Lonely at the top
In the course of a recent speech, President Duterte opened a window into his soul. He bantered about how lonely his new job could be. He has lost the privacy he cherished. He seems a prisoner of his own security detail. He could not pee in the garden without the presidential security guards observing it. He is annoyed by the noise the tugboat makes each time he crosses the Pasig River for what passes as his new home.
Many other leaders have complained about how lonely it could be at the top. But for the President, the loneliness is magnified. He is, after all, a free spirit. More than anything else, he loves riding his bike and touring the city he loves. He knows every nook and cranny of Davao City: every nice and cheap restaurant, every karaoke joint and every durian outlet.
Davao City is his womb. He never strays too far from it for too long. The city nourishes him, enlivens his spirit. Before he took office, he threatened to commute to Davao each working day. In office, realizing the pressures of the job, he goes back to Davao on a weekly basis. Some meetings have been scheduled in Davao to adjust to the President’s schedule.
No one expects the President to alter this routine. It is as if he is weakened if he does not inhale Davao air. He seems irritable if he is unable to sleep in his own bed for too many days. Surely he misses his children. Although he growls in public, he transforms into a tender soul when his grandchildren clamber up his lap.
So far, he has shown tremendous stamina for public engagements and long Cabinet meetings. But he needs to escape to Davao to recharge, to replenish whatever has been diminished in his soul. He just needs to be in that familiar place where he knows every face and every little alley.
It is tough to be president. After all the debates are done, it is the Chief Executive who has to make the decision. He retreats to his quarters with a load of paperwork and reads them in solitude into the wee hours. He is a solitary soul who confronts the gravest matters of state alone. Nothing could be done to ease the nature of this job for a sociable personality like Rodrigo Duterte.
There is a bit of contradiction in the President. He can be very tough when he makes decisions. He can also be very soft on matters he really cares about: the poor, the victims of injustice and the fate of the nation.
We saw him weep freely when he visited his parents’ graves shortly after winning the presidential election. He has confessed to weeping when he thinks about his people threatened by the scourge of illegal drugs. He even wept when he flew in from Singapore and realized how far behind with our neighbors we have fallen. Here is a man unashamed to show his emotions.
There is that incurable humanity in this person. He feels for others. His capacity for empathy is contagious. His love for the ordinary life, a provincial mayor eating in the sidewalk with his constituents, is a story many times told. There is a reason why he prefers being called “Mayor” instead of “President.”
Soon he will be used to the chugging of the tugboat as he crosses the river from where he lives to the Palace where he works. Soon he might even learn to stray away from Davao for longer periods to attend to the demands of national leadership and international responsibilities. He might devise an arrangement so that he sees little Kitty more often and probably help her with her homework.
But it will still be lonely at the top—especially for a person so used to assuming all responsibilities, deciding on his own, seeking solace only in the memory of his ancestors. Rodrigo Duterte was not happy to seek the presidency. He does not seem happy wielding its powers now. This is why he often appears like searching for a reason to step down. No other previous president seemed so disdainful of the perks and power that come with high office.
In the end, a deep sense of responsibility for the fate of the nation trumps the loneliness of the job.
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