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DAVAO CITY – He is called Digong, Rody, Mayor, The Punisher, and soon, will be Mr. President, but to his children – Paolo, Sara, Sebastian, and Veronica – Rodrigo R. Duterte will always be “papa.”
However, that term of endearment might turn out to be the only exclusive claim of the Duterte kids on their father, a dedicated public servant. Duterte has always considered the people of Davao like his own children in the more than two decades that he had served as mayor, vice mayor, and congressman. And after he takes his oath of office as president of the Philippines on June 30, his “family” will include at least 100 million Filipinos who will leave him with little time for his own children.
Growing up with a father who had devoted his life to public service, incoming President Duterte’s children will understand that. In fact, the Duterte children had always acknowledge that they are not the only family that Digong takes care of – but the whole of Davao City.
Checking on them
It was his concern for the people of Davao City that started the urban legend that he drives a taxi cab on some nights and goes around the city to check if laws are followed. Or ride in his personal vehicle rigged with a public address system, berating drivers who go over the city’s speed limits or residents who he may catch smoking or drinking in public places.
Or, as Duterte had explained in interviews, “just to see if Davao is as peaceful as it should be.” But for many, it’s just the mayor’s way of checking that everyone is safe in their homes – as fathers want for their own families.
“He’s like a father to us, a taxi driver told the Manila Bulletin, relating the times when Duterte would park at the Ecoland Bus Terminal where taxi drivers converge in the early hours to await the arrival of busloads of passengers from other parts of Mindanao.
“He would ask us how we are, then buy foodstuff to distribute to us while we talk until the passengers start arriving,” he said.
Value of education
It is with this same protective attitude that Duterte raised his own children, steeled by his frequent reminders about the value of education when they were growing up.
Sara recalls how her father “sounded like a broken record” during her childhood when he would keep repeating to her that “education is everything.”
Those words did not go unheeded as far as Sara is concerned. She went on to become a lawyer, and is now set to assume the reins of this city from her father when he becomes president on June 30.
Then there is Paolo, who will be at his younger sister’s side at city hall as a second-term vice mayor. He has a PhD in public administration.
Sebastian, or Baste, is reticent just like his father, and has mostly shied away from the limelight, until the recent presidential campaign when he willingly thrust himself into the public eye and went on sorties around the country to campaign for Digong.
Veronica, 11, is perhaps the only person who could melt in an instant the heart of the man they call “The Punisher.”
While Duterte may talk tough, be stern and look serious at times, all these seem to melt away at the sight of his youngest daughter, Veronica.
Who could forget Duterte’s long-drawn speech during the thanksgiving party last June 4 at the Davao Crocodile Park?
As the feisty incoming president belted out deathly warnings to drug pushers and denounced corruption, the lithesome Veronica stepped into the picture and whispered to ask her father to cut short his discourse because it was starting to drizzle.
Stop, Duterte did. He left the stage looking more like a father who was able to grant his favorite daughter’s wish, than the country’s next president satisfied that he might have just sent shivers down the spine of criminals and corrupt officials.
And if Duterte was particularly protective over his other children when he was mayor of this city, he is expected to be more concerned about the safety of Veronica now that he will become the most powerful leader of the country.