He had Rody’s back for 20 years
June 30, 2016

He had Rody’s back for 20 years

LONG before Rodrigo Duterte’s executive assistant Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go became the "pambansang photobomber" as he was always seen in most photos taken of Duterte during the campaign period for the 2016 elections, there was one face that was just as frequently captured in photos with the Mayor for 20 years since he first became mayor: Retired Police Officer Sonny Buenaventura.

Buenaventura was Duterte’s driver-bodyguard from March 29, 1988 until he retired from the service in 2008 and is now working at City Hall for civil security.

It was Buenaventura who was consistently with Duterte in his late-night forays and patrols as well as his daytime activities at the City Hall and in the communities attending to his constituents.

Buenaventura witnessed a lot of Duterte’s private moments and thus have a grasp of where Duterte has picked up his hatred of criminals, especially those into illegal drugs.

Heinous crimes

“Hindi ka ba magalit na kami ang nagpunta noon sa Tigatto, 18 months old baby gi-rape?” Buenaventura said.

That was in the 1990s. There was a family reunion of the baby’s family on the eve of December 31, he recalled, although he cannot recall the year.

One of the family members was said to be carrying the girl and then disappeared. The baby was found by the banks of Davao River, dead. The mayor was so angry he announced a reward. “So kinahapunan (of January 1) nahuli,” he said.

The man was killed while trying to grab the gun of a police investigator at the Buhangin Police Station, police said.

Buenaventura also recalled the killing of two girls in a house behind the Grace Baptist Church in Juna Subdivision also in the late 1990s where the suspect was finally caught hiding in the space above the ceiling.

The younger victim, around four years old, was killed after being slammed to the concrete wall by the suspect who held her by her feet. The suspect was again reportedly killed while trying to escape from policemen who were bringing him to the Talomo Police Precinct. These were but two of the heinous crimes committed when drugs was still not under control in the city.

It was not just those into drugs who earned his ire. Three policemen in the 1990s who were into robbery activities were arrested and punished.

Soft-hearted

Aside from being soft-hearted, Buenaventura says Duterte abhors adulation. “Yung may hilas gani. Di ba? Dili siya showy (He has a strong aversion to adulation. He is not showy),” he said.

“May delicadeza, may hilas. Yung pinakita ni Mayor as a person kung ano siya, yan na talaga ang tunay na Mayor Duterte.”

Tracker Lim, son of the owner of Toyota Davao, a friend of mayor who got to observe him pointed out that he is uncomfortable when people give extra attention for him.

Whenever he arrives at a place and people stand up, he will quickly tell them to sit down again. There was a time, Buenaventura said, while they were on their way home from Marilog district at around five p.m., the mayor saw a young girl carrying two huge containers of water. He ordered Buenaventura to stop in order to hand the girl some food that they had in the vehicle. But the girl was startled when they stopped beside the girl and the mayor called out to her to hand her the food, she dropped her containers or water and ran home.

“Naluoy si Mayor, gikuha niya ang tubig gikarga, kay sala man niya. Gisundan namo ang bata pauli, kay daplin lang sa kalsada iyang balay (Mayor took pity and picked up the container of water and carried this to the house of the girl, which was just along the road, since he cause the girl to drop the containers),” he said.

The Mayor introduced himself to the mother and gave the food and talked to the girl to assuage her fear.

Another time, on their way home on a rainy early evening, they chanced on three to four schoolchildren waiting for a ride outside Ateneo in Matina.

He brought each child home, not knowing that one of the children was the daughter of a newspaper editor who was very much against him. The editor herself wrote about her daughter’s experience and how her daughter asked why she was very much against the mayor when Duterte is a good man.

Another instance was around three a.m., their usual going home time, when they saw a couple with the mother holding a baby, waiting for a ride at Bankerohan near the Mercury Drug.

It turned out that the family was going home to Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur. He had his backup staff to drive them home. Duterte went around almost every night to check on the city and offer rides home to people he presumed were in need of a ride, especially during Christmas and New Year’s Eves.

“Kuwan yan sa mga gidaugdaug. Kung may mga taong magdaug-daug sa lain, maging kalaban ni mayor yan. Yung gina-push mo talaga ang tao, magalit talaga ‘yan, Siya ang makipagsuntukan sa bully (He always stands up for the oppressed. When somebody is oppressed, then he has the mayor to contend with),” he said.

The hostage-taking

Contrary to accusations thrown at him during the campaign period amid the unfortunate comment on the raping and death of Australian missionary Jacqueline Hammill that the mayor was not even there, Buenaventura said, that the mayor may not have been visible but was directing the operations from behind the scene.

Police Metropolitan District Command commander Colonel Franco Calida was in touch with him all throughout through telephone. “After sa hostage-taking, nagbalik ako sa DCPO (Davao City Police Office), nakita ko si Calida, dalawang kamay (salute), Sonny, Sonny, halika sabihin mo kay mayor ha, saludo ako sa kanya, dalawang kamay, saludo ako sa kanya,” he recalled.

This tragedy started when Felipe Pugoy, the leader of the hostage-taking, first held hostage children and employees of Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol), Duterte was asked to intervene by no less than erstwhile President Corazon Aquino, him being the Regional Peace and Order Council chair. He drove him to the airport to ride a helicopter to Monkayo where the hostages have been brought. When the helicopter returned, the mayor wasn’t in it.

“Nagpa-hostage,” the pilot told them. They caught up with him in Compostela Valley and the few remaining hostages and the prisoners led by Pugoy were brought to the Davao City Hall with Duterte among the hostages.

One by one the hostages were convinced to surrender leaving just Pugoy and a young girl hostage. Duterte convinced the last one who surrendered to return so that Pugoy will not feel abandoned and hurt the girl. “Doon pa lang sana, tapos na ‘yon,” Buenaventura said, as there was a plan to kill Pugoy.

Again, Aquino interceded and in a phone call, she said, “Sana wala na lang mangyari.”

Duterte did as requested, Pugoy was instead brought to the Metrodiscom detention center and a month later, the bloody hostage-taking occurred.

Long-time buddies

Buenaventura first met the mayor soon after he entered the police service in 1979. He was under one Police Lieutenant Bong Balangao, who was Duterte’s close friend since high school.

Balangao was assigned as security of erstwhile Davao City Mayor Carmelo Porras, but the police lieutenant preferred to hang out with the young Duterte. They again met each other when Duterte was already a fiscal and Buenaventura was with the Sasa Police Station.

Duterte loved fishing and his favorite place was at the Tefasco Wharf in Tibungco, Davao City. But Tefasco had strict security and does not allow unauthorized persons inside.

“Magtawag ‘yan siya kay maghingi ng permiso kay strikto man yang Tefasco,” he said.

After getting permission, they would go fishing at the wharf with a very young Paolo, and Duterte’s friend from the National Bureau of Investigation. Then they would go firing at a quarry in Buhangin, which is now the Buhangin Memorial Park.

At that time, the area was still infested with the New People’s Army. But they were not bothered in any way. When Duterte became mayor in 1988, he took Buenaventura in as his driver-bodyguard.

“Minsan may magsabi na ako daw ang right-hand ni Mayor, hindi. Left-hand ako, kay driver man ako,” he said. From fishing and firing, there was the motorcycle-riding and golf.

In all the years he played golf, Buenaventura said, the mayor only played with very close friends, among them Pastor Apollo Quiboloy and lawyer Charlie Aldevera (+). A few times, another friend Sammy Uy would play with the Mayor. “Kaya, wala yang mga deals diyan (There was never a fairway deal),” he said. It is common practice among golf-playing government officials to enter into deals with businessmen on the fairway.

“As a person, kaibigan natin si Mayor, kung sino may problema sa atin, nandiyan si Mayor. Tapos hindi yan nagakwenta,” he said.

Simple ways

At home, Duterte’s food had always been simple. Buenaventura would often arrive to find the Mayor having breakfast with a chocolate drink or coffee that he would pour over his rice and eat with dried fish.

“Muagda siya, dali Sonny, kaon diha (He’d invite me in to eat),” he said. “Sa huna-huna nako, dili man ni ang ginakaon namo sa balay (My thoughts would be, this is not the breakfast I have at home),” Buenaventura joked.

Other times he would be eating paksiw na isda, and boiled banana with ‘ginamos’ (salted fish sauce). Another food Tracker would usually see mayor eating is “sardinas”.

Buenaventura then expressed exasperation over how the statements of Duterte is being blown out of proportion by the national media since the campaign saying that Davao media have long known that the mayor tends to segue into stories that are not supposed to be reported anymore. This is what Buenaventura calls, “time out”.

“Si Mayor, yung ginawa niya kay (GMA reporter Mariz) Umali? Time out yun. Kita mo nakaganoon lang siya (puts his chin on his fist), tapos, wit-whew!” he said. “Kung baga, ikaw kung nakaintindi ka, hindi mo sundan ng camera yun. Time out yun. Rest ba. Two hours kayo nag-istorya tapos straight mo yan na puro kayo serious, para kayong buang. So minsan yung kay mayor nagpatawa lang yun,” he said.

Many may disagree with Buenaventura, many may still call out Duterte for his so-called uncouth ways, but that is Duterte, the President of the Philippines in the eyes of a man who served him for 20 years and knew him for more than that.