“Happy Birthday, PRD! I wish you good health.”
One thing is for sure, Sara Duterte took after her father’s brevity.
Not one to mince her words, the Davao City mayor gave the clipped greeting when pressed for a message for President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on the occasion of his 75th birthday yesterday, 28 March.
There was to be no flowery words for the no-nonsense elder daughter of Digong, she of the direct punch and well-aimed hits.
There is no doubting she is her father’s daughter — and, after all, the best wish one could give to anyone these days, most of all her father and the patriarch of this nation, is “good health.”
Everyone wishes it for the President especially at this time, when the gravest health threat to hit the world has yet to be controlled.
And this is why Senator Bong Go, another person closest to and most trusted by Duterte, wishes the same thing for the man.
“I wish our President good health, of course. For a 75-year-old, he is doing pretty well, but our country is hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a serious threat to everyone, especially our senior citizens. The President must always be in tip-top shape to be able to take care of the health and lives of the Filipino people,” he told the Daily Tribune.
President Duterte is evidently taking this to heart.
The Chief Executive, on his 75th, spent the day not be in his home in Davao City but at Bahay Pagbabago in the Malacañang Complex, two weeks since he declared an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) throughout Luzon.
No one is exempted, he said. Not even him. He opted to stay in Manila to oversee all meetings of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID), as his administration is battling an “invisible enemy” that is the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
And even if he can travel to Davao, for sure, being the fervent worrier that he is when it comes to the safety and welfare of the citizens, Mr. Duterte would rather be out with the frontliners than in the comforts of his own home.
With some key members of his Cabinet on quarantine, the whole government operating with skeleton forces, and with the number of COVID-19 cases in the country still rising, no doubt the Chief Executive was not in a celebratory mood.
Just an ordinary day
Then again, since being elected to the highest position in the land, he had always shied away from extravagant and lavish gatherings, especially if it is to celebrate his birthday.
Since occupying Malacañang, not once did the Chief Executive open its doors for well-wishers. For him, his birthday is just an ordinary day he would rather spend at home with his children and grandchildren while tending to some matters of the state on the side.
Do not bother giving him expensive, flashy gifts, too. It’s either the President would give them away or leave them untouched.
“Do not give me the gifts. Somebody gave me a Rolex watch, gold, in advance. I returned it. He does not want to accept it. Well, I will sell it again at a discount,” Mr. Duterte said back in 2017, his first birthday as head of state.
Instead of receiving gifts, he gives them away to children with cancer confined in hospitals, the homeless and uniformed men wounded while in the line of duty.
This quality, Sen. Bong Go shared with the Daily Tribune, is why he has remained loyal to the man he first met in 2008.
“His genuine care for the people, especially those who are poor and in dire need of help (is why I have stayed by his side until now). He also loves the country so much — very much that he willingly sacrifices a part of himself daily for the country. This is what made me stay,” the senator stated.
Asked how he views their relationship, Go added, “The country calls the President ‘Tatay Digong’ and I prefer being called ‘Kuya Bong.’ I think you can infer from those honorifics who we are to each other and to the Filipino people,” he said.
“When I started working for the President, he was a representative at the time and had served as mayor for three consecutive terms. Naturally, his reputation preceded him. He was known for being tough against crime, drugs and corruption. He was also a good friend of my grandfather, so I saw him as someone who was bad at bad people and good to good people. He (has remained) the same, as we all know, so I still have the same respect and admiration for him,” he further shared.
Just a father
Last year, the President spent the eve of his 74th birthday in the company of diplomats, in a series of private meetings. What he thought was his last sit-down for the night turned out to be a surprise birthday dinner thrown by some members of his staff at a private venue in Matina, Davao City.
Though pleased, the Chief Executive still could not help but give his subordinates a little “sermon” for the small party, because that’s just how he is, not wanting to be the center of attention even if he is the leader of more than 100 million Filipinos.
While he enjoyed the company of some of those closest to him, all he wanted was to go home to his family and be under his old, trusty kulambo where he said, “I’ll be sleeping all day.”
For this year, it was no different.
The President, a diamond in the rough he may be on his diamond birthday, was brilliant still.
“The President has genuine care for the people. It’s a rare characteristic for politicians. Many just want to enrich themselves. He is down-to-earth and committed. But I think his genuine care for the people is also his weakness. This is the reason he easily gets angry with criminals and corrupt people. But we should all be, so I don’t see it as something negative,” Sen. Go mused.
He recalled, “When he was the mayor of Davao, many patients or their families would ask him for medical and financial assistance. Some of them came all the way from outside Davao region, like Bukidnon and General Santos City. He once slammed a hospital bill on the table and told me, ‘Bong, find a way to help these people. I may not be their mayor, but they are our fellow Filipinos. So we must help them. I would feel useless if I couldn’t help them.’ Because of that experience, the concept of the Malasakit Center occurred to me when I was the Special Assistant to the President. I suggested it to the President, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Today, both Sara and Bong, two of the persons closest to the enigmatic Rody’s heart, have shown just how they are of a similar mold.
Having earned position of service to the people, they remain close to the side of the man who inspired them and inspire them still.
“I work hard as a legislator. I have filed many important bills and participated in crucial deliberations. In fact, the bills that I filed served as bases for most of the few laws that have been passed so far during the 18th Congress, such as the Malasakit Center Act of 2019, the Salary Standardization Law or SSL 5, and the postponement to 2022 of the Sangguniang Kabataan and barangay elections,” Go remarked.
“Actually, come to think of it, my being with the President helps greatly in the work that I do as a Senator. I have become a bridge between the Executive and the Legislative branches of the government. This makes the work easier for both,” he added.
For the senator, much work still has to be done, but he is fueled by his Tatay and mentor.
“I’ve learned so many things from him, and one of the reminders that he keeps giving me is to never put to waste public funds, not even a single peso. He tells me that the money of the people should rightly be given back to the people,” Sen. Go shared.
“He also says that ‘probinsyanos’ like us have no other political capital to give but our service to the Filipinos. ‘Unahin mo ang tao at hindi ka magkakamali (Put people first and you will never fail).’ So, it is best that we do whatever we can with the time and the opportunity we have. This, he said, is the best that we can do to survive politics,” Go said.
There would be no need to ask the President what his birthday wish is. His pronouncements in his recent several public address pretty much said it all, for the Philippines to flatten the curve and COVID-19 to be eradicated.
“Everyone is concerned with the present crisis and the evolving circumstances but it is no reason to lose hope or be disheartened,” presidential spokesman, Secretary Salvador Panelo, said in behalf of the Chief Executive.
Rodrigo Roa Duterte was born on 28 March 1945 in Maasin, Leyte. He is the second eldest among the five children of Vicente and Soledad.
with Kristina Maralit