This is how he spent his Christmas for the past so many years: visiting the very sick and doing what he can to bring them cheer.
When he was mayor of the city, Rodrigo Duterte ordered the construction of the Children’s Cancer Ward of the Davao City Hospital. Since then, he was a constant presence each Christmas Day. He brought gifts for the children. Most important, he brought the gift of his presence. It was an assurance the very sick will not be abandoned by their community.
The children return the favor, always. They prepare songs for the distinguished visitor, now President of the Republic. The children never fail to bring Mr. Duterte to tears. In this last visit, several papers carried that touching photograph of a young boy kissing the President. The songs and the kisses, the genuine love demonstrated, were always enough to make his day. These are what he works so hard for.
The expression on his face, receiving the heartfelt kiss, so poignantly spoke of what his heart wanted to say: “I wish I could erase the cancer from your young bodies and have you live a healthy, normal life.” Sadly, all the powers of the presidency will not enable him to do that. The best he could do is to bring them the best medical care available and share the most special day of the year with them.
Leaving the Children’s Cancer Ward, at the end of his visit, is always excruciating. Rodrigo Duterte embraces each child, carries the younger ones in his arm, shares a small story with the patients and tries exceedingly hard to bring them cheer. It is as if this is what he lives for, what brings him joy.
Notwithstanding the fact he is now president, the time and the passion Mr. Duterte brings the sick children are undiminished. Being President, however, means there are more people he must bring comfort to.
Shortly after the hospital visit, the untiring President traveled to Midsayap, North Cotabato, to visit those injured in the recent bombing attack. The victims could not believe their eyes. The President of the Republic came to their hospital beds to share words of comfort. They wept when they saw him. They grasped his hands tightly, wanting to hear from him the assurance that the perpetrators of this terrorist attack will not go unpunished, that there will be peace in their time and that their communities will be safe.
The day after, President Duterte toured the storm-ravaged Bicol region. He wanted to inspect the damage wrought. Perhaps more important, he wanted to look into the steely eyes of those who weathered countless typhoons, who took the devastation and rebuilt every time. This is the region that absorbs most of the typhoons crossing over Luzon. Each time, the hardy Bicolanos fall and rise, they take the losses and do not curse the heavens. Climate and geography conspired to make them a tough, resilient people.
Once, when facing a storm of criticism for his blunt and unconventional foreign policy pronouncements, Mr. Duterte scoffed that he was not elected statesman. He was elected to fix his nation. He might as well have said he was elected to be father of that nation.
Whether as mayor or as president, Rodrigo understands his job according to his instincts. He is there to bring comfort to the afflicted and inflict upon those who oppress. He is there to protect the weak, to lift the poor from their entrapment and to inspire hope among those pushed to the brink. He is a leader for the marginalized, a gift to the needy and a weapon for the oppressed.
We are all familiar with the concept of the Alpha male. In most species, he is the one who takes responsibility for protecting the herd. He is the natural leader of the group. He is the best of the species, commanded by the force of natural selection to ensure survival, especially of the disadvantaged.
Where do all the energy and all the passion for caring and protecting come from?
I have a small theory. I think the President is gifted with an overdeveloped “paternal instinct.” He is head of the household, and let no one mess with that.
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