It ain’t over till it’s over
As we wrote in last Wednesday’s column, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte caught everyone by surprise with his Monday afternoon announcement that he was apologizing to all his supporters because he is not running for the presidency. Some of his ardent supporters were in a conference room of a Makati building planning his campaign operations and budgetary requirements. Crestfallen, they had to adjourn after news of the Davao press conference was confirmed.
In the twin cities of Navotas and Malabon the day after, no less than the mayor of Navotas, Johnrey Tiangco, moved his scheduled flight to Singapore from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. that day just to meet his fellow mayor whose helicopter landed at the rooftop of the Navotas City Hall. Navotas councilors were in full force, and employees of City Hall shrieked at the presence of Duterte, who landed at a quarter past two.
One well-known broadcast journalist who waited for two hours at the foot of the helipad exclaimed, “Ano ba ito? Akala mo rock star ang dumating!”
They were to see more of that “rock star” phenomenon when Duterte went to the open-air quadrangle of the City of Malabon University, where, facing a blazing afternoon sun, he spoke for some 45 minutes on federalism and crime-fighting. Punctuated by expletives and self-deprecating humor, the mayor wowed teachers, students and barangay officials throughout. Towards the end of his extemporaneous speech, he saw a pretty teacher seated in the audience, and dedicated a few lines of a song, a capella, “Ikaw.” It took Duterte some 20 more minutes to traverse a 30-meter walk to his car, obliging teachers and students who wanted selfies with him.
A university official told this writer about another presidential candidate who visited Malabon in recent months. “Kami na po ang nange-enganyo sa mga tao na makipag-selfie na, pero kakaunti ang nagsilapit”, said he.
The short motorcade from university to the chopper takeoff site had to be cut and the route diverted because people were poring out of their houses and shops just to greet their first-time visitor. Duterte was embarrassed at the traffic his presence was causing.
And to think that Malabon officialdom is LP-dominated. Its opposition is headed by a congresswoman whose husband is in the campaign hierarchy of Grace Poe. And Navotas for its part is UNA-dominated. Both the UNA and LP political leadership graciously accommodated the independent mayor of Davao.
All the preparations were made by a Malabon businessman whom I shall not name together with some barangay officials, and they did it in just a week’s time.
Barangay leaders thronged at the chopper takeoff site, with placards saying “Please reconsider your decision!”, “Ikaw ang Dapat!”, “Ikaw na lang ang Pag-asa”. Ironically, Duterte posed with them for photos, unwittingly holding a placard that asked him to reconsider his decision.
On the night of the historic “carmaggedon,” after a two-hour wait, Muslim business associations from mega-Manila with their almost a thousand-strong delegation listened to him in San Juan, as he perorated over the merits of federalism being the “last card for peace in Mindanao”. As shouts rang throughout the hall calling for him to run for the presidency, Duterte finally said, “Pumili na muna kayo sa ibang mga kandidato. Si Binay, si Mar, si Poe, good sila.” Then added his punch line: “Pero ang taga-Mindanao, very good!”
The crowd roared. To which a visibly touched Duterte responded, “Basta tandaan ninyo—hindi ko kayo iiwanan.”
On Wednesday, before Makati Rotarians at the SM Aura, where another traffic pandemic caused him to be late by two hours, Duterte again told them at the open forum that his family was really against his running. A female Rotarian stood up and after saying how so many people see him as the only chance for real change, asked: “Are we not your family too?” Duterte was speechless.
And then he was shown a video of a woman OFW who cried when she learned that he had decided not to run. TV5 showed it during their Friday newscast. “Kayo na lang ang pag-asa namin para maka-uwi na sa Pilipinas,” she pleaded.
Last Thursday, in a live interview over ABC-5, pressed by a throng of journalists not only from the station but from sister-media such as Business World, Bloomberg and Inter-Aksyon, about whether his rejection of calls to run for the presidency next year was “truly” final, Digong answered, “Masama naman magsalita ng tapos sa mundong ito”. And the journalists chorused in glee—“iyon na!”
Leaving the studios to catch his flight back to Davao, Duterte whispered to a lawyer who accompanied him to the media forum, “It ain’t over till it’s over!”
That is Rodrigo Roa Duterte, intuitively playful, mischievous even, unpredictable, and as Rappler described him, “unorthodox”.
Philippine politics has not seen someone like him. “A male Miriam Santiago”, a noted public relations man once described him. And Filipinos, especially the millennials, are getting to see him as “different,” “taong-tao,” “hindi trapo,” a messenger and doer of genuine change.
But is he running? How many times have I written in this space that he will?