Then I thought my little band of renegade loons would be ushered out of the gates of Malacañang, all flushed and giggly. Then we’d be on our merry way to some bar where we could rehash in slow mo the magical moment we shook his hand and how he smiled at us and said, “Hello ma’am.”
Instead we were told we would be served dinner after meeting the president. And then we were ushered into a hushed, stately room with 7 elegantly upholstered seats on each side with each of our names on a name tag so we knew where to sit and one regal chair for Da Man up front.
And then in walked our President, Krizette Lauretta Chu’s Supreme Lord Digong and my Digongmylabs.
Warm. Real. Simple, no air of self-importance about him. Just an unmistakable air of quiet authority about him.
I was my father’s date on a lot of state functions growing up and I got to meet Ferdinand Marcos, Erap Estrada, Gloria Arroyo, Fidel Ramos, Cory Aquino.
Rodrigo Duterte stands out in that he wears authority and power with ease coupled with the homegrown simplicity of a country boy that makes the shallow underestimate him.
And he stands out because of his warmth—which is real, authentic, not forced.
I have a million and one stories of that amazing night.
How he invited us to stay for dinner and then after dinner to go his house across the river and to look around because, “Hindi ko man yan pera. That is your money. The people own Malacañang. Go explore and enjoy it.” And how he meant it—not some phony press release awwww-shucks-I’m-so-simple-am-I-not thing because he insisted on giving us a personal tour of OUR palace.
And how he stretched the hours to be with us so—despite constant reminders from his staff to end it already. (Later, I learned, this threw a major wrench in his schedule and that the Presidential Staff had a mini-crisis trying to rearrange his sched this way and that.)
But here’s one memory that stands out with me.
It was when he said that when he dies, he’d like his remains to be cremated within 24 hours after his death. No religious ceremonies, no grand necrological services– no, none of that fuss.
And, he says, “Forget me. Move on.”
And when he says this, he has a sad, wistful look in his eyes. (I sat right next to him. I could smell his manly cologne and see his pores even. That’s how close I was.) It almost looks as if he has forgotten we are around because he seems lost in deep thought.
Remembering this now, I feel myself holding back my tears.
Who is this man? Why is he so shorn of ego? What journey has he been on that he is so devoid of self-importance and that he cares nothing for things I spend hours bugging my husband about– like how I’d like to be buried—down to the last detail—the songs, the exquisite menu—down to the wine I want served, the string quartet with a cello, the photo exhibit (of my extensive self collection :D).
How has he made nothing about himself?
And he helps us extricate ourselves from the potential pain of being too attached when he counsels us to let others express themselves in however way they want and need to. That there is no need to defend him. That this is what a democracy is all about—space for everyone.
And how is he, the most powerful man in the country, able to detach himself from the lure of power and say, “This is all destiny. If I get ousted after a year, so be it. If it is in my destiny to finish my term, so be it.”?
He gives a quiet, easy chuckle when we ask him about rumors of plans to oust him so you know it is the least of his worries. “If it happens, then it is all part of destiny.”
What shines through is his love for the Filipino people. And that the thing I care for the most is his number one concern too: that the poor be taken out of the horrible nightmare of poverty they are in.
And after all’s been said and done, he says, “All I am is a public servant.”
That is all.
I love this man. I love our president.
For all those years that I had grown calloused and cynical at having lived under some of the worst human beings we called ‘president’—murderers, plunderers, impossibly self-absorbed bastards who cared nothing for the Filipino people –and where I spat out the word ‘president’ for the venom that it was, I am deeply and profoundly grateful to have lived to see this day when I could say, “I love this man. I love this president.” with the utter and guileless sincerity of a child.
Finally, my friends, we got this right.
We put a great man in Malacañang.