Duterte’s first week as president: 8 things we saw

Pia Ranada

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Duterte’s first week as president: 8 things we saw
From his sartorial choices to the consequences of his first executive order, here's what Duterte's first week as president shows

MANILA, Philippines – What a week it has been for Rodrigo Duterte and the entire country.

Though he has barely warmed his seat in Malacañang, the 16th president of the Philippines has given Filipinos quite an introduction to his brand of leadership. 

He shocked the wardrobe-conscious by pairing a barong and denim pants for the Philippine Air Force anniversary – an outfit most thought would not be seen after the Cebu presidential debate.

But that’s nothing compared to the boats he rocked when, in the same event, he announced the names of 5 police generals he claims protected drug lords. 

He and Vice President Leni Robredo titillated social media with their first public appearance and meeting together, culminating in a phone conversation broadcast nationwide in which Duterte asked her to be housing czar as bashfully as a high school boy asking a girl if she’d like to go out for a snack.

Those are just some of the most talked about activities of the new president in his first full week at the country’s helm. 

The events of the week give insight into Duterte’s leadership style and what the next 6 years he will spend calling the shots might look like.

Here are 8 observations:

1. His first EO grants special powers to his two most trusted men 

CLOSE-IN. Special Assistant to the President Secretary Bong Go steps out of the car right behind his longtime boss President Duterte in Camp Crame on July 1. Photo by Joel Liporada/Rappler

On the day he took his oath, one of the first things Duterte did was sign his first Executive Order – intending to streamline anti-poverty programs of various agencies of government. 

But another thing the EO does is bequeath two Cabinet secretaries – Leoncio “Jun” Evasco Jr and Christopher “Bong” Go – with special powers and tasks. 

These two appointees are special because they are two of Duterte’s most trusted men. Evasco used to be his chief of staff in Davao City and headed his presidential campaign. Go is his longtime aide and is known as the “gateway” to Duterte because of his unparalleled access. 

The EO basically allows Evasco and Go to resume their old tasks. By putting Evasco in charge of optimizing anti-poverty programs, Duterte ensures a man he trusts is leading programs that can be directly felt by the poor. 

By giving Go control over the Presidential Management Staff, security, and media, Duterte is simply empowering Go to have, as he had in Davao City Hall, full control over Duterte’s schedule, public appearances, and meetings. (READ: The man they call Bong Go)

This first EO is not surprising, given the premium Duterte puts on personal relationships. His Cabinet Secretaries are old friends of his. One reason he gave for hesitating to appoint Robredo to a Cabinet post was his not knowing her very well.

The fact that he signed this EO on his first day at work makes it obvious that he immediately wanted to impose his tried and tested work habits as mayor on his work habits as president. The less work he spends transitioning, the faster he can get things done.

The question is, will his methods as mayor work for the presidency? 

And what does it mean for a man like Go, who holds a new title of Special Assistant to the President, to have so much decision-making power, including the first pass at who gets to see the President?

2. He can bend to convention…

SARTORIAL CHOICES. President Duterte has so far never worn the usual black slacks with his barong, preferring khaki or in this case, denim. Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler

As he told Robredo during their first meeting, Duterte finds himself adjusting to the many protocols and security procedures that come with being president. 

His public appearances show that he is able to follow some of these protocols when truly necessary. He wore a modified barong to his inauguration, though paired with khaki pants that belied his preference for more casual wear. He continued to wear barong for other formal occasions like the change of command ceremonies for the military and police, and the anniversary of the Air Force (though that time he wore it with jeans).

Departing from his usual one-hour extemporaneous speeches, his inauguration message was a crisp 20 minutes and read from a teleprompter (which he supposedly enjoys using, according to Communications Secretary Martin Andanar).

3. …But he will flout convention if he can

PREFERRED GET-UP. President Rodrigo Duterte wears one of his favorite tops during his meeting with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jinhua instead of the usual barong. Photo from Malacañang Photo Bureau

But convention did not stop him from wearing his usual collared tops with rolled up sleeves when he met with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jinhua and Robredo. Though most of his speeches after his inauguration were still shorter than an hour, he extemporized more often.

Notably at the PAF anniversary, as soon as he reached the podium, he announced that he would depart from the prepared speech given to him that morning because it was “all motherhood statements.”

Seconds later, he was baring the identities of supposedly drug-tainted police generals – definitely an unprecedented move for a president on his first week.

If Aquino wanted to promote simplicity among government officials by getting rid of “wang-wang,” Duterte is trying to do the same by taking commercial flights.  

Last Friday, he made headlines by taking a Philippine Airlines flight to Davao City in a premium economy seat.

4. It’s ‘stay out or die’ all over again

'ESCAPE AND DIE.' President Duterte warns Chinese drug lords detained in the New Bilibid Prison that if they escape, they face death. Photo from Presidential Photographers Division

His supporters say, “If he did it for Davao, he’ll do it for the Philippines.”

That’s definitely what we’re seeing in the anti-drug campaign.

When Duterte was a first-time mayor, his biggest headache was the communist rebels. He made deals with them that they stay out of his city or else face consequences. Later on, he made similar warnings to drug pushers and criminals.

Together with his disciple, PNP chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, he is doing the same thing in his nationwide war on drugs.

His presidency coincided with a spike in deaths of alleged drug addicts and pushers. He may not have pulled the trigger but is it a stretch to say his messaging did not embolden whoever did? 

But his presidency also coincided with the mass surrender of drug addicts in different towns and cities due to the nationalized Oplan TukHang, which was implemented in Davao City by Dela Rosa. 

Duterte’s message hardened when he shamed the 5 top cops and later on threatened 3 Chinese drug lords

Just as he did when he was mayor, he is using loud scare tactics to keep bad elements from his turf.

5. He just needed to ‘warm up’ to Leni

CHEMISTRY? Vice President Leni Robredo politely declines President Duterte's offer to take a drink from his carton of coconut water during the AFP turnover ceremony on July 1, 2016. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Vice President

Just as people were starting to fear a rift between the President and Vice President, social media went abuzz with photos, memes, and videos of them warming up to each other.


In their first public appearance together, Filipinos watched as he offered Robredo a sip from his carton of coconut water (a move endearing to some, disgusting to others). He was all warm gazes and small smiles at her during their first official meeting, even walking her to her car after.

As the week drew to a close, he ended up offering her more than coconut water. Via phone call, he finally asked her to be his housing czar, claiming he did it out of impatience with media pestering him on Robredo. 

This shows how even tough-talking Duterte is affected by public pressure and how much he values personal relations with the people he chooses to work with. (READ: Duterte’s decision-making unpredictable)

Of course, the next few months will show if the Duterte-Robredo onscreen chemistry will translate to a good working relationship.

6. No official First Lady, for now

PRESIDENT'S CHILDREN. The Duterte children stand in a place of honor surrounding their father as he takes his oath as president

There’s no rush to choose an official First Lady. In fact, it seems Duterte is comfortable not having one. His inauguration may have been a taste of things to come. Both his first wife Elizabeth Zimmerman and common-law wife Honeylet Avanceña did not play starring roles in the ceremony. That job went to his 4 children – Paolo, Sara, Baste, and Veronica or Kitty. 

But First Ladies have played critical roles in past presidencies. For instance, they often entertained guests of the president or held events for spouses of visiting dignitaries. In the time of Aquino, the country’s first bachelor president, this function of the First Lady was assumed by his sisters.

Will Duterte end up having to choose a First Lady after all?

7. His spat with independent media continues

'EH KAYO EH!' President Duterte says if media will boycott him, he will boycott them. Photo by Manman Dejeto	  

Aquino held his first press conference with independent media only 4 days after his inauguration. With Duterte’s promise never to hold a press conference, things are going to be very different this time around. 

He brought up his beef with the media again on Friday night, claiming that Philippine media’s call to boycott him goaded him to boycott them as well. Never mind the fact that the call came from foreign media groups and not Philippine media.

So far, the only “press conference” he has given was one with state-run PTV4’s reporter Rocky Ignacio. Independent media are allowed to cover his speeches and public activities but are not allowed to ask him questions. 

Some, including Communications Secretary Andanar, believe Duterte will eventually thaw out. Various media groups, in a pooled editorial, decried how the current state of affairs is affecting both Duterte’s and their duty to inform the public on matters of national interest. 

8. He spends his weekends in Davao City

HOME FOR THE WEEKEND. Duterte tucks in for his late-night flight back to Davao City on July 7, 2016. Photo by King Rodriguez/Malacañang PPD

For two Fridays now, Duterte has been flying to Davao City to spend the weekend there. He flew back to Manila the following Monday. If Duterte’s previous statements are to be believed, this is part of a “transitional period” which will eventually see him spending more and more time in Manila.

With his first week behind him, President Duterte now looks toward the 100-day mark and his 3 to 6 months deadline of suppressing crime, drugs, and corruption. His next big speech will happen on his 1st State of the Nation Address on July 25. Everyone is also waiting to see which country would be his choice for his first foreign visit as president. 

Like the start of any presidency, Filipinos will have to prepare themselves for the 6-year ride. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.