TACLOBAN CITY – “Mayor Duterte? Here in Tacloban?”, a passenger waiting for her flight at the Daniel Romualdez Airport asks repeatedly in Waray.
It is not that she distrusts the people holding up welcome streamers for Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte who was slated to arrive in Tacloban Saturday afternoon.
Duterte was the main guest at the Leyte Electric Cooperative III’s 36th annual general membership meeting in Tunga, Leyte, about 40 minutes from Tacloban.
Rather, the woman found it hard to believe that the Davao mayor would indeed be coming to Tacloban in the flesh.
It is not that Duterte coming to Tacloban was improbable. Rather it was a reflection of how most people in Leyte hold the Davao mayor in respect and admiration.
Duterte was the first local executive outside Leyte who arrived in Ground Zero after typhoon Yolanda, one of the strongest typhoons in the world, unleashed its wrath in 2013.
The mayor, who brought in manpower, medicines, food and relief goods to the people of Tacloban and other parts of Leyte, came and went without fanfare.
Good deeds, however, will not remain unnoticed and Duterte’s is one of them.
“I just want to shake his hand. I was walking barefoot, hungry and shivering not knowing what to do. He saw me, gave me food, dry clothes and rubber sandals,” a woman in her 60s said, explaining her insistence to wait in line in the searing heat for the mayor to emerge from his speech in Tunga.
Duterte recalled his post-Yolanda response to Philippine Daily Inquirer editors and writers, confessing for the first time that he stopped at least twice because he could no longer hold back his tears.
The mayor is feared for his tough approach to crime and drugs in his city but his constituents know they can always count on him.
“It was already dark when Mayor Duterte arrived, I think he was in pajamas, to give relief goods and hand over a check,” recalled Southern Leyte Gov. Roger Mercado who welcomed the mayor when he attended the Roa Clan reunion in Maasin City last May.
Ormoc oldtimers still remember that Duterte sent relief goods and manpower when the city was devastated by a flash flood in 1991. He also responded to the Ginsaugon landslide in 2006.
Few people outside Leyte are aware of this because Duterte always made it a point to get things done without fanfare.
In fact, one of his instructions to the Davao 911 responders before they left for Tacloban was to refuse interviews and just stick to their job.
Duterte does not hide the fact that he has a soft spot for Leyte.
“It is the land of my birth. It is the home of my people,” he has declared more than once, as though reciting a solemn pledge for a people who has a special place in his heart.
Indeed, aside from the fact that Duterte was born in Maasin, Southern Leyte, the emerging political star from Mindanao has proven time and again that he has sympathized with Leytenos in their times of sorrow.
Visayas has contributed three Presidents to the country: President Manuel Roxas of Capiz in Western Visayas, Presidents Sergio Osmena of Cebu and Carlos Garcia of Bohol of Central Visayas.
Until this time, Eastern Visayas, like the island of Mindanao, has not seen one of its own in the highest office in the land.
There has been a growing clamor for Duterte to join the race in next year’s polls. His successes in Davao City, his character, competence and courage make him the most viable candidate at a time when lawlessness, drugs, criminality and corruption stalk the land.
“Tell him to run for president. All of us in our family will go all out for him,” said the lady at the airport.
It seems like Leyte and Eastern Visayas have found not only an opportunity to repay Duterte for his kindness in their times of need, but also a champion who will fight for them.
Indeed, Duterte is finding it harder and harder to resist the clamor for him to lead the country and fulfill his date with destiny. (CHITO A. FUENTES)
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