nice until Marjorie had a nervous breakdown,” referring to their encounter in front of Duterte. On Friday she posted online a video clip showing part of the altercation.

Marjorie has remained silent about the encounter but the next night wound up in another brawl also at a remembrance event for her father, this time with another sibling, actress Claudine. The latter had to be rushed to hospital after suffering contusions and dizziness.

Claudine is herself no stranger to physical altercations. In 2012 she and her husband Raymart — now estranged — beat newspaper columnist Ramon Tulfo black and blue after he tried to secretly video the couple at an airport. A year ago Duterte appointed Tulfo special envoy for public diplomacy to China.

Gretchen and her business tycoon partner Cojuangco have previously accompanied Duterte on state visits. She rose to fame after refusing to take part in a plot to rig the winner of the best film actress award at the 1994 Metro Manila Film Festival. The actress was the main breadwinner in her family until younger sister Claudine and then Marjorie also entered the movie business.

Gretchen and Marjorie’s feud began around 2004 when a television network owned by Cojuangco chose a host for a new game show who Marjorie’s comedian husband blamed for the flop of his own variety program.

Animosity grew through the years and culminated in their mother Estrella issuing an open letter in 2013 in which she called Gretchen “evil” and “a liar.” Gretchen shot back and branded her mother an abusive narcissist married to a drunkard “who made his two daughters work for the family”. She also said Claudine needed help because she was mentally ill and a drug addict.

Unexpectedly, last March, Gretchen and Claudine said they had since reconciled with “a hug,” and Gretchen claimed her and her mother had also patched up their differences. But the battle lines among the seven siblings in the family remain fluid.