On Monday, my phone kept ringing; the text messages came from all over. It was four in the afternoon, and having heard the news from Davao, I cancelled previously set meetings and stayed home. At around six in the evening, I simply closed my lines. I switched off the television, and forced myself to relax with French songs playing in my room, from Juliette Greco to Gilbert Becaud to my current favorite, Francoise Hardy.
Just before dinner, my daughter went up to the room and asked, “Hindi na raw tuloy. Ano ba talaga?” My answer was a short “Ewan.”
Which was also how I answered text messages sent after I did not answer phone calls. The ad agency people who had labored deep into the wee hours of the morning for something to present on TV after the Davao City mayor “finally” decides and casts his certificate of candidacy for president of this benighted land.
Friends and supporters who contributed time, efforts and resources to a common dream of a leader who could best be described as possessing the qualities of “Tapang at Malasakit,” character traits of a leader with a heart, compassion, but with the strong political will to get things done.
How do I respond to their questions? How do I answer their entreaties? To all of them, my standard reply, as of this writing (Tuesday morning) was “Ewan.”
I flew to Davao Saturday afternoon, 10 October. I brought along the storyboards for a TV infomercial which were done at the request and upon the instructions of a close friend of the mayor, a Mindanaoan who had held a cabinet post in the Ramos administration.
My flight was scheduled for 5:10 p.m. At around one-thirty while having lunch after the treadmill, I read a text message sent much earlier by a GMA News reporter, asking about the veracity of a list of senatorial candidates posted on the Facebook page of a former governor of a Mindanao province. Lacson, Osmeña, Villar, Romualdez, Moreno, Zubiri, Pacquiao, and Pagdilao, the former governor listed on Thursday, Oct. 8, and self-billed by him as a “dream team.” Said former governor was with Mayor Duterte, this writer and a handful of close friends (five others to my recollection), when we discussed the possible list of senators, late Wednesday night up to the early hours of Thursday.
I confirmed the as-yet incomplete list, but said that Mark Villar, son of the Nacionalista Party president Manny Villar and Senator Cynthia, was unsure about running. So as of now it should be seven, I texted.
The reporter asked, again by text, “He already has a senate slate, does that mean he is relly (sic) running?” To which, as I was about to alight from my car at Terminal 2 (labeled Centennial but is really outdated, even as of the turn of the century), I responded with a short “yes.” That was logical, right? After a “dream team” of senatorial candidates was already posted on Facebook two days before. Why should I lie?
Before all those senatorial “dream” listings came up in the discussion, I was closeted with the mayor, one on one, and he started by telling me about the letter of his daughter, Inday Sara, which in so many words, asked him not to run for president. That was the same letter the mayor adverted to when he held a press conference yesterday afternoon (Oct. 12) in Davao. For a while I was stumped and speechless.
Regaining my composure, I asked, “Is it the fear of losing the presidential race?”, and without waiting for an answer, I briefed him about the latest Pulse Asia survey which showed his numbers marginally increasing in the last 3 months, from 15 to 16, despite all his announcements that he was “definitely”, “categorically”, “finally” not running. And to me, as I explained, the most significant finding is that NCR, which represents 10 percent of the registered voters, was as of the first week of September, declaring him even-steven with VP Binay, 22 to 21, with Grace Poe just slightly above them, at 26. I explained that with the right messaging and “sipag,” we will conquer Metro Manila, and in due time, be a close second in Balance Luzon. All we need, I explained, was for him to declare.
Then, at close to midnight, we began discussing the pros and cons of having Bongbong Marcos and Alan Cayetano for his vice presidential teammate.
That was when the former governor of a Mindanao province came in to the room. As well three of his closest friends and a family member.
That was when the so-called “dream team” (an appellation given through a Facebook post on Thursday) came about. There was hardly any objection to any of the names we rattled off, except for a query from the mayor about whether Migs Zubiri was really interested in a senatorial run (I called up Migs Thursday morning and he did confirm he would run). My similar query about Manny Pacquiao who I thought would run for Sarangani governor instead was answered by Pacquiao himself in a TV interview. He wanted to be senator.
On Friday evening (Oct. 9), friends who flew in from Manila, Cebu and elsewhere told me that “he is running,” but no clear VP yet. With my singular focus on the presidential run, I even forgot that Bongbong Marcos had announced that he would declare his formal intentions for the VP post in a rally in Intramuros on Saturday afternoon.
So on Saturday night, right upon arrival in Davao, at about half past 8 in the evening, I sauntered into a dining room of the Grand Men Seng Hotel for a one-on-one (actually one on one is not really so, his faithful and trusted aide Bong Go is always present, but keeps a discreet distance, unless asked by the mayor questions).
Having been told by a friend earlier that the “yes” to GMA News had gone viral, and getting texts and requests for interview even when my plane to Davao was already taxi-ing at NAIA, all of which I refused to answer, I started by telling the mayor about the GMA news text messages. He stopped me, saying “I am a politician. I grew up in a political family. I understand the dynamics, and for as long as the motivations are alright, I take no offense” (partly in English, partly in Bisaya).
I showed him the advertising storyboards, as well as a one-page draft statement that I prepared at the instructions of the FVR cabinet-member who talked with him in Davao Thursday night. He seemed delighted. To the draft statement, he said, “Mabuti maigsi, i-memorize ko na lang.” To ease his possible concern about the ads, I told him not to bother about the funding. Some friends had assured me already.
Then we went to his favorite hang-out, where I had a sparse dinner at 11 that night, while he was singing an old Richard Harris song whose title I cannot remember, but whose lyrics I recall from the 70s. (The guy’s songs are those with meaningful lyrics, like MacArthur Park, or The Windmills of your Mind and the Visayan tear-jerker Balod). There were about 30, maybe more in the small after-dinner place, all close friends, classmates, and some young social media experts I had convinced months before to volunteer for our common dream of a Duterte presidency.
Sunday (Oct. 11) at noon, the mayor’s trusted aide, Bong, arranged for a helicopter ride for me and my volunteers to have lunch at the Pearl Farm, his treat, after which we checked out of Seda Hotel and trooped to the airport. While at the seaside resort, I received phone calls from various politicians, anxiously asking the 64 dollar question. We left Davao City Saturday night happy and certain our candidate would run for president.
At noon of Monday, over lunch with The Standard publisher and some friends, I was effusive in assuring them that Duterte would run, though I learned earlier there would be a 2:30 press conference. But I gave them no clue as to whether it was Alan or Bongbong.
Then the 3:00 p.m. press conference in Davao. And my standard reply to all who texted—worried, anxious, crestfallen, whatever—“Ewan.”