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PUBLISHER’S NOTES | The young Rodrigo Duterte (An excerpt from my still-to-be-published book “I WALKED WITH PRESIDENTS”)

I WAS studying at Holy Cross of Digos, Boys Dept. sometime in 1961 or 1962 when I first saw and met Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte. His father, Vicente Duterte was the sole governor then of the undivided Davao province ( now composed of Davao City, Davao del Sur, Davao del Norte, Davao Oriental, Davao de Oro and the newly created Davao Occidental.)

One morning, I spotted the vehicle of Gov. Duterte entering the Holy Cross campus. He disembarked with a young boy who appeared unwilling to leave the vehicle. I learned later he was studying at Ateneo de Davao in the city and his father, fondly called “Governor Tete” wanted to transfer him under the care of the Canadian Sacred Heart Brothers since the town Mayor of Digos then was Nonito “Noning” Llanos Sr., the relative of the Dutertes who both came from Sibonga town in Cebu in the Visayas. They migrated to Mindanao and settled in Davao which was then dubbed as the “Land of Promise”. (Today, under a president named Rodrigo Duterte, I hear many say that Mindanao can now be called “Land of Fulfillment”.)

EXPELLED? — I was later informed that the young Rody was in fact “expelled” from Ateneo in Davao City. Word spread, in hushed tones, that he was expelled after squirting his fountain pen ink unto a Jesuit priest’s “soutana”. But I had no way of checking whether that rumor was true or not. Your guess is as good as mine!

NANAY SOLING — His mother, SOLEDAD ROA DUTERTE whom we fondly called “Nanay Soling” was a caring and loving mestiza-looking mother but also strict and a disciplinarian to her family. I remember the story that went the rounds early on where Rody was quoted as saying that he was “no stranger” to Jesus Christ because his Nanay Soling would occasionally punish him by making him face the wall kneeling with a crucifix right in front of him on the wall. He must have spent hours facing Jesus Christ hence his claimed “familiarity” with the crucified Christ.

Nanay Soling was known for her active civic involvement in civil society and church groups.

BED-SPACER — The young Rody stayed in a small house at the back of the Brothers’ House where cook “Manong” Floro stayed. I was a “working student” and a band member so I was a “free boarder”. Rody shared a room as a “bed-spacer” with co-boarder, Ferdinand “Tikboy” Centeno, son of a known medical doctor in nearby neighboring town Bansalan , also called “Miral”.

SECRET, PLS— I remember Rody one time telling us his co- boarders to be careful with Manong Floro, (bless his soul) the Brothers’ cook. He related how one night he woke up with Manong Floro already beside him in bed under his mosquito net and started “massaging” him. “Bayot diay sya”, he whispered. (“He’s a gay!”) Ssssshh!

YOUNG ADVENTURE –Tikboy, his roommate and also an “exile” from Ateneo had some good recollections. During lull and boring periods, Rody would ask him to start a fist fight with some local boys with some betting on the sides. The first one who got a “bukol” or contusion lost the betting. Rody would put up the money and Tikboy had to suffer the “bukols”. Lol!

Later , Rody transferred to a boarding house along the main road on the 2nd floor of the Digos Theatre where he was always spotted at night sitting by the ledge and watching passersby down below. Eventually he moved to the residential house of Mayor Llanos, a strict no-nonsense disciplinarian and relative of the Dutertes.

GUN LOVER — He was fond of guns even at his young age. I remember him always with a .38 revolver tucked in his waist or placed inside a paper bag called “supot” that he would casually carry as if the “supot” contained “pan de sal”.

STUDENT PILOT — I cannot forget this one episode among many unforgettables about him. Rody sometimes would travel back to the city during weekends. He was taking flying lessons at the Davao airport to learn how to fly small planes popularly known then as Piper Cubs, single- engine Cessnas.


One Saturday while I was practicing with the school band at the school grounds (I played the trumpet ) I spotted a low-flying small plane making a few fly-bys above. I knew it was him flying solo. When Monday came, he asked me to accompany him to the school canteen. The canteen girl was a chubby and pretty lass called “Pilang”. Rody was always playful with her so when she saw us approaching, she stepped back from the counter knowing that Rody would always playfully reach for her breast as he handed her the 10 centavo payment for a bottle of Coke. Seeing her trying to stay away from the canteen counter, Rody told her:

“Inday Pilang, nakita nimo tong eroplano sa Sabado? Ako to ha!” (“My dear Pilang, did you see that plane last Saturday? That was me.”)

PILANG: “ Oy Ikaw diay to?” (Wow, that was you?)

RODY: “Basta timan-e ni ha. Pag dili ko nimo sugton karon, e crash ko ang eroplano diri sa canteen para uban tang duha adto sa langit.” (“Just remember this, if you will not say “yes” to me now, I will crash-land the plane at the canteen so we can both go to Heaven together.”) Hahaha! That’s how playful he was. I knew he had no serious intentions at “Pilang” but that’s how he was with “gurls in skirts” — and still is!

In fact, I was already Congressman of Davao City many years later and he was Davao City Mayor when in one quiet chat together, suddenly he said:

“Asa na kaha karon si Pilang noh?. Pusta-anay ta, mas daku ang pikas boobs nya kay mao to akong makab-ot pirmi sa una!” (“Where is Pilang now? I bet one of her “boobs” is bigger than the other because that was the one I could always reach during those times”.)

He never stopped to amuse and amaze everyone!

“FRIENDS FOREVER” — I remember he belonged to the next upper class but he was my classmate in one subject after he left Ateneo. He had a “ back subject” that he had to complete to be able to graduate. He was one year ahead of us. While in Digos, he was just a simple ordinary guy to us. (He even ate with his bare hands, minus the usual spoon. ) Although many of us “probinsyanos” were a bit hesitant to familiarize with him being the governor’s son, he himself took the effort of befriending all of us. In fact later in life , he brought some of his high school Digos classmates to Davao City and employed them while he was Davao City mayor as his close-in aides. His natural tendency of trusting only those whom he knew previously and with whom he was familiar with , has been carried on even when he became Philippine president.

BAD GUYS – I recall another unforgettable incident that defines his character as someone who could not tolerate hooliganism by troublemakers, in fact even willing to take action against the “bad guys” although he was not directly nor somehow affected by them.

One late evening while staying at our boarding house at the Holy Cross premises, he asked me to accompany him outside the campus. We climbed the fence as the gates were closed and no one was allowed to leave. We both walked through the coconut field until we reached the main road where we entered a local bar. I saw a group of teenagers drinking beer. I could not forget this: Rody suddenly approached someone seating by the bar stool and without warning slapped him saying:

“ Putang ina, ayaw sige ug samok ha!”(“Son-of-a-bitch! Stop creating trouble!”) The guy fell from his stool when he hit him on the face. His gang members were also taken aback. Rody and I hurriedly ran outside and went back safely inside the school compound. I was surprised at what just happened. When I asked him what that was all about, he merely said that the guy was the leader of the gang who had been creating trouble outside. During those times, we had been hearing “gang wars” in the poblacion area outside although we were not at all involved nor affected. But he personally intervened and took a personal hand in confronting those who created trouble.

I guessed that’s the way he had been and yes, will always be!

By the way, I have a few more anecdotes, mostly “naughty” ones about him, but I will save them for another day lest I may lose him as a friend — unless of course he gives me permission! And if he does, it will cover another entire book for sure! And it will cost everyone a fortune to get just a copy! Any early takers?

That’s the Rodrigo Duterte that I knew, the same Rodrigo Duterte that everyone knows today!

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