File photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler
When Rodrigo Duterte, Davao City mayor, said in jest during an interview with celebrity Vice Ganda that he has 3 girlfriends and that his feisty ex-wife “used to beat him up once a week”, he appeared to be trivializing his flaws.
Court records show that it was his wife, Elizabeth Zimmerman Duterte, who was on the receiving end of “emotional abuse” from Rodrigo whom she described as a “womanizer” who had frequent “outbursts of temper.”
In 1998, Elizabeth filed a petition with the Regional Trial Court in Pasig to nullify her marriage. Two years later, the court decided in her favor, ending the 27-year marriage of Rodrigo and Elizabeth.
Rodrigo never appeared in court and did not protest Elizabeth’s petition. But he was compelled to undergo a psychological test. The court found no basis for “collusion.”
Court documents were sent to the office of Rappler by an anonymous source. We checked and verified, and found the court records to be authentic.
During a hearing, Elizabeth narrated her ordeal, as shown in the transcript of stenographic notes: “He flaunts [his women]… I heard of several women whom he brought to parties, to functions where he introduced [them] as Mrs Duterte…He even brought them to meetings and political rallies.”
One of Rodrigo’s girlfriends, she narrated, “told me her affair with my husband direct to my face…”
“[During those] 25 years, I was really miserable and unhappy,” she said. Early in their marriage, Elizabeth said Rodrigo carried on affairs with many women and would usually go home during the wee hours of the morning. Rodrigo was a prosecutor then. She had learned to live with all this because her Catholic school education etched in her mind that marriage is sacred and should be preserved no matter what.
Elizabeth said she had wanted to have her marriage annulled much earlier, but she did not want to “destroy” the name of her husband. Rodrigo had already been mayor of Davao for 9 years and was congressman at the time Elizabeth decided to go to court.
When asked by her counsel to elaborate, she answered: “Yes, he is really a very good leader. That is all he is. But when it comes to family, he is not capable of taking care of it.”
At the time Elizabeth filed for annulment, she and Rodrigo had already been living separately for a few months. She transferred to her brother’s house in Manila but visited Davao often because the children were studying there.
In its decision, the court described Elizabeth as a “nominal wife” and noted that Rodrigo’s “penchant to engage in extra-marital affairs persisted throughout their married life.”
The court cited the results of an examination by a clinical psychologist who found Rodrigo unable to “remain committed to a person or a relationship.” He carries a “gross indifference to others’ needs and feelings, heightened by lack of capacity for remorse and guilt.”
Rodrigo and Elizabeth have 3 children: Paolo, who is vice-mayor of Davao City; Sara, former Davao mayor; and Sebastian. In the Davao City official website, Rodrigo lists a fourth child, Veronica. Local reports say this is his daughter with his second wife. But Rodrigo’s status is single, as the city government website shows.
In 2001, Elizabeth ran for a seat in the city council but lost. Rodrigo and Elizabeth are said to be civil to each other, 15 years after their marriage has been declared null and void.
Elizabeth was born in Davao, attended Ateneo de Davao and worked with Philippine Airlines as a fight stewardess. She has prominent mestiza features; her grandfather hailed from Germany but migrated to the US.
Those who know Rodrigo say that he compartmentalizes, treats his personal life in a detached manner, not tying it to his official duties. Proof of this is the city’s Galing Pook award for “gender-responsive” governance in 2004.
While he appears to regard women in a cavalier way and offends some, he listens to activist women and set up a program that mainstreams “gender and development” issues.
As the judge remarked during a hearing, “…you can… be a good leader and not necessarily a domestic leader.” – Marites Dañguilan Vitug/Rappler