INQUIRER.net revisits the first official presidential debate, held a week ago Sunday, with a behind-the-scenes look at each of the five presidential campaigns. This third part, out of five, focuses on Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.—The Editors.
An hour or so before the first official presidential debate of the 2016 elections, Rodrigo Duterte was sitting relaxed on a couch inside his holding room, chewing gum. “I am very excited, but I am also very nervous,” he said.
The presidential candidate had shown up at Capitol University in Cagayan de Oro City doing a rare thing: wearing a barong. “This is a sovereign function,” the mayor of Davao City told INQUIRER.net when teased about his formal wear.
He confessed that he was still wide awake at past 3 am on Feb. 21, the day of the debate.
Though he had previously said he would rely on his stock knowledge during the debate organized by the GMA Network and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, he admitted that he reviewed reading materials to prepare for the debate.
The tough-talking mayor arrived in Cagayan De Oro on debate day itself, on a commercial flight from Davao City.
He stayed at the Luxe Hotel, where his rivals former interior secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II and Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago were also billeted.
When the debate started at exactly 5 p.m., all five presidential candidates shared a stage for the first time.
In his opening statement, Duterte, known for his iron-fisted leadership, began by praising his friend Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago. She is “one of the only two qualified to run this country as President,” he said.
Earlier, Duterte had said that Santiago would be the candidate to watch out for in the first presidential debate. “Miriam is bright. All the rest, we are in a tie,” he said.
Duterte and Santiago have been friends for a long time. The controversial mayor was one of the sponsors during the 25th wedding anniversary of the feisty senator and her husband Narciso Santiago Jr.
That friendship was made evident more than once during the debate. When it was his turn to offer a rebuttal to Santiago’s statement about her health condition, for instance, Duterte declined. “I will not go into an argument or debate with Ma’am Miriam. She’s telling you the truth and the truth is very important. I do not see Senator Santiago passing away within the next 20 years, so what’s the problem?” he said, receiving applause from the audience inside the Capitol University auditorium.
During commercial breaks, Santiago was seen sitting on her chair; she seemed visibly weak. After the debate, Duterte approached Santiago and assisted her as they walked toward the center of the stage. Many later admired Duterte for his gesture, saying this showed his gentlemanly side.
In his debate answers, Duterte repeatedly vowed to get rid of criminality, illegal drugs and corruption in government if he wins the presidency, all within the first three to six months.
“Drugs are flooding the country. We’ve been calling the attention of the National Government, and there is so much corruption in government. I propose that if I am President, I will get rid of criminality, drugs, and corruption,” he said.
“Just give me three to six months and I will do it for you. I will deliver. Again, I said we cannot go for economic growth unless we start with government. For as long as there are incompetent and corrupt officials in our government, we would never reach our goal of a happy family,” he said.
When asked about the extrajudicial killings associated with him, Duterte said “it never happened.” But in the same breath, he vowed to continue to kill criminals as long as it is “in accordance with the Rule of Law.”
“As long as I do it in accordance with the Rule of Law, I will continue to kill criminals, and a president can order the killing as long as it is, I said, on the side of performance of duty in accordance with law. I will use the military and the police to go after criminality and drugs,” he said.
To the surprise of many, Duterte did not utter any invectives during the debate. (He is famous for lacing his pronouncements on criminality and drugs with strings of well-chosen cuss words.)
The debate was also an opportunity for Duterte to echo his platform of government to a wider audience.
He vowed to push for federalism as an alternative to the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) if it fails to pass Congress.
“With the failure of BBL, there is a great, great hurt there. Unless, I said, we can come up with another card which is federalism, nothing, nothing at all, can appease Mindanao,” he said.
Duterte also deplored how the national budget, including for infrastructure, was mostly concentrated in Metro Manila while Mindanao was left out.
“You have to give us our share,” he said, adding that only 19 percent of the national budget was allocated for Mindanao.
He said 54% of the total export earnings in dollars of the Philippines came from Mindanao.
Days before the debate, Duterte said he might walk out if he would not be given enough time to say his piece.
“I am a slow talker. What I conceive in my head, the gray matter between my ears, it takes me a long time to express it orally,” he said then. “How can you present your platform of government in 60 seconds?” he asked INQUIRER.net minutes before the debate started.
In his public speaking engagements, Duterte is known to deliver long speeches, lasting more than an hour.
At the end of the debate, after the photo opportunities onstage, Duterte granted chance interviews to members of the media. He said “let the people judge” them on their debate performance, as his supporters waited outside the building for him, chanting “Duterte, Duterte.”
Afterwards, Duterte met with his supporters in Divisoria, the city’s old central plaza. He spoke for almost two hours, and stopped only when he sensed that the audience was already tired. The next day, the mayor flew to Manila for a speaking engagement. JN
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