Duterte: 'First family does not enjoy any advantage at all'

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte assured the public that members of his family do not enjoy special privileges that come along with his presidency.

"That first family does not enjoy any advantage at all. I live alone," Duterte said on Wednesday, May 30, during the condemnation of smuggled motorcycles at the Bureau of Customs.

He had even supposedly rejected the wish of some of his grandchildren to live with him in Bahay Pangarap so they can study in one of the nearby schools.

"Ang mga apo ko gustong mag-aral diyan sa eskwelahan malapit diyan. I said, 'No.' Kasi bahay ng gobyerno ‘yan, ang pagkain diyan gastos ng gobyerno," he said.

(My grandchildren want to study in a nearby school. I said, 'No.' Because that's the house of the government, the food there is paid for by the government.)

He spoke of his family in the context of his decision to sack transportation assistant secretary Mark Tolentino for citing the support of a member of the "first family" for the speedy construction of the Mindanao Railway. Tolentino had claimed the project was being delayed on purpose by senior transportation officials, which the latter categorically denied.

Tolentino was referring to Jocellyn Duterte, the President's younger sister, who he had met with. (READ: An ill-fated meeting with a presidential sister)

Duterte, in his Wednesday speech, repeated his rule that government officials are not to accommodate requests of his relatives about government projects or transactions.

"'Di ba sinabi ko sa inyo, if it is [a] request coming from my son, daughter, relatives, consider it denied. Prangkahin mo. 'Sorry, sabi ni Mayor not to even to entertain," said Duterte.

(Didn't I tell you, if it is a request coming from my son, daughter, relatives, consider it denied. Be frank. "Sorry, Mayor said not even to entertain you.")

There had been allegations that corrupt Customs personnel "name-dropped" the President's eldest son, former Davao City vice mayor Paolo Duterte, and that he was linked to the alleged middleman in the smuggling of P6.4 billion worth of shabu from China.

Customs broker Mark Taguba earlier testified at a House hearing that Paolo was part of the Davao Group, which is supposedly involved in smuggling in connivance with Customs officials.  Taguba later clarified that he had no personal knowledge about it.

The Ombudsman eventually cleared the younger Duterte and presidential son-in-law Manases Carpio, husband of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, in the shabu smuggling case.


Despite Duterte's assurance, there were instances when members of his family enjoyed certain privileges frowned upon by some.

Melissa Aradanas, cousin of his partner Honeylet Avanceña, was among the commissioners of the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor who were fired but she was eventually reappointed  to a different post by Duterte. None of the other sacked commissioners were reappointed.

Back in December 2017, Duterte said there was nothing wrong with the appointment of Aradanas since he and Honeylet are not married and because Aradanas is not covered by the Administrative Code's definition of nepotic appointments.

The code defines a "relative" as within the third degree of consanguinity or affinity.

The Duterte family had also caused quite a stir when Duterte's granddaughter, Isabelle Duterte, had an extravagant pre-debut photo shoot inside Malacañang where she posed beside the presidential seal. Some slammed it as inappropriate given Duterte's insistence that he and his family are of simple tastes. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.