Without fanfare


Duterte turns 73, celebrates birthday with family, friends
ENGRAVING his name in the pillars of the country’s political dome with narratives of success and controversies, President Rodrigo Duterte has been regarded as one of the Philippines’ most popular and controversial public officials. Three years into his presidency, he continues to advance his agenda on a national scale.

Today, Duterte marks his 73rd birthday with his family and close friends in his hometown, Davao City. His spokesperson, Harry Roque, says it has been the President’s customary practice to welcome this day without fanfare, just like his preferred way of celebrating his past 10 natal days. Behind the President, meanwhile, the nation looks on his past and honors the man that he has become today.

Young Duterte (2nd from left) with his family. Photo courtesy of Davao City government

Rodrigo “Rody” Roa Duterte was born on March 28, 1945, in the central Philippine city of Maasin, in Southern Leyte. The second in a brood of five, he had a lawyer and politician for a father, Vicente, while his mother, Soledad (nee Roa), was a schoolteacher. His parents had been serving the public even before he was born. Vicente was a city mayor of Danao, in Cebu province, while his uncle, Ramon, was mayor of Cebu City between 1957 and 1959. Soledad, on the other hand, was a community activist who had a notable role in the 1986 People Power movement, which ousted the strongman Ferdinand Marcos. One of Duterte’s cousins also served as Cebu City mayor from 1983 to 1986.

Apart from being related to several families in Cebu, the political clans Almendras and Durano are likewise considered relatives of Duterte. His father was said to have moved to Davao in 1950, leaving behind his relatives in Cebu. Duterte visits the graves of his parents when facing a big situation.

Teenage Duterte with his mother

Youth, education
Despite his skinny frame during his youth, Duterte was described as a fearless teenager who habitually hung out with Davao City’s “toughs and street smarts.” This experience had made it easier for him to get in touch with the “masa” (common people). Although he was expelled twice from the Ateneo de Davao due to misconduct, Duterte still managed to graduate from high school and eventually earned a degree in political science from the Lyceum of the Philippines University Manila, in 1968. A former member of the KM, or Kabataang Makabayan (Patriotic Youth), a radical student organization, Duterte was also the first self-proclaimed socialist to have become a president. One of his teachers in Lyceum was Jose Maria Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Duterte then obtained a law degree from San Beda College, in 1972, and joined in 1997 the Davao City prosecutor’s office, where he remained until he was appointed vice mayor of the city in 1986.

Amid his flourishing career, Duterte married Elizabeth Zimmerman, a former flight attendant, in 1973. Zimmerman is the mother of Paolo, Sebastian, and Sara. Two of his children followed in his footsteps. Sara now serves as the mayor of Davao City while Paolo previously held the vice-mayor position. The marriage was annulled in 2000. Duterte now lives with his common-law wife Honeylet Avanceña and their daughter, Veronica. A neighbor said the President had lived in the same wood-and-brick house in Doña Luisa, a middle-class village in Davao City, for two decades.

Duterte before the presidency PHOTO COURTESY OF RENATO LUMAWAG

Congress days
Duterte won as congressman of Davao City’s first district in 1998 after three terms as Davao City mayor. In an interview, he admitted that those were the “less fulfilling” years of his life. At 71, Duterte was the oldest chief executive of the Philippines when he assumed office on June 30, 2016. He was also the first to have jumped straight to the highest office in the land from being a city mayor.

Anti-crime consultant
Among those who admired Duterte’s style of leadership was former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. He became Arroyo’s anticrime consultant in 2002, with a primary role to lead an anti-terror task force in achieving peace and order in the country.

Motorcycle rider
Then-Mayor Duterte frequently rode a Harvey big bike around Davao City to ensure that “things were well taken care of.” During his night patrols, Duterte would usually check the precinct houses to make sure the cops were not dozing off and were doing their job. He was also said to have made a policy of doling out groceries to cops, as a way of curbing their temptation to draw out bribes.

‘No churchgoer’
Duterte admitted he has never been a regular churchgoer, although he was raised a Catholic. He had also said he couldn’t always go to church because of his duties as mayor back then. He later confessed that he hadn’t abandoned his faith, and revealed that he had been sexually abused by a Catholic priest while being a student at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Davao University.

Duterte had declared support for same-sex marriage and for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, even before he became president. He also helped pass an anti-discrimination ordinance in Davao City during his term as mayor. Over the past years, Duterte had said he didn’t have problems making marriage a union between two people with the same gender, as he “recognized their importance in society.”

Meanwhile, he has also voiced his support for the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, saying he recommends family planning because “it is something good for the people.” In fact, he once persuaded several couples during a community wedding to have no more than three children. He was already supporting the use of family-planning methods before the RH bill debate had reached the local political scene. In 2005, he announced that he would give cash incentives to those who would avail of the city’s free tubal ligation and vasectomy services.

Behind Duterte’s “bad-boy image” is a man who loves books. Many of his close friends have said that he likes to read books on Philippine history, particularly the Mindanaon history. He also likes to read about economics, food security, and politics, and he owns biographies of Napoleon Bonaparte, Lee Kwan Yew, and Barack Obama, among other famous people. He is also a fan of thriller writers Robert Ludlum and Sidney Sheldon.


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