CNN’s COVER STORY: Rodrigo Duterte: A singular man

Rodrigo Duterte: A singular man

President Rodrigo Duterte has always marched to his own beat: He has his own ideas about what needs to be done, and he waits for no one to do it. Even as drug-related killings happen more often and bodies begin to pile up, he has not once pointed his finger at anyone else, but himself.

Rodrigo Duterte: A singular man
By Claire Jiao, Jan 5, 2017

President Rodrigo Duterte has always marched to his own beat: He has his own ideas about what needs to be done, and he waits for no one to do it. Even as drug-related killings happen more often and bodies begin to pile up, he has not once pointed his finger at anyone else, but himself.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — There’s a reason why the President’s code name is the number one. The President is not just a man who stands at the very top, he is also a man who very often walks alone.

When asked about his New Year’s resolutions, Rodrigo Duterte says he wants for nothing. “What other ambitions would I have?” Duterte motions around the Malacañang Palace, telling CNN Philippines, during his first one-on-one interview since taking office: “I’m already here.”

Maybe he means his ultimate victory, maybe his newfound loneliness, but he adds, “There’s nobody else here.”

In the presidential residence of Bahay Pagbabago, Duterte says, there’s nobody else there either. He tells his staff to shut off the lights and the air conditioning. Pack up the Christmas tree, even, and put it somewhere else.

“It’s all very beautiful, but there isn’t anybody here to enjoy it. There aren’t any children here,” he says.

Behind the fist fights, the curse words — and there are many — the interview briefly breaks to show Duterte not as the myth, but as the man. Well into his 70s, living away from his grandchildren, his bed and mosquito net, his favorite carinderia and karaoke joint.

Here is Rodrigo Duterte, the world now at his feet. But as much as the Presidency giveth, it also taketh away.

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It’s a good thing Duterte has always been a singular man.

He has his own ideas about what needs to be done, and he waits for no one to do it. He will act alone if he must and by god, he has. This, after all, is a candidate who successfully ran on the platform: I will copy what everyone else plans to do, but because I will be the one doing it, you know it will be done.

Suspend mining firms? Take down Roberto Ongpin? Scare drug lords out of the woodwork? Done, done, and done. Many a President have tried and failed to accomplish any of those. Some didn’t even try.

And what’s interesting is, Duterte will happily soak up the applause for his actions, but he will just as readily stand by their consequences as well.

The drug war has not run short of critics — and for good reason. But even as the killings happen more often and the bodies begin to pile up, Duterte has not once pointed his finger at anyone else but himself.

He will not call them victims, and he will not apologize for their deaths, but he will look you straight in the eye and say, yes, people are dying, and it was my call. Not Bato’s, not an errant policeman’s, but mine.

We may or may not agree with the President’s choices, but it must be said: that is a rare kind of bravery.

The thing about lone wolves, though, is that while they are often stronger than everyone else who stays in a pack, they are also often the most dangerous and unpredictable ones in the wild.

The flashpoint in Duterte’s administration so far has been his declaration he would cut ties between the Philippines and the U.S.

Now, Duterte has cursed the U.S. to hell and back even before that. Headlines screamed, conservatives clutched at their pearls, and analysts questioned the wisdom of such strong words. But many also felt Duterte said what has always been on everyone’s minds — though probably with a far too many censors than they would like.

This time, though, there were no two ways about it. He said plainly, “In this venue, your honors, in this venue, I announce my separation from the United States. Both in military — not maybe social — but economics also. America has lost.”

It wasn’t a poor translation, a bad joke, or an unguarded moment with the press. It was a keynote speech to Chinese leaders at an official state visit. It wasn’t a personal opinion or political posturing. It was a policy pronouncement.

The backlash was immediate. Industry groups called emergency meetings as their American investors wondered what would happen to their operations. (The U.S. alone accounts for up to 70% of the booming business process outsourcing sector in the Philippines.) Foreign envoys pressed Malacañang for an explanation. Ordinary Filipinos feared what the split would mean for their daily lives.

Duterte’s economic team immediately had to issue a joint statement reeling back — taking back — what the President said. In an appearance before legislators, his own Defense chief admitted the Cabinet isn’t really consulted before the President makes statements. As Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella tells CNN Philippines, he still regards that incident as his most difficult moment in office.

Even if we didn’t have strong opinions about geopolitics, it’s still a bit unsettling when you see your government so misaligned in making a major policy decision.

It’s one thing for Duterte to take the road less travelled. Many great leaders have, and to great success. But it’s another for him to walk into the unknown, when his own team is desperately trying to hold him back.

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In the next six years, there will be some situations that will need a strong hand, and others, a light touch. It’s a fine balance, but Duterte would do well to explore both.

He has it in his arsenal. The President may have made his name as a lone maverick, but he is just as strong as a coalition-builder. It’s a lesser-known skill, but it has served him just as well in his political career.

Duterte was popular in Davao, not just within the local government, but also among the business community, the police, women, LGBTs, and more.

Running his campaign, he built support both from the provinces but also in the capital, the poor and the wealthy.

And in a political masterstroke, Duterte organized his team in the same vein. Capitalists, leftists, an environmentalist and the odd celebrity — they sit alongside each other in the Cabinet. He has appointed political old-timers but also brought in fresh faces, many — finally — from Mindanao. Even without Vice President Leni Robredo, now turned opposition leader, the bench is deep.

The Presidency may be a lonely job, but Duterte need not isolate himself even further.

Read more at CNN Philippines