KEN Angeles has known Rodrigo Duterte since they were college roommates and, later, hobby buddies. Christopher “Bong” Go has worked with Duterte since 1998.
The picture they paint of the 16th President of the Philippines is that he is a man of both words and actions.
“Si Digong, when he says he will do it, expect him to really do it,” Angeles told Sun.Star Davao.
The businessman owns Davao’s Yellow Fin Restaurant and belongs to the same bikers’ club, On Any Sunday Riders, as the incoming president.
Back in 1995, on a stopover after a long ride, Angeles recalled how the then-mayor expressed his disappointment with the handling of the case of Flor Contemplacion, an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Singapore who had been sentenced to die for killing a fellow OFW.
“He was again with his foul mouth expressing his anger and disappointment with how the Singaporean government treated Contemplacion. He told me he would do something to awaken the foreigners and make them realize that we Filipinos deserve to be treated well,” Angeles said.
When he asked Duterte what he intended to do, Duterte said he would burn a Singaporean flag.
“I thought it was just him kidding, but the very next day after we discussed it, he attended the flag ceremony (at the Davao City Hall), which he did not usually do, and like what he said, he burned the Singapore flag,” Angeles said.
That incident gained Duterte and Davao City international attention, more than two decades before he became a presidential contender.
“That act of his really awakened everyone…It was not a little thing; it was an act of courage and reflected his love and concern for his nation and countrymen,” Angeles said.
For Christopher Tesoro Go, the connection with the new president was one forged by close family ties.
The Dutertes and Tesoros were good family friends, Go said. He had heard stories about how his grandfather, August, was close to Mayor Duterte despite their age gap.
“Mag-drive, mag-uban sila, maglaag. Barkada gyud sila sa akong Lolo (They would drive and go places together. They were buddies),” Go said.
Duterte and Go to know each other better when they would hang out in Manila (where Go was helping with the family’s business). Another connection was the then-mayor’s aide Jimmy “Jimboy” Halili.
When Halili died while playing basketball in 1998, Duterte and Go had the chance to talk during Halili’s wake, during which the mayor mentioned a house, car, and personal belongings that he had left unattended in Manila.
Go volunteered to check on the house, which he did after the 1998 elections when Duterte was running for his first and only term as congressman.
When Duterte did become congressman, Go drove him around in Manila and helped set up his congressional office.
“Ngadto nagstart, unti-unti naa siya’y mga sugo sa akoa, isa-isa hangtod nagkadaghan na (That’s how it started. I did errands for him),” Go said.
Go has worked with Duterte through some of the toughest points of his political and personal life.
The saddest he has seen Duterte was when his mother, Soledad Roa Duterte, fell ill a little more than four years ago.
Go recalled they met at a mall in Davao for coffee on New Year’s Day. Duterte was despondent upon learning that his mother could no longer stand up. He had called a priest.
“The saddest part was when he told me to prepare for the worst,” Go said.
Duterte, he recalled, cried loudest in front of the urn that held his mother’s ashes at the public cemetery in February 2012. He would cry out for his mother anew at the cemetery on May 10, 2016, when it was apparent that he was going to be the next President.
He pleaded for her help.
In recent months during the campaign, Go said he was reprimanded several times for the tight schedule that the then-mayor kept. There were times they would end up having dinner at 2 a.m.
Though Go felt bad for his boss, he explained that since they had limited resources, they had to make the most of their schedule.
“Grabe na ning ginabuhat nimo sa akoa, abuso na ‘ning schedule (This schedule you have prepared is too much. This is abusive),” he recalled Duterte telling him.
But Go and Angeles, in separate interviews, pointed out that Duterte, for all his tough talk, also listens.
Angeles recalled, for example, how Davao City’s smoking ban came to be. It was just one of their conversations in their favorite bar, After Dark, which Angeles formerly owned. The talk turned to how smoke-filled the bar was and how smoking could be banned.
“I suggested that they pass an ordinance to regulate smoking,” Angeles said.
Duterte told him there was already an existing law and that it only needed to be implemented.
“Then he responded, ‘Sige nga, ipapatupad ko nga ‘yan’,” Angeles recalled. In November 2003, smoking was banned in all enclosed public spaces, including bars, in Davao City.
“A lot of my business friends told me to ask Duterte to review the ordinance as it would kill business, but I was quick to respond to them that Duterte will be firm in his decision and the best thing to do was to follow,” Angeles said.
Months later, to their surprise, they even got more clients as a result, Angeles said.
Both of them had been heavy smokers while in college.
“Our dorm was filled with smoke before. We smelled of smoke. That is why now, nababahuan na kami (we can’t stand the smell anymore), so we quit,” he said.
It was also a listening tour, sometime in 2014, that began to drive home the idea that Duterte had a more than fair shot at winning the presidency.
Go recalled telling Maribojoc Mayor Leoncio Evasco sometime in 2012 that only Duterte could defeat Vice President Jejomar Binay, despite the popularity Binay enjoyed, especially in the provinces.
But there was no indication Duterte wanted the post.
In 2013, personalities started calling to persuade the mayor to run for president, but Duterte remained adamant, Go said.
A year later, he began his federalism listening tour as the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law ran into various difficulties.
They first went to Legaspi and there, Go recalled, he realized that people didn’t want to talk about federalism, they just wanted to listen to Duterte.
They reached 70 cities and provinces, despite having a ragtag team.
“Who would expect him to win? It was a ragtag campaign team, with no political machinery and wala mi’y kwarta. Mga probinsyano mi tanan (We had no money. We all came from the provinces),” Go said.
“The secret weapon was just Mayor Duterte. He was like a magnet to people.”
Away from the spotlight, Angeles said, Duterte enjoys fishing, hunting, guns and, of course, riding motorcycles.
Angeles recalled that when he first formed the club (On Any Sunday Riders), he invited Duterte to be part of it, giving him an honorary membership as the mayor.
“But he refused to take the honorary membership. He paid the regular membership fee,” Angeles said.
Like many of Duterte’s close friends, Angeles said he is uncertain on what the future has for Duterte, the President.
But he is sure of this: “He is not greedy. I believe he was destined to sit there to change the Philippines for the better. I am very sure that he will be part of Philippine history; who knows, maybe a hero someday,” Angeles said. “I am very proud that I am his friend. Not everyone was given a chance to know a person like him.” (With Marianne L. Saberon-Abalayan and Ivy C. Tejano)