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Hearing him out

I knew this was one dinner engagement that would go beyond my bedtime. But the natural curiosity of a journalist to see a daily subject up close was a strong motivation for me to attend anyway.

Dinner was supposed to be at 7 p.m. but I didn’t believe it would be. By about 8 p.m., we were served dinner but without the principal. The President came in at 10 p.m., profusely apologetic that the command conference with the PNP and AFP took longer than expected.

We didn’t really mind because we knew how weighty the agenda was:  the entry of triads in the local drug scene and Marawi. After he went around the table for introductions, he proceeded to talk for one hour and 15 minutes straight.

He opened by explaining why he is reacting more sensitively lately. He said he is concerned about preserving his credibility to enable him to lead. He also believes there is a conspiracy to undermine him with the end of unseating him.

That’s why he feels he was getting a raw deal from the office of the Ombudsman. He thinks there was malice when the deputy ombudsman released data supposedly from the AMLC about his accounts which the AMLC later denied sending.

He went on and on about the anti-drug war and how it has become more difficult and dangerous. International drug cartels are now active here, he said, as he claimed that drug shipments with GPS tags are being offloaded by trawlers close to our shores and being picked up by their cohorts here.

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He again absolved China from the drug shipments and claimed we are even getting help from China to deal with the problem. They are our friends, he said.

More poor people are being killed in the campaign, he explained, because he is trying to dismantle the distribution network… shabu is targeted at the poor, particularly the children of OFWs. He said he doesn’t care about the rich in Dasmariñas and Forbes… that they use cocaine and can overdose themselves for all he cares.

He told us a lot of stories about when he was mayor… about poor families victimized by shabu addiction… men raping infants and other such abominable acts. Many addicts are beyond rehabilitation, he said.

But he pointed out he inaugurated one of the first rehabilitation facilities during his time as mayor. He knows the outcome had not been as what many of us expect.

He blamed Sen. Kiko Pangilinan for the upsurge in crimes committed by minors. The law the senator sponsored had encouraged criminals to use children to sell drugs and be involved in other criminal acts. In fact, he said, these children carry birth certificates with them in case they are arrested.

He said it doesn’t make sense to just set those children free. What the law should provide is some kind of a halfway house where they could be placed under the care of social workers who will point out the error of their ways.

He said he still prefers to be called mayor… that being called president is corny. As I have said before, he has problems shifting his mindset from that of a mayor to a president. He sees the nation’s problems in the context of actual persons he has met… a micro approach. He is more at home looking at the trees rather than the forest. That explains why he doesn’t think of conceptual approaches to national problems.

He was in his best behavior last Tuesday evening… he was calm and confident and nothing like what he is when delivering speeches before large audiences. He twice said he has no grudge to pick with writers in media… but he has problems with the oligarchs who own media.

He seems to have the memory of an elephant when it comes to grudges. He started to explain his problem with Gabby Concepcion… then seeing us smile, quickly corrected himself to say Gabby Lopez.

From his story, his grudge with Gabby didn’t start with his claim that ABS-CBN took his money but didn’t air his political ad. He recalled how Gabby went to see him in Davao many years ago when he was mayor to talk about some cable companies SkyCable wanted to buy. He said he felt insulted by the way the meeting went… as if it was all about money.

He thinks members of our elite class are hypocrites and cannot be trusted. He observed that no one helped him with campaign funds until he started posting survey ratings in the 30s. It was just days before the election when the local elite started their pilgrimage to his house in Davao offering campaign funds which he said he rejected out of principle.

He recalled that Lucio Tan and Megaworld’s Andrew Tan cooled their heels in Davao on Election Day because he refused to meet them. He promised to wage war on the elite who he said, have abused the country all these years. He will reveal one big scandalous case soon involving property.

The story is also going around that he remembers how Lucio Tan turned his back on him and walked away some years ago as they were about to be introduced. It doesn’t help that the taipan’s airline has outstanding bills to pay with CAAP and MIAA.

His distrust of the elite also led to the firing of Rudy Salalima as Secretary of the newly created Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT). Salalima’s fatal mistake, he said, is delivering a speech recounting and extolling his career with Globe Telecom.

He said he received a report about that speech and after he had verified it, he sent word to Salalima to just resign. He said he knew Salalima was a vice president of Globe when he appointed him but he said, Salalima shouldn’t have flaunted it. He said he didn’t like that Salalima gave the impression his administration was captive to the business interests of the Ayalas.

A Duterte friend from Davao who has spent years with a local telco told me that the President was also frustrated with Salalima’s failure to facilitate the entry of a third telco. As the President told us last Tuesday evening, he will make sure such a competitor will enter the market to stop the duopoly from, in his words, further abusing their customers.

Throughout the evening, the President kept reassuring us that he has deposited no more than P40 million in his bank accounts through the years. But he will sign no waiver to make Sen.Trillanes sweat it out trying to prove what the President called outrageous accusations.

He insisted that one thing he hates is corruption in the public service. He said he fired two unnamed officials just before our meeting because of corruption. That’s why he feels personally insulted by Sen. Trillanes’ accusations.

The thing with the President is that he sees the country’s situation rather darkly. He had lost faith in our major institutions. As a city fiscal, he said he had seen how hopeless it is to expect justice from our judicial system. He is disappointed with the national police and at one point said he is thinking of making the AFP take on some duties in the anti-drug war.

Asked if he trusted his coalition partners in Congress… he quickly said NO. He is too intelligent to believe their profession of friendship. He worries about the implication of a non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law while at the same time wondering if its passage will solve problems.

He said the complexity of our problems is so daunting but he will do what he can to at least let change start to happen. Asked if it will take martial law to introduce change, he said he doubts it. He said there are those who want him to declare a revolutionary government but he said he is not a revolutionary.

So, what happens next? He said he doesn’t know but that all options are on the table.

They started serving midnight snacks… it was past 1 a.m. and I thought I had a long day. After the customary selfie, I joined Cito Beltran on the drive home, wondering what hidden messages we were told that evening.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco.

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