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Dinner with DU30

So how was it?

That’s the question most people ask when they hear that you’ve been invited to attend a dinner with the President in Malacanang Palace. It’s all but normal since not everybody gets to be invited and not everybody wants to be invited especially if you have to face the horrendous rush hour traffic to get there on time. Whatever your view, courtesy demands that you honor the invitation to dine with the President.

It was for me an unexpected invitation that came in the form of a call from Secretary Martin Andanar and followed up by someone from the Office of the President. The instructions were to pass through Gate 4 and to be in the Palace one hour before dinner at 7. The text also reminded the attendees not to wear jeans, sandos, revealing clothing or the likes. A day later, a text came requesting for a brief resume and a 1” x 1” ID photo. For a minute I got wary and anxious because to me the only reason one is asked for his resume’ is along the lines of a job offer or executive search. The last thing you want to happen is to show up for the free dinner but end up getting a job offer “you can’t refuse.” Fortunately someone familiar with the new executive team told me that it was for data and cross reference and something introduced. By the Duterte team.

Anyone who has to navigate through the traffic around and inside the Malacanang area will probably declare that Malacanang has to go. Not the Palace, but the business side of it and relocate somewhere more accessible and designed for pedestrian and vehicular traffic. While the center of power may reside in the palace grounds, it is held hostage by the never ending traffic jams outside the Palace gates. As I entered the building, I passed through security check, an x-ray machine and several staff members who walk you up an old wide and grand stairway, then through a couple of halls with ceilings that were probably four meters high. Looking at the architecture, opulence and history from floor to ceiling I quickly come up with an addition to my bucket list: To find a way to be able to tour every nook and cranny of Malacanang Palace before I die. Finally we reached the waiting room where I joined nearly a dozen senior columnists from various newspapers and a couple of academicians.

We are soon escorted to yet another room where the long dining table is all set up including place cards with the presidential seal and individual guest names. We all dig in at the simple chicken and rice that comes across as the first message of the night; frugality and austerity dictate what’s on the menu and how much is served. To be fair, the elder journalists all said that the wine was good. Soon we are done with dinner, dessert and the night grows late but the President is still in another part of the palace awarding medals and commendations as well as token assistance to soldiers returning from the war zone in Marawi. They say that it is to be expected that Presidents will often come late for such an appointment or the dinner because even the Commander in Chief is never in command of his time due to the demands and affairs of the state. Eventually, the President emerges profusely apologetic for being two or three hours late because he could not simply step away from the wounded heroes of Marawi who treasured their time with him.

The President did not even have dinner, just coffee.

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He immediately jumped into “Setting the predicate” and expressing his side or point of view on the current hot topics, his critics and the enemies of the state. With President Duterte – What you see is what you get. His messaging and priorities remain the same on cam and off cam, and yes he had a tendency to ramble but one who listens intently will be rewarded with revelation or realization. In my opinion, President Duterte is somewhat of a tortured soul truly anguishing over each and every dead soldier killed in Marawi. This perhaps is why he visits them in their camps, recognize their gallantry at every opportunity and has gone into Marawi at least four times. Even at the dinner he expressed his sense of loss and grief in the context of both father and commander of the troops. Casualties are never easy to reconcile most especially for those who gave the order or sent them out on the mission.

Inevitably he brings up his war on drugs but on this night he shares intimate and gory details of drug related rape incidents done to toddlers as young as 18 months. Contrary to his “killer” reputation, Duterte is clearly hounded by the evil that men do under the influence of drugs as well as what he has seen in person and this has scarred him with hatred and contempt for the enemy in his heart and mind.

While President Duterte may mourn and commiserate with his troops, Revile the spread of drugs, his contempt for his critics and destabilizers is expressed through a litany of “facts” and disgust at “a bunch of people who are unable to accept political defeat” in the presidential election and are now applying the same tactics and strategies they used to oust or impeach the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, Erap Estrada and destabilize Gloria Arroyo. Presented with the option to charge and jail corrupt officials in the past administration, Duterte reveals his pragmatic view saying that when you start with one you could end up burning down the forest just to get rid of the weeds. Although, he says that all options are on the table and he will not hesitate to use or do whatever is necessary. I'm sure he will!

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Email: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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