CEBU CITY, Philippines – It was a wooing unlike any other.
Rodrigo Duterte’s unique style of endearing himself to the masses was unleashed during his visit to Cebu City from January 7 to 8. The visit was his first political sortie in the Visayas after he declared he was running for president.
Locals stood rapt in attention as he addressed his “fellow Sugbuanons” during a gathering in Plaza Independencia.
It was like a romance, with Duterte playing the subtle but cajoling suitor and Cebuanos, open-minded and friendly to his advances.
The presidential candidate was in full form. He cracked jokes, told stories laced with opportunities for crowd interaction, and let out a few expletives here and there – to the delight of the crowd.
In his first event in Cebu City, and later on in the plaza assembly, he began by reminding everyone of his Cebuano roots.
“I’m always happy whenever I come here in Cebu. My roots are here and we trace our pedigree from our father. My mother is a Mindanaoan but every time I am asked of my lineage, I tell them that I am Visayan,” he told reporters in a media briefing.
Rodrigo Duterte in Cebu: I am a Visayan. #PHVote pic.twitter.com/hLsFMCQalu — Pia Ranada (@piaranada) January 9, 2016
Later that day, in fluent Bisaya, he explained to people that his father comes from nearby Danao City and that he himself lived there until he was 5 years old. The Duterte family then migrated to Mindanao.
Duterte deftly tapped into his audience’s regional pride, a boost to his pitch for a Visayan president.
“Their view in life, their dimension, the Tagalogs, is Manila-centric. We were not able to get a taste, only when [Carlos P.] Garcia was president, that was a long time ago,” he said in Bisaya.
He even cracked a joke about how the Philippine pantheon of heroes did not do justice to Visayan heroes.
While Tagalog heroes like Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, and Emilio Aguinaldo are given special days in the year to celebrate their role in history, a Cebuano hero does not get the same attention.
“Meron isang matapang na Cebuano, nakipag-upakan sa mga Espanyol and even killed Magellan because he was their oppressor. Wala man lang binigay na Lapu-Lapu Day na walang klase? Habang putang-ina ‘yung mga taga-Maynila, ginawa nilang isda tuloy. Sinong maligayahan na pinaka-matapang na Cebuano ginagawa mong prito, ulam?”
(There is a fierce Cebuano who fought against the Spaniards and even killed Magellan because he was their oppressor. Why is there no Lapu-Lapu Day when classes are called off? While those in Manila have now made him a fish. Who will be happy if the fiercest Cebuano is fried and eaten?)
He also lamented how the name of Francisco Dagohoy, another Visayan hero, has been besmirched. The term “Dagohoy” is often used to refer to a thief or criminal.
If he is elected president, he would recommend the recognition of more Visayan heroes.
“If I am president, I will add 5 more [heroes],” he said.
Duterte shifted from serious to playful in a blink of an eye.
“Things have to change. You have to concede to us a certain amount of the honor in this country. I know that long after I’m gone, I am sure that somebody will try to beatify me. Madagdagan lang naman tayo ng Santo Rodrigo, okay na (Just add a Saint Rodrigo and we’ll be okay),” he joked.
He interlaced his playful wording with his pitch of the platform he shares with running mate Alan Peter Cayetano: one centered on federalism and decentralization.
“Right now, there are so many levels of government above the local government units. With federalism, there will be less levels so that LGUs will have more power to govern themselves. Sixty to 70% of resources will be retained by LGUs. This is how Cebu and Bohol can be more competitive,” he said in Bisaya.
Cayetano also talked about decentralization, or spreading out economic resources and government power across the country.
The senator blasted the supposed “Metro Manila first” policy of the current administration which has allowed the megacity to take a larger slice of the national budget. One reason is most central offices of government agencies are based in Metro Manila, he said.
“One simple solution that we have proposed is to transfer the Department of Tourism to Cebu, Bureau of Fisheries here in Visayas, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Mindanao, and the Department of Transportation and Communication can be in Clark [Pampanga]. By simply moving out departments from Metro Manila, you will give 18% of the budget throughout the country,” he said.
Duterte and Cayetano capped off their visit to Cebu City by joining a gathering of Cebu local government officials.
In attendance were around 50 mayors and vice mayors, and 60 barangay captains, and some provincial level officials.
At the end of the plaza gathering, I asked a random member of the audience what they thought of Duterte’s speech.
“He is okay with us, Rodrigo Duterte, because we know he has good intentions for Cebuanos. He is okay because I was able to visit Davao. He managed it well,” said Dario Labrejos in Filipino.
WATCH: Reaction of this Cebuano to Rodrigo Duterte's plans for PH as laid out in a speech given in Cebu #PHVote pic.twitter.com/EAibH7CPtb — Pia Ranada (@piaranada) January 7, 2016
Another Cebuano, Bibeth, said, “I like his platform, his plans, they’re good. A lot of us support Duterte. In Mactan, all are for Duterte. He is like an ordinary person, his attitude is really for the masses.”
The next day, I asked my taxi driver who he was voting for.
“Duterte,” he said with no hesitation.
“Malakas si Duterte dito kasi Bisaya siya. Lahat ng taxi driver sa Cebu, Duterte." (Duterte is strong here because he is a Visayan. All the taxi drivers in Cebu are for Duterte.) – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.