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Covering President Digong


By Yas D. Ocampo

Davao City — By now, reporters covering the presidential beat or what we call the “Duterte Beat” are beginning to understand the speech pattern of its most colorful subject since the elections of May 2016.

The President Rodrigo Duterte that the press pool now knows has always been that way: unpredictable, crass, often abrasive of protocol, and always trying (at times unsuccessfully) to inject his own brand of humor. With a variety of dialects, languages, and sensibilities to speak of in different parts of the country, this is by default a recipe for disaster.

But the Duterte I know remains a Mayor, and he still responds to that moniker, even during Presidential coverages.

  • (Malacañang Photo)

  • (Malacañang Photo)

  • (Photo by Jansen Romero)

  • (Malacañang Photo)

  • (Malacañang Photo)

    My foray into the Duterte coverage was as a graduating student around a decade ago, when he was still accessible to his immediate public, and I was still a scrawny kid trying to make a living out of journalism.

    There he was, disembarking from a Huey that had landed in an Army base in Panacan.

    You see, before his on-again-off-again name-calling and eventual war on terror against the communists, Duterte once had direct access to the rebel camps of the New People’s Army (NPA).

    I had no idea I would be meeting the Mayor for the first time as a reporter, as we were just told to go to the site.

    Suddenly, the Mayor was walking towards us, behind him a prisoner of war who had been kept at an NPA camp.

    For several instances, it was the Mayor himself who picked up various military POWs to the safety of their camps and families.

    In one instance, the Mayor berated a POW for being caught with drugs, even as the soldier had been released from captivity.

    I would also not forget the first time the President declared his interest in the national post. After months of denial, he announced to a group of senior citizens and relocated informal settlers at the Los Amigos relocation site that he might as well run for the presidency if there was a chance that Senator Grace Poe, whose citizenship he questioned, would make it as the head of the country.

    It was unforgettable, and I would personally not forget the moment as I was nursing a fever while on the field that day. People followed him even as he was getting into his small chopper.

    Another unforgettable coverage was of Duterte making an unannounced visit to the tomb of his mother Soledad at the Wireless Cemetery. The visit was not in the schedule, and I had been the only one nearby, so I took a cab to the site hoping to catch him before he left.

    His convoy was getting ready to leave, when I caught a glimpse of the open window to his pickup truck, and yelled out “Mayor!”

    The pickup idled, Mr. Duterte replied: “O, media! Unsa man (roughly translated ‘what?’)”. I got the answer to my question as I clung to the side of his truck, my foot pressed on the stepper as if afraid it would leave.

    But that was years ago. The Duterte coverage now is muddled and tended to be formulaic like in 1521. We wonder all the time whether the President’s speech will be read or not, and most of the time, when he did, it would be peppered with curses and anger at imperialism.

    The waiting is still hours-long, but the rules are so strict that President Duterte himself is uncomfortable with them. But this is understandable, but don’t get us started on how protocols can be improved.

    And so, I hold on to the memory that once in his political career, the man who would be President answered one question from a young reporter clinging to the side of his vehicle. It was something I had to do because people wanted to know what he thought about an issue.

    And look at us now. Our people still want to know. And I will continue to write.

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