Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte: Leyte’s first president? PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 20 May 2015 09:11

Everybody knows Mayor Rodrigo Duterte as the undisputed leader of Davao City. He is on his 23rd year as the head of the country’s biggest city and now the longest-serving city mayor in the post-Edsa era.

But it was only recently that people became aware of Duterte’s Leyte connection. The eldest son of former Gov. Vicente Duterte and Soledad Roa-Duterte was born in Maasin.

“My father was a soldier who was with the Jago (Judge Advocate General’s Office),” the mayor told his audience at the Maasin City Hall when he was given a royal welcome.

Duterte was guest of honor during the 4th Roa Clan Reunion in Barangay Laboon, Maasin City. However, the local governments of Southern Leyte and Maasin rolled out the red carpet for the mayor when they learned about his arrival.

Southern Leyte Gov. Roger Mercado explained why the province and the city are throwing out a lavish welcome for Duterte.

“We welcome him for two reasons: first, because Mayor Duterte openly admits that he is from Maasin, unlike others who disown it when they are already popular,” the governor noted.

The second reason is surprising.

“He was with us when we were devastated by Yolanda. He personally came to express his sympathy and handed out a check for P3-million,” Gov. Mercado revealed.

Duterte’s silent but concrete manifestation of help to Southern Leyte and the whole island has not been lost to the governor.

“He was with us in Ginsaugon (a village in the town of St. Bernard). I know he also helped in Ormoc (the 1991 flash flood left 4,922 deaths and more than 3,000 missing),” Gov. Mercado further added.

Like his previous pronouncements, Duterte told his audience in Maasin that he is not aspiring for the presidency. The mayor insisted he is going around merely to raise the level of awareness on federalism which he said is the “last card” to prevent the outbreak of war in Mindanao in case the Bangsamoro Basic Law falls apart.

Duterte’s denial notwithstanding, many Leytenos are hoping he will change his mind when the time comes.

Aside from Gov. Mercado, Rep. Damian Mercado and Maasin Mayor Maloney Samaco all committed to support Duterte “whatever his political plans will be”.

It is easy to understand why Maasin, Southern Leyte and even the whole region will be intrigued by a Duterte presidency.

First of all, he is one of their own.

Aside from being born in Maasin, Duterte actually went to school for a year at the Laboon Elementary School. Four of his former classmates: Constancia Magaran-Ortega, Magdalena Antoc-Francisco, Leonila Faelnar and Paterno Jacobe welcomed Duterte with leis when he stopped briefly at the school grounds.

Along with Filipinas Leonor-Tagra who is now bed-ridden, Roberto Espere who is Manila-based, and Duterte, they are the only surviving members of the second batch of pupils who went to school at Laboon Elementary School.

Like what the governor said, Duterte has never denied his Maasin roots and continues to do so until now. This is the reason why, in spite of his hectic schedule, Duterte made sure he attended the Roa clan in Laboon. There was no way he will miss the reunion of his mother’s kin on Mother’s Day.

The welcome streamers for Duterte said it best: “Welcome Home” and “Garbo sa Leyte (Leyte’s pride).”

Secondly, Duterte has shown his special concern for Leyte. The Davao mayor was the first local executive outside Visayas to arrive at ground zero in Tacloban after “Yolanda” exited.

As always, the mayor arrived unannounced. But his response could not be kept secret for long. The presence of Davao’s 911 emergency response team which took the long route to Tacloban on Duterte’s explicit instruction was too comforting to deny.

That Duterte is one of their own and had been with them in their times of sorrow are enough reasons for Leyte and Eastern Visayas to support him. Western Visayas produced Pres. Manuel Roxas while Central Visayas contributed Presidents Sergio Osmena Sr. and Carlos P. Garcia.

This leaves only Eastern Visayas without a contribution to the roll of presidents in the country. The closest that the region got was former First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos. She did her share to draw attention to the region during the incumbency of her husband but it ended there.

In fact, it became a “disadvantage” at the height of Yolanda because Secretary Mar Roxas brought it up in his now infamous exchange with Tacloban Mayor Ferdinand Romualdez, Imelda’s nephew.

Duterte, of course, offers more than just being a son of Maasin and Leyte island. He has been credited for turning Davao City around from a virtual basket case in the early 80s to the top 5 economies among cities in the country.

Davao has become synonymous with “no smoking”, firecracker ban and speed limit among others. It is considered drug-free and crime-free which attracts investors and migrants.

Only recently, Davao was given recognition as the most child-friendly city in the country and the 9th safest city in the world.

“If he can duplicate what he did in Davao in the entire country, we will be up there – instead of down here,” said Gov. Mercado. He was not the first to say that and – no doubt – won’t be the last.

Will Duterte become Leyte’s first president? We will know when the time comes.