I first met Davao City Mayor Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte up close and personal in January this year upon the invitation of former North Cotabato Governor Manny Piñol. It was a consultative meeting, exploring the possibility of fielding Digong in the presidential elections next year.
I admit I was thrilled, excited and honored on the nature of my trip; I couldn’t wait to see Davao City’s version of Dirty Harry.
Later, I found out how he works—he is nocturnal; he works most of the time at night and so during our first meeting, I had to wait for him to finish his long list of activities before we could sit and talk.
When I arrived in the hotel where I was billeted, I was at once ushered to the hall where Digong was giving a press conference— it was during the height of the Mamasapano tragedy where he was asked by the media about his stand on the issue. His statement was bold but logical.
I made a short assessment, not on what he said but about my impression on the conference. I actually visualized a somewhat hostile environment where an Idi Amin-like dictates the press but I was wrong. There was neither Amin nor Joseph Stalin talking; it was the city mayor talking humbly and calmly. Surprisingly, the mood was lighter than what I expected and the mayor was cracking jokes. His choice of words in describing persons or situations may, to some, appear rude but to me, it was a display of classical wit phrased in street-smart lingua – the uniquely Digong brand.
I remember my favorite comedian in the US, Don Rickles whose insults were loved by his guests and viewers. In fact, to be insulted by Rickles was an honor. They said: “You are nobody if you are not insulted by Don Rickles.”
I am not saying that I am equating Rickles with Digong. The former usually did not mean what he said in his shows while the latter says what he means. I can only imagine how the two can quickly and wittingly pick up lines in perfect timing.
Anyway, I met some of the brightest political consultants in the country during our meeting including political allies former Press Secretary Jess Dureza and former North Cotabato Gov. Manny Piñol. I was given the privilege to talk to the mayor first. I thought Digong will be tough in dealing with me. To my surprise, he willingly listened to me on my assessment and calmly and courteously asked questions to clarify some issues I raised.
He told me he doesn’t have money to launch a nationwide campaign; what he has are friends and volunteers who are willing to share their resources in case he goes for the presidential bid. But he made a footnote on his statement. He said his team is picky on the offers. In fact, the team has to ascertain the motive of the offeror as the help could mean a “big price” he will have to pay by going against his own principles later.
Since I heard the possibility of his running for the highest post, support mushroomed everywhere. It may be recalled that he became one of the crowd’s favorite, placing him third in the surveys.
On Monday, Duterte ended the hopes of those who wanted him to run for president. He said he will retire after his term as city mayor next year and that he will no longer hold any office, not even a barangay post.
Sources said Duterte made up his mind after daughter Sarah pleaded with him not to heed calls that he run for president. Sources added that Sarah is afraid that the mayor will be an open target of assassination once a national campaign is launched.
But hope springs eternal. Believers and supporters of Digong are still hoping he will reconsider.
Apparently, the key to the mayor’s heart is Sarah. Just the same, I suspect that this is a deliberate political strategy to put someone forward. It was rumored that Sen. Bongbong Marcos’ camp is talking with Digong for him to slide down to the vice presidency. But numbers in the survey won’t allow them to push their plan; Digong has more supporters than the would-be principal, Bongbong. The only way to put the latter forward is for Digong to step aside momentarily.
Once the number is reached, there is a probability that the Bongbong-Digong tandem will be launched. Indeed, it is a one step-backward-two-steps-forward strategy.
However, too much drama must be avoided, lest it may turn into a waterloo. People who draw crowds because of masa leadership have their strength and weaknesses. Digong must meet the masa’s expectations or else, support is lost.
Now, if Digong will have a change of heart, there will be a clash of his own personality— palabra de honor against his public servant image who heeds the people’s call for him to continue public service.
How to wag Digong’s tail? Let time and circumstances do it.
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