'He could recognize the devil when they meet. He's street smart'.
At that time, one could leave his house with the door unlocked and the windows unshuttered and thereafter return with nary a thing lost and nary a room in disarray.
However, the President and I walked different paths. I was serious in my studies while he was carefree and impish. But he was no bully. And everyone could discern that he was intellectually equipped to pursue better goals if he only put his mind to it.
We belonged to the same class in the then Mindanao Colleges (now University of Mindanao) Main High School although we were not assigned to the same section.
He left the Mindanao Colleges Main High School before he could graduate and I lost track of him. I learned much later that he transferred to a school in Digos, Davao del Sur, where he eventually finished his secondary education.
The next time we met after so many years was in San Beda Colleges where I was in my third year of law school and he was in his first. He was by that time, a completely changed man.
I do not know what it was that brought about this transformation from a carefree person brimming with nonchalance into someone determined to become a lawyer. I can only surmise that somewhere along the way, something eventful must have happened that completely reversed his outlook on life.
Perhaps, a father's dying wish, a widowed mother's plea, a parent's tearful agony - I do not know. What I do know is that his father died before he enrolled in San Beda College of Law. Maybe we can pick it up from there.
Anyway, only he and he alone knows the reason for his transformation. And on a matter that is purely personal such as this, it is best that we leave the President alone to his thoughts. Leave well-enough alone, I always say.
I served Davao City beginning November 2001 in various capacities under the leadership of then Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte, first as City Legal Officer, then as a member of the Sangguniang Panlungsod and finally as City Administrator until his election and assumption of office on July 1, 2016. Having grown up together and having worked with him for 16 years, more or less, I can safely say that I know more about the President than anyone could tell.
Street-smart would be an apt description of his person. And it is his street-smartness, obviously learned from his youth, that made him a good judge of character and a person's potentials. His street-savviness served and continues to serve him well.
That he could recognize the devil when they meet is to say it all. That is why I have always believed that he is beyond exploitation, manipulation or defraudation by anyone. He is his own man.
The President is tough. He looks and talks tough. But behind that veneer of toughness beats a heart for the weak, the defenseless, the needy and the impoverished. He is decided on running not only a government of the people, by the people and for the people, but more so, a government for the 'the least and the lowest.'
That is why he caused to be constructed in Davao City during his incumbency as Mayor, the P12 Million Drug Rehabilitation Center for the treatment and rehabilitation, free-of-charge, of drug dependents, brightly painted bungalows at the compound of the Davao City Ma-a Jail where women detainees are housed amidst homelike surroundings while under detention where they are given livelihood opportunities minus of course the dank cells and cold cement floors of a prison, and the House of Hope for cancer patients coming from all over Mindanao where they and their families could stay free of lodging while the former undergo chemotherapy and other medical procedures at the Southern Philippines Medical Center. He put up Madrasah schools where the Muslim children of Davao City are taught language/dialect, religion, customs, traditions and practices. Preservation of the culture of Islam, that is how the then Mayor termed it.
Of late however, the President has been receiving a barrage of criticisms from both his critics and some political allies, too, for what he himself admitted were faux pas statements of his. And he has apologized publicly to those whose sensibilities he hurt. It takes great moral courage to make an apology, more so when it is done publicly. The President has shown that he has that courage.
But why does he spew unprintables only to apologize later? Let me explain without of course, being apologetic.
The President talks the language of the streets where 'PI's' are spewed, sometimes with wild abandon, to express anger, disappointment, frustration, amazement, surprise and a host of other emotions. While there is a need for him to temper his language, which he himself believes he has to, given the public apologies he has made recently, that will take time. He is just into the first 100 days of his presidency, and certainly we cannot expect dramatic changes within that short span of time along this line. After all, it is much easier to make than to break a habit. In the meantime, it would be good for us to look more at what he is doing and spend less time in finding fault in his public pronouncements. Loosen the leash, so to speak. Press him and he will press back twice as hard. Criticize him in public and he will talk back with a vengeance. Confer with him in private. That would be the better option. More and better things can be accomplished in the privacy of a conference room than in an exchange of unpleasantries in public.
Right now, he is focused on the consolidation of gains in the war against illegal drugs. I foresee more radical changes both in local governance and foreign relations in the next few months.
In his inaugural speech, he said: 'Mind your work and I will mind mine.' Perhaps, it is about time that we re-visit and draw guidance from that declaration.