MANILA, Philippines – The country may slowly be getting used to Rodrigo Duterte being president but he and his common-law wife Honeylet Avanceña are just starting to get their bearings.
The first month of Duterte's presidency has been a struggle for normalcy, shared Avanceña and Duterte early Tuesday morning, July 26.
The couple graciously toured a handful of journalists inside Duterte's official Manila residence Bahay Pangarap inside Malacañang Park.
The inside of Bahay Pangarap, or Bahay Pagbabago as Duterte himself calls his new home, still feels like a hotel room lived in for a few weeks. It is less cluttered with personal effects and thanks to staff, is cleaned regularly.
Duterte has done little decorating so far. He had this to say about the house's previous occupant.
"Aquino was frugal, he kept it simple even if he had many resources available to him," he said as he showed journalists his bedroom.
Media were advised to take photos only of the living room and outside area due to security concerns.
WATCH #PresidentDuterte walks to Bahay Pangarap after long SONA day, asks media if they took pic of his mosquito net pic.twitter.com/9nk45sFkfZ — Pia Ranada (@piaranada) July 25, 2016
A newly-installed white mosquito net hangs over his bed. Those familiar with Duterte know that he cannot sleep without one. It's a habit he can't seem to shake off even in his air-conditioned, well-insulated presidential abode.
Avanceña, who had the mosquito net especially made in Davao City, says this is just one way she is trying to help her partner adjust to his new life.
"Because that's what he is used to. I even told the chefs what he likes to eat so that at least, we can reduce what he needs to adjust to. He has already stepped out of his comfort zone," Avanceña said in a mix of English and Filipino.
She herself is still getting used to Bahay Pagbabago. That night would only be her 3rd night to sleep over. Kitty, her daughter with Duterte, has not even set foot in the house.
Duterte describes his life so far as president to be a repetitive series of "eat, sleep, work."
To unwind, Duterte says he exercises on his treadmill which had just been brought over from his house in Davao City.
"Bago lang dumating 'yung treadmill. One hour talaga ako nagtre-treadmill. 'Yung ganun lang, 'yung brisk (walking)," Duterte told reporters.
(The treadmill just arrived. I really use it for one hour, just brisk-walking.)
A copy of Robert Kaplan's Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific lies beside the flatscreen television in Duterte's bedroom. Duterte said he is reading it to learn more about the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
So far, Duterte is yet to take a dip in the swimming pool. His bathroom is much bigger than the one in his Davao home. It even has two toilets and a spacious bath tub. But it lacks the Philippine bathroom staple – a tabo (water dipper).
Another way the President relaxes is by having some friends over and talking the night away, said Avanceña.
Despite this, she still worries for him. After all, Duterte, at 71 years old, is the oldest president the country has ever had.
"'Yung friends niya nagre-relax na, he has to go through this, 'yung outside his comfort zone. 'Yung iniisip niya, may bigger scale 'yung mga problema niya," she said.
(His friends are already relaxing while he has to go through this, he has to go outside his comfort zone. The problems in his mind are of a bigger scale.)
Escape from PSG
She and her daughter Kitty have had their share of adjustments to make. From relative obscurity, they've been plunged into a much more public life.
Kitty has been particularly irritated with having two Presidential Security Group personnel hanging around her in her school cafeteria, shared Avanceña.
Twice, they both got so fed up with all the security that they escaped from the PSG assigned to them.
"Tinakasan namin nang dalawang beses 'yung PSG. Nagda-drive ako, nag-drive kami ni Kitty (We escaped from the PSG twice. I drove away with Kitty)," said Avanceña, saying they had escaped to go to the mall, a favorite past time of Kitty's.
The PSG eventually explained to Avanceña the importance of security, especially for Kitty. In the end, she relented.
But Avanceña said her aversion to all the security is not so much because of the hassle she experiences, but because of the impression it makes on other Davaoeños.
"Nakakahiya sa taga-Davao, hawi-hawi kami. Hindi kami sanay," she said. (I'm embarrassed in front of Davaoeños when they see so much security. We aren't used to it.)
But for Duterte and Avanceña, these are just some of the sacrifices that come with the presidency. – 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.