The transformation of Rody Duterte

Pia Ranada
The transformation of Rody Duterte

Photo by: Manman Dejeto/Rappler

The Davao City mayor is weeks away from taking his oath as president. During the remaining days of his freedom, he opens up about his worries and fears.

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The Davao City mayor has been elected Philippine president.

But while lawmakers, supporters, politicians demand his presence in Manila for his proclamation, Rodrigo Duterte has begged off. He’d like to stay in Davao City for just a few more days, thank you very much.

Since his gaining an insurmountable lead during the initial vote count on May 9, all eyes have turned to the city in Mindanao.

The past few weeks have transformed Davao City. Hotels are fully-booked. National and international media are on their toes every night for one of his midnight press conferences. Even taxi drivers here notice they’ve been driving around a lot of Tagalog-speaking people lately.

Where is Duterte in all this? 

He’s lingering in his old haunts. He’s been up in his retreat house “at the edge of a forest”; he is relishing his bed in his house; he’s been singing his favorite songs in his favorite bar. All this in between private meetings, press conferences, and interviews.

Last Wednesday, May 25, Rappler was able to catch Duterte visiting one of his favorite bars in Davao City, the one he refers to as his “watering hole.”

He said he likes to go there to contemplate.

Malayo ang tingin, ganoon (I’m able to look far),” he said, describing his mood in the bar.

A different Duterte

The Duterte during that car ride was different from the Duterte in press conferences. The tough talker, smart aleck, and flirt with a mischievous glint in his eye was nowhere to be found.

Instead, a very tired man with much on his mind occupied the front passenger’s seat.

Duterte, distractedly tapping a smartphone, opened up about his worries, his fears.

His worries descend upon him when he wakes up at around 10 am.

If before he would roll in bed thinking about the problems of his city, from now on he would think about the problems besetting the entire country.

“I am quite, not really scared but, kasi matanda na tapos (because I am old) I should have been retired,” said Duterte, who will soon become the oldest Philippine president. (READ: The many first of president-elect Duterte)

His thoughts that night are similar to this thoughts on election day.

Speaking to Rappler’s Maria Ressa on the night of May 9, he said, “I am 71 years old. I really don’t think I can carry on the job until I’m 76 years old if I win. But I pray to God to give me strength.”

At the time, Duterte did not want to claim triumph even if the initial vote count was pointing to his landslide victory.

“I take it in stride. I would not be led to believe that I am winning… Until the last vote is counted, I’m not there until I’m there,” he said. 

An exhausted Duterte said he did not want to give in to emotions.

“I need to rest and I do not invest in emotions in the things beyond your control,” he said.

‘No excitement, anticipation’ 

So what does Duterte fear?

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“My fear is that I would not be able to end the violence in this country and, of course, the ever present menace of drugs. Takot ako sa mangyari sa bata, pati galit. (I am scared and angry of what could happen to the children.),” he said on his way to the bar.

It’s not every day someone wins a presidential election, but Duterte is not giddy over it. In fact, he sounds like he’s burdened by the task ahead.

“Would you believe it, I don’t feel any excitement, anticipation. I’ve been winning elections. I will end up my politics in presidency so I thank God I’ve never lost an election,” he said.

Despite this, he said he’ll do his best and work hard because “you don’t want to fail the Filipino people.”

Slowly but surely, Duterte is adjusting to the reality ahead: he will be president.

He’s thought about his Malacañang work hours. He’s promised to “behave.” 

When he takes his oath on June 30, the real work begins. Will his fears guide him or distract him? Will his health withstand the strain? Will he live up to his promises?

The country waits with bated breath for the answers. – Rappler.com






“You don’t want to fail the Filipino people.”

– Rodrigo Duterte





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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 pia.ranada@rappler.com.