THERE was a time in my late 20s, after observing and trying to foresee what Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte intended to do in a tight situation for almost a decade and failing to correctly guess what he’d do, when I told a friend, “If I had half the brains of Mayor Digong on top of my own brain, I’d be the most brilliant person in the world.”

Love him or hate him, but never say he’s stupid. In fact, the wise and the learning to be wise can get tons of insights from him, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV included.

Indeed, he’s not poverty-stricken his family never was. His father was the governor of the undivided Davao Province, that meant they lived well. But to say they lived luxurious lives would be very far from the truth.

Middle-class, upper middle-class maybe. But not filthy rich. The influence of his mother is apparent; very strict but caring. The serving and humble ways of the father when he was alive was a constant reminder of how government officials should act. They lived ordinary lives. Except for the mayor and his children who chose politics, the other siblings of the mayor live quiet lives. Yes, there was a time when his siblings Jocelyn and Blueboy (Emmanuel) tried to challenge him in politics in the 1990s. But after failing to get the mandate of the people, they chose to live away from the limelight. Youngest brother Bong had a stint in the council, but after serving a few terms, he too chose to live a retired life. You cannot accuse them of hogging the limelight. Had the mayor not been the mayor, he too would have preferred a quiet life. Except that… there’s the desire to set things right in a world that is far from ideal.

As a young, greenhorn journalist, I enjoyed tagging along with him to places where he met with the masses – be it in inner city settlements or up in the boondocks. He’d sit with them, listen, and then talk non-stop on how things were and should be. But most of all, he’d “break bread” with them.

“To break bread” with the people was a constant phrase I’d hear from him through his three decades in politics. From that phrase you can get a glimpse of his spirituality.

He has a way of disparaging himself, thus, he would often make fun of how he imbibed his spirituality.

His mother was a disciplinarian. The ruffian that he was (as he already admitted several times it took him seven years to finish high school through three schools – Ateneo de Davao, Mindanao Colleges now University of Mindanao, and finally Holy Cross of Digos now CorJesu College), he would often be sent to kneel on salt or mongo beans in front of the altar, his arms spread out while facing the crucifix.

“Mao nang close ‘mi ni Jesus, pirmi ‘mi mag-atubang nga nakadupa mi’g pareha (That’s why I have affinity with Jesus Christ. We would always face each other with our arms spread out),” he would say. Blasphemous, the self-righteous would say. I leave you to interpret it your way. I’m just recalling past instances.

True, he is foul-mouthed. But listen and listen well. He curses at concerns and people gone wrong. That says a lot as against the hordes who curse because they think it’s cool to pepper their sentences with cusswords. It’s not about image for him, it’s the anger.

As people now cheer out his name, I’m sure he is cringing inside. It’s not him to want to be extolled, but it’s something he just has to accept. Notice that in gatherings, as people would rise in respect, he’d quickly ask everyone to sit down.

One thing he is fond of is to talk and talk long. For several years until the end of his third term, Sun.Star Davao would feature a one-on-one with him either at the end of the year or at the start of a new year. Busy as he was, it will take time to finally sit down with him. In several of those instances, I had to wait till past midnight or go with him to the firing range just to get that interview as throngs of people would be lining up to seek counsel or assistance. Not wanting to get in the way, I would just sit quietly and wait for everyone to finish with their businesses. What followed will be a minimum of one hour, just listening to him.

Having difficulty to fit in his schedule in that last one-on-one, his very able assistant and now “dakilang photobomber” Bong Go asked, “How much time do you need?”

I replied, even 15 minutes will do, but that will really depend on him.

Finally, face to face, he too asked, “How long will your interview be?”

I said the same, “Fifteen minutes will do, but it will depend on you.” It was him who added, “Oo, kay taas man ko mag-istorya. Hulat nalang mahuman ni tanan (Yes, I talk a lot. It’s best that you wait for all these people to be done).”

What followed was two hours of listening for what in my part were just two to three questions with a follow-up each. I’m still listening and learning now, even though going one-on-one with him has become almost impossible.

Curse him if you want, but you are missing out on a lot if you do not listen and learn. Just think about this, a 72-year-old man manages to harness the power of the social media ruled by the millennials while all other candidates younger than him can hardly make a dent.