CAMPAIGN NOTES: 10 things I learned about Duterte on the campaign trail

Pia Ranada
CAMPAIGN NOTES: 10 things I learned about Duterte on the campaign trail

Alecs Ongcal

Some amusing things I've observed about Duterte: he isn't 'laway' conscious and he can be a gentleman

“Campaign Notes” are filed by Rappler reporters and correspondents who have been covering specific candidates or localities. The series gives insights into the candidates’ character, trusted people, and campaign decisions.

My fate was sealed the day I told my editors 8 months ago that I would like to cover Rodrigo Duterte during the 2016 election season. 

We Rappler reporters were all asked to choose. I picked Duterte for the simple reason that I wanted to see Davao City and he sounded like a “fun” person to cover.

All I knew about him then was that he had a tough-guy image and a reputation for being a strict mayor. (READ: 22 things to know about ‘Duterte Harry’)

I first met Duterte on September 29, 2015 in Davao City. That same day, he invited me to join his other guests in his favorite karaoke joint. I drank beer as he sipped coffee beside me. We could barely hear each other over the sound system. A few hours later, I found myself in his house, taking photos of his bathroom. 


My first impression then was that Duterte was the kind of politician I had never encountered before. I was shocked by how easily he invited me to his house, despite having met me only hours ago. But then again, that was two months before he decided to run for president.

Seven months later and a week before election day, Duterte is the presidential race front-runner and is the subject of controversy after controversy.

I’ve compiled my most memorable first-hand encounters with Duterte in this campaign blog in the hopes that it will give you some insight into what kind of person he is. At the very least, it might make you wonder or laugh.

 1. He’s late 90% of the time.

And I don’t mean 30 minutes late or an hour late. A couple of times, he’s been 6 hours late (such as during a concert in Taguig). Reporters covering him know that if his itinerary says he’ll arrive at a certain time, expect to see him in 3 to 4 hours.

Some reporters have been so frustrated that they ask him why he is late during ambush interviews. His answers range from flight delays, to traffic, to too many people wanting to take their photos with him.

But I notice he’s on time for events like presidential debates and fora with businessmen and students. 

2. He doesn’t mind sharing his food.

Usually, the only time Duterte gets to eat is during chopper or car rides in between sorties. One time, I was able to ride with him in a chopper from Maasin to Ormoc in Leyte.

QUIET MOMENT. Duterte savors a moment of peace during a chopper ride in between sorties in Leyte. Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler

He was eating from a plastic container of tuna sandwiches in the front seat. His assistant Bong Go asked if I was hungry. They didn’t have another food pack left so Duterte gave me the plastic container and offered me the remaining tuna sandwiches.

3. He isn’t laway (saliva) conscious.

QUENCHED. One drink Duterte seems to always have in a cooler on the campaign trail is Vita Coco coconut water. Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler

On another chopper ride, Duterte was given a carton of coconut water to fend off the intense summer heat. He gave the carton to me with the advice, “Hydration is very important.”

I took several sips when Go handed him another carton, this time much colder. Suddenly, Duterte grabbed the lukewarm carton I was drinking from and handed me his chilled carton.

He then gestured to his sore throat and said he preferred the warmer drink. He drank from my half-empty carton without a moment’s hesitation. 

4. He’s nocturnal.

'ZZZ.' Duterte's campaign team has had to adjust to his unusual body clock. Photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

Davaoeños no doubt have heard of Duterte’s body clock. He typically wakes up at 6 pm and holds office until the wee hours of the morning, then sleeps at 5 am. It must be hard to kick the habit which explains why his rallies usually start at 3 pm and end past midnight.

Compare this to candidates like Mar Roxas or Jejomar Binay who start their days as early as 8 am. Members of his campaign team have told me Duterte sleeps like a rock and when he decides to stay in bed for a little while longer, they can’t refuse him. “He’s 71 years old after all,” they tell me sheepishly. 

5. He can be a gentleman.

DUTERTE AND WOMEN. Duterte holds a crying girl in his arms during a Palawan sortie. Photo by Duterte-Cayetano Media Team

Yes, he’s locked lips with women supporters and has made several sexist remarks and offensive jokes. But he has surprised me quite a number of times by helping me down a vehicle and even using his arms to keep me from being crushed by a stampede. One time, during a Cavite motorcade, he asked my permission if he could move his face a bit closer to mine because he couldn’t hear what I was saying amidst the screaming crowd.

6. He has a very small circle of trusted advisers. 

GUEST SPEAKER. Duterte attends #TheLeaderIWant Forum in DLSU on January 20, 2016. Photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

Though his campaign team is a hodge-podge of volunteer groups, very few people in the campaign have a direct line to Duterte. Even his spokespersons are not able to pin him down long enough to coordinate their messaging, sometimes depending on media for direct quotes of the mayor on certain issues.

Among the select few he listens to are childhood friends like Sonny and Paul Dominguez and Jesus Dureza, his campaign manager Jun Evasco, and political strategist Lito Banayo.

7. Depending on your mood (and his), he is the worst or most fun person to interview.

Worst because when he doesn’t like a question, he won’t give you a straight answer, preferring to respond with a joke. One time, he was asked which bills he would certify as urgent first if he becomes president. His reply: “A law protecting beautiful women like you.”

Asked about where the P227 million he has been accused of not declaring came from, he said it may have come from rich friends of his. Pressed for a clarification, he said, “That’s what you’re saying, not me. You said the money was deposited on my birthday. So I must have rich friends.”

But when he wants to be, Duterte can be clear as day, spitting out such sensational soundbites as “Mar is the most incompetent Filipino” or “If you bring drugs to my city, I’ll make your balls explode.”

8. In front of a crowd, he speaks non-stop.

If you don’t stop him, Duterte will just keep talking. (READ: 12 elements of a Rodrigo Duterte speech)

The most recent example of this is during his May 2 guesting at his friend Pastor Apollo Quiboloy’s television show. Asked about his Zamboanga rallies that day, he spoke for a good 46 minutes before one of the hosts decided it was time to ask him a second question. (READ: Rodrigo Duterte’s little timekeeper)

During these almost-ramblings, I’ve been surprised to hear him talk about things like tuna migration patterns, the history of Filipino-Spanish surnames (and why people with names like Batongbacal or Tatlonghari had rebellious ancestors), and contintental shelves. Don’t get him started on 1521.

9. But in his moments alone, he is quiet.

If he’s talkative in front of a crowd, he’s quiet in private. If you don’t ask him a question, he’ll most likely spend a car ride or chopper ride in silence, looking at the view or taking a small nap.

10. He’s uncomfortable around an upper-class crowd.

TALKING BUSINESS. Duterte shakes hands with Ayala Corp CEO Jaime Zobel de Ayala during a Makati Business Club forum. Photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

While Duterte can definitely hold his own in a room of powerful people, it’s easy to tell he’s ill at ease. Two out of the 3 times I know Duterte read his speech was during an Asia CEO forum and a Makati Business Club forum. Maybe it has something to do with his self-confessed lack of expertise on economics? Or his gutter language that tends to be out of place in such formal settings?

 Do you have first-hand accounts of Duterte you would like to share? Feel free to do so by commenting below.


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Pia Ranada

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