The term of President Rodrigo Duterte will end at noon on June 30, 2022. By then he would have completed his six-year term which he won handily during the May 2016 national elections. The 16th President of the Republic will soon graduate to become what he always wanted—an ordinary citizen with none of the trappings of power that surround the highest position of the land. And you can see the excitement in his pronouncements. In his regular address to the public, Duterte said that he is itching to leave the Palace: “Nag-eempake na nga ako eh. Yung iba, ‘pinadala ko na sa barko.”
And I saw this in his eyes during our dinner last March 14. This was probably our last dinner together while he is president. But I certainly hope not our last ever. We have been friends for a long time and I have always enjoyed and valued our friendship.
I first met him during the 11th Congress when I was Speaker of the House of Representatives and he was a first-term Congressman from Davao City. I remember that we really bonded during an official trip of the House to the Middle East to look into the plight of our Filipino workers there. We were seated together and we just talked and shared stories during the flight. The President had a funny story about this trip which he recounted during his official Presidential trip to Thailand. He told an audience of OFWs that when we were seated together on our way home he sneezed right in front of my face. I will neither confirm nor deny his story but it does show one of the best traits of President Digong—he is, deep down, a very simple, down-to-earth person.
I have always thought that that is the main reason millions of Filipinos voted for him and why he continues to have a very high trust rating late into his presidency despite everything that has been thrown at him. He is easy to talk to and relate to. He is someone you can have a drink with and share a laugh with. This was the same quality that critics called “unpresidential” but which actually endeared him to ordinary folks.
But one of the most memorable moments I had with President Digong was during the aftermath of the impeachment proceedings in 2001. After I led the impeachment of President Erap, I was naturally very unpopular to many of his supporters and fans. Duterte took me to Davao City and accompanied me all around the city. We walked around the city together even stopping by Bangkerohan Public Market to share a durian. We talked to ordinary folks, he introduced me to the places he liked. I truly appreciated that. It took my mind off the political chaos in Manila. That was a kind gesture I would never forget.
During this recent dinner, I saw in his eyes the desire to go back to his “normal” life. He looked like a man about to offload a huge weight on his shoulders. But as we talked through the evening, I also saw a glimpse of his passion to serve the Filipino people. We talked about the issues confronting the nation, he would talk about the current elections that will determine who will replace him, and I could see in him the willingness to spend every hour of the remainder of his life serving the people he loves. But he is already packed and he deserves the peace of mind after a grueling but fulfilling six years. After all that he has done to the people of Davao City and the entire country, he deserves the admiration of a grateful people.
Just like the typical endings of westerns, I could see him riding off into the sunset. I hope to see Digong again, the ordinary citizen, in Davao, maybe over dinner, or, even share a durian.