In a dinner hosted by The Philippine Daily Inquirer, I was lucky enough to be a fly on the wall in a roundtable for Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte along with Inquirer editors. It was a moment of revelation, to see one of the most controversial politicians in the country today in the flesh-hear his views, his principles, unfiltered.
Not that the man cares about what other people think. Stories on stories being published about him always come with a spicy retort to people with tirades against him, and he uses cuss words like fuck, putangina, even yawa, very casually, that one may get an impression he’s unethical or nasty. One may get an impression he’s just another leader with an iron hand, who only sees force and violence as the only means to fix the country.
But my encounter with him proves he’s much more, and he’s a man of the law (although to say this is ironic knowing he has earned the reputation of putting the law in his hands). Being a lawyer himself, he cited provisions, talked about due process, and explained the five pillars of the law twice. He monopolised the conversations, as what was expected. He was spontaneous in answering every question and answered them with depth and length. He only took a break when columnist John Nery noticed he has not touched his food since he arrived. He barely ate the well-prepared banquet for him; instead, exhausted everyone with all the ideas he threw: I am promoting Federalism. Drug is the root of all problems. Constitutional convention, anyone?
I can’t help but ask myself, since he dominated the news with his quick wit and strong personality, how can a man from the minority, a man from Mindanao, can attract so many supporters?
Maybe, it’s because with Duterte, there is no elephant in the room. If there is, he is quick to address it. There is nothing he’s afraid of sharing with the media, be it his disdain with the Catholic Church, his beef with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, or his desire to overhaul the government. Any negative reactions on his leadership do not affect him at all, because he believe and is confident, that he delivers.
His candid personality has surely attracted voters toward him. Why people are crusading for him despite his constant hesitation. Why six business tycoons came to talk to him and offer financial help. Every brash opinion works like a magnet, and it’s because he says things that one can only dream of saying in public. What he says, he does, like a revolutionist in action. People are hoping he would be their voice, a voice so strong and domineering it would tower over voices of inefficiency and corruption.
Maybe the Filipinos are tired of the same old ways, and as crazy as it may sound, may be looking for another Marcos to take over the highest seat in the land.
If that’s the case, he fits. Duterte seems to be the kind of man who would not bend for the rules, but would break them, and make new ones he deem fit. His judgment is the law. I imagine his mantra like this: If you’re raping my people, stealing from my people, you do not deserve to live.
People think it’s time for Duterte to become president because years of democracy has only provided loopholes for politicians to get away with graft and corruption. People think he knows what this country needs, and is sincere in what he wants to achieve. Undoubtedly, Davao has become his biggest trophy, being globally recognised as the 9th safest city in the world. In a country where presidentiables are only asked to be literate, that’s something to put on a resumé. But Duterte running for president is not going to happen because we are not ready for someone like him, the same way he’s not ready for us.
He asked, how can one make a change in a country for six years? The Davao mayor works for 30 hours a day for his city, and has been doing it for twenty-two years. If elected president, he may need to work 50 hours a day, only to be berated by the same people who voted for him if one of his subordinates mess up along the way.
To purge the whole system is going to take decades maybe, at the very least, and Philippines is far from being a one-man job. He may be selfless to choose the life of a public servant, but not too selfless to choose to be the president (unless maybe, we go for Federalism).
As to why we are not ready for Duterte, it’s because Filipinos are quick to ask for a leader with teeth, but are quick to revolt when it bites them. You do not bite the hands that feed you, they say, but each of us have our own measurement if we are being fed enough. It’s a take it or leave it deal with Duterte, and it’s not that surprising. We still don’t know how to take the bad with the good, as bad as that sounds.
It’s 2015, where humanitarian advocacies are booming, and we’re asking for another martial law? Words are just words, but dead bodies are more than just dead bodies.
For the nth time, when reporters and editors asked him, why the entourage? Why go around the country? The question of when he will announce his candidacy seem to be endless. But with every inquiry, he put both of his hands in his face, as if implying his exhaustion of giving the same answer over and over again. No. I will not run.
This article was also published in Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Young Blood column. Read the edited article here: http://opinion.inquirer.net/88607/duterte-in-the-flesh