How I ran into Digong
Now I know how it feels when Destiny hits. I did not plan to be here, to do the thousands of things I must do each day. I just wanted to help get the best man to the presidency, the man who would best relieve us of all the torments afflicting our society.
Sometime in 2013, I and some friends started a quest for a man who could possibly lead our country out of the quagmire. We worried about the safety of our children in a country seemingly overrun by criminality. There was a dreadful malaise gripping the country and clouding our future, we thought. It was our duty as citizens and broadcasters to help find a leader who could define a new future.
Then a man named Rodrigo Duterte began a series of “consultation tours” nationwide. He was preaching the gospel of federalism although, by reputation, he was the man who restored civil order to the once broken City of Davao.
We observed him closely. We looked at his record. We decided this was the man who should lead the nation—the only man, a Mindanawon, who could. We joined the clamor for him to run for the presidency.
We were seriously disappointed when the deadline for the filing of candidacies came and the man from Davao did not. Our hopes were rekindled when he eventually decided to join the fight by way of substitution weeks later.
From then on, our lives would never be the same. Even as we were never really too political and surely had no experience running a campaign, we did everything we could imagine doing to help this man win. We discussed his merits on air and online, with neighbors and friends, citing his record as a crime-fighter. We followed the rallies and sorties. We contributed time and resources to a campaign powered by passionate volunteers and the most fervent hopes for a safer, saner country.
Mr. Duterte won by a landslide—the largest plurality ever in our strange multiparty system and the largest number of votes for any president our country ever had. That was the easy part.
The tougher part was giving flesh to a government that could deliver on the promises made on the campaign trail. Our people will not take another betrayal. They invested much hope in the mayor of a provincial city farthest from the old boys’ club at the metropolis. This was the last card we who hope for security in the streets and inclusion in the economy could draw.
We were optimistic as the man from Davao began working nearly a day after the elections. From his stronghold in the deep south, Mr. Duterte conferred with his closest advisers and began forming a Cabinet. Through every long day that lasted to the wee hours of the morning, he met with various groups, listening to whatever advice they might offer.
It was sometime in June when I received a call from Bong Go, asking me to come over and meet the President-elect. I thought I might be able to give him advice in communications, which was my meager area of competence. I researched the way presidential communications were set up in the outgoing administration.
I arrived at the Panacan(ang) where the President-elect holds office in Davao. Like all the others, I waited several hours before he could see me. Not wanting to waste any more of his precious time than necessary, I went through with the briefing and started off with my recommendations. I was not prepared for what happened next.
With characteristic decisiveness, the President-elect instructed me to put back together the presidential communications apparatus fragmented by the outgoing administration. He told me to choose my people and to head the unified apparatus.
I was awed by that investment of faith in my abilities. This must have been how those fishermen at Galilee felt when Jesus walked over and told them to follow him, to be fishers of men. Like the apostles, I obeyed.
If we deserved the change we want, we should all put our shoulders to the wheel. This was not the time to walk away from duty bestowed.
Before that life-changing meeting, I continued to imagine myself a volunteer, giving advice here and there, doing some useful things for the President we after all worked to get elected to the post. I did not expect to be assigned the daunting role I ended up with.
Maybe I should have. That is how President Duterte operates. He assigns people to do things they never imagined themselves capable of doing beforehand. He invests so much trust in the people he works with, expecting them to exceed expectation. That is at once a source of pride and a personal nightmare.
I must thank the Inquirer for trusting me to write a twice-weekly column that I inaugurate with this piece. Print is not my native medium. But then, I was not born a bureaucrat either. So here’s to the beauty of daring.
This forum allows me to think aloud, which is a relief. Hopefully, it will allow me to be funny as well.
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