While there was nothing inappropriate about the new President of the Philippines’ choice of inaugural attire—his plain barong Tagalog, beige morning trousers, and what seemed from afar as reddish brown boots—it was not what the citizens of the republic have been accustomed to see in presidential oath takings of recent memory.
Usually, the incoming President’s barong is a major story in itself, from the time of Fidel Ramos all the way to Noynoy Aquino. Such features would cover the Chief Executive-in-waiting’s chosen designer, the symbolism of his barong’s bespoke embroidery, and an interview with the weavers in the region where the indigenous fabric would be sourced.
As in many other features of the Duterte inauguration on Thursday, the new President’s fashion statement is a different story.
His choice of what can be technically identified in fashion as a long-sleeved polo barong [i.e. "the least formal version of the barong and frequently used as men’s office wear, akin to the Western suit and tie”]; his diversion from the formal black slacks; and preference for comfortable shoes on the day he assumes the highest office in the land affirms the President’s words in the end of his inaugural address: “Why am I here? Because I’m ready to start my work for the nation.”
As such, Mr. Duterte’s fashion statement on Thursday—and most likely throughout out his presidency—is loud and clear: He is all about the work.
For the man destined to be the country’s 16th President, it seems that what he wears should be irrelevant to the office he has vowed to serve, even on a day supposedly steeped in tradition. For after all the pageantry, his mandate is to buckle down to work.
After all, the Office of the President is not about him, but about serving the Filipino people. And again, this reality is symbolically, if not poignantly, echoed on Mr. Duterte’s inaugural attire: the Philippine flag pinned prominently on his left chest. No pattern, no embroidery, no embellishment competing for attention.
Indeed, for a nation whom its new President deems to have lost its “faith and trust in government,” the flag on his heart—and the work he vows to do—is the best fashion statement of all.