Honeylet Avanceña and her life with the next president

Pia Ranada
'Basta ako, may sarili akong buhay,' says Honeylet Avanceña, Rodrigo Duterte's common-law wife. Rappler talks to her about how she's dealing with her partner's upcoming presidency.

OWN WOMAN. Honeylet Avanceña says she's a workaholic when it comes to her businesses and her family life. Photo by Manman Dejeto/Rappler

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Cieleto “Honeylet” Avanceña first met Rodrigo Duterte in a Mutya ng Dabaw function in 1988. She was one of the beauty queens, a promising nursing student who had graduated valedictorian from her high school.

She knew who Duterte was, of course, and so was surprised when, by the end of the night, he had given her his college ring.

Duterte’s courtship of her for the next few years would be controversial since he was then still married to the mother of his 3 children, Elizabeth Zimmerman.

In 2000, the 27-year marriage of Duterte and Zimmerman was annulled. Avanceña told Rappler that she and Duterte’s ex-wife are “civil” to each other.

Hindi naman kami nagkakalmutan (We don’t fight with each other),” she said.

Today, Avanceña and Duterte have fashioned a life together with their 12-year-old daughter, Veronica, who goes by the nickname “Kitty.”

The 46-year-old Honeylet is proud to say she is her own woman with 11 Mister Donut franchises under her belt. She emphasizes that she doesn’t mix her businesses with the work of her partner.

But on June 30, the day of Duterte’s inauguration as the 16th president of the Philippines, Avanceña may take on a new role. 

Though Duterte has not been clear on who his First Lady might be, Avanceña will continue to be a part of his life and household, and thus will play a part in his presidency.

Asked what part that will be, Avanceña said she sees herself as his “taga pag-alaga” (caretaker) who will be behind the scenes taking care of his personal life and health.

Avanceña is bracing for the impact of Duterte’s presidency on her life and their family life. He has said he wants to fly back to Davao City daily during a “transitional period” at the start of his term.

But Avanceña is still hoping he can work from Davao City for the sake of their daughter who refuses to move to Manila.

Rappler chats with the woman in Duterte’s life about what it’s like living with the next president and how her life has changed because of the people’s vote. – Rappler.com 

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.