Reluctant Duterte: He really didn’t want to run, says Alvarez
There were rumors he would come. Like fans awaiting their celebrity idol, supporters held vigil outside the Commission on Elections (Comelec) office in Manila, eager to see if he would turn up.
It was Oct. 16, 2015, the last day of filing the certificate of candidacy (COC) for President, and friends, political allies and supporters were in a scramble to get Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to run.
But, ever reluctant, the 71-year-old Duterte was kilometers away from the clamoring lot, holed up in his room in his hometown. Nothing made him budge. Not even the repeated pleas of a longtime friend. Not even a plane chartered especially to fetch him.
Of course, like in many things with Duterte, change came. A few months later, he decided to run. Riding on popular support magnified on social media, Duterte won the May 9 presidential election by a landslide with 16.6 million votes.
But the events on the final day of COC filing that Duterte missed, revealed on Tuesday by incoming House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, offered a glimpse into how running for President was a painstaking decision for the longtime mayor.
For Alvarez, one of Duterte’s closest friends, the final filing day came back as a vivid recollection.
“There were just three of us talking at the last minute: I, Bong Go and Koko,” Alvarez said, referring to one of Duterte’s closest aides, Christopher Go, and Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, chair of PDP-Laban.
“I asked [Bong Go] where the mayor was. I was told he was in Davao. I said I will send a plane,” he said at the Meet Inquirer Multimedia forum on Tuesday.
“He said ‘Don’t. He won’t leave his room,’” he said, quoting Go.
But Alvarez, Duterte’s friend for over a decade and godfather to one of his children, was not about to give up.
Among the first to encourage Duterte to seek the presidency, Alvarez, also in Davao at the time, immediately arranged for a plane to bring his friend to Manila.
“I called Lion Air … But I was told that there wasn’t enough time, the plane might not make it on time because the queue of planes at the airport was already long,” Alvarez recalled.
“But I said ‘no, let’s try,’” he said, narrating what seemed like a scene straight out of a movie.
On a mission to bring Duterte to Manila before the 5 p.m. deadline, the chartered plane for Duterte was fourth in line for takeoff at the notoriously congested Manila airport.
“They (pilots) radioed the Manila Tower (the flight control tower) and said “RPC (Alvarez could not recall the complete tail number) requesting clearance for takeoff to fetch candidate Duterte,” Alvarez said.
“The tower respondent: RPC, you are given permission to take off. Para sa bayan (for the nation). That happened,” said the incoming Davao del Norte representative, who first met Duterte at the chamber when they both served a single term, from 1998 to 2001.
The plane did make it to Davao City. But Duterte did not make it to the plane.
At that point, Alvarez, frustrated yet still bent on making his friend run, quickly thought up Plan B.
“I called Koko. He said, “Bai, let’s not make this hard for him. He really doesn’t want to run. Just let it go,” he said.
“But I said no. There’s nothing to lose. File na lang, kahit sino d’yan (Just get anyone to file). Then by Dec. 8, we will go for substitution,” Alvarez said.
Political parties were allowed to change their candidates until Dec. 10.
“Then it was Martin Diño who filed. He filed but he made errors. So that was another problem,” Alvarez said, prompting laughter from his audience.
Diño, known to the public as a crusader from the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and an obvious placeholder for Duterte from the get-go, had written on his COC that he was running for Pasay City mayor.
Out of frustration, Alvarez, who last held an elective position 15 years ago, hurriedly decided to run himself.
“The following day (Oct .17), we attended a party in Solaire (in Parañaque City). Then he (Duterte) laughed at me because I ended up being a candidate, while he did not,” Alvarez said.
On Dec. 8, finally ending all speculations on whether he would run, Duterte personally filed his COC as PDP-Laban standard-bearer amid much fanfare at Comelec headquarters in Manila.
The Comelec accepted Duterte’s candidacy on Dec. 17, despite Diño’s erroneous COC. In February, the poll body cleared the way for Duterte’s presidential bid, junking disqualification bids contesting the PDP-Laban substitution.
“I still kept convincing him. Until the end, he was convinced to run,” Alvarez said.
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