Duterte
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CHICAGO – Nobody, not even his supporters, saw it coming.

Everybody was caught by surprise when Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte steamrolled his opponents, who promptly threw in the towel after the votes from the quick count of the PPCRV (Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting) started barreling in like the second coming of super typhoon Yolanda.

It was the first time after the election of President Joseph “Erap” Estrada in 1998 that I went home to the Philippines to observe a presidential election. In 2010, I was on board the U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG) global campaign led by my townmate, Atty. Loida Nicolas Lewis, for “Noynoy-Mar.” This time, Ms. Lewis is for Mar-Leni.

Two weeks before the May 9, 2016 elections, I was at home in Sorsogon City and stayed there for three weeks. I spent another three weeks in Metro Manila and San Pedro, Laguna before I headed back to Chicago to vote at the Philippine Consulate.

In going back to the Philippines, I wanted to find out the pulse of the public on the candidates, both national and local.

My nieces and nephews in Sorsogon City and in San Pedro, Laguna were telling me that Duterte was the man to beat. But when I asked them why? They just smiled, telling me they loved Duterte’s program to wipe away the drug dealers and criminals, not mentioning other issues like corruption, social inequality, climate change, foreign policy, overseas Filipino workers and peace process.

But when I told them that violations of human rights could come into play if due process were not observed, they stood their ground, insisting they still want to give the Davao strongman a chance.

Even taxi drivers and tricycle drivers were singing the praises for Duterte. But I was still in denial mood by the time I was heading to Chicago because I believed my handpicked presidential candidate, Senator Grace Poe, could give Hizzoner a run for his money despite many surveys showing Duterte ahead by leaps and bounds.

I probably was too emotional and parochial with my choice of candidates because my criterion was “to see is to believe.” I thought what I read on the Internet or watch on YouTube may not be a reflection of reality.

Words alone may not convey the message of a candidate unless one sees his body language in person.

I believe politics is a contact sport and is always local. If I see a candidate and he shakes my hand, I would prefer him from someone who saw me and did not bother to shake my hand at all.

Since it was only Senator Chiz Escudero whom I happened to meet during the  campaign season and who had shook my hand, I warmed up for Chiz.

When I saw and heard up close Senator Poe while campaigning in my hometown of Sorsogon City, I likewise gravitated towards Poe.

Despite Senator Escudero’s promise to grant me an interview only to change his mind, I still voted for Escudero because his father stood as my wedding sponsor. And this is one reason Chiz lost big — by his youthful indiscretion of overconfidence that he could pull another “Noy-Bi” caper. He alienated himself from many supporters of his late father by not reaching out to them.

Chiz did not even reciprocate the support of one of Senator Poe’s avid supporters, Bobby M. Reyes, who initiated a movement on Facebook prodding then uncommitted Grace Poe to run for president.

Reyes later ran for governor of Sorsogon as an independent openly supporting the Poe-Escudero tandem. It was, however, incumbent Sorsogon Gov. Raul R. Lee, not Reyes, who was invited by Chiz to join Senator Poe on the stage when he hosted Poe’s campaign in Sorsogon.

Governor Lee had no business supporting Poe because his wife, Sally Lee, who was running for reelection as Sorsogon City Mayor, and his son, Robert Ante Rodrigueza, who was running for Sorsogon governor, were both running under Mar Roxas and Leni Robredo’s Liberal Party.

A political butterfly, Governor Lee had earlier raised the hand of Vice President Binay of the United Nationalist Alliance, making Governor Lee a “triple-crosser.”

As a result, Reyes junked Escudero but not Poe and supported Leni Robredo on “purely a labor of love” (translation: no money changed hands). If Robredo’s 24,000-vote margin holds over Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Reyes said his group with 60,000 members could claim to have delivered Leni’s “winning edge.”

But another reason that reinforced my support for Chiz were the pending cases filed by defeated candidate Atty. Nelly Villafuerte against my second choice for vice president – Rep. Leni Robredo.

I thought if Robredo losses in the cases, I would just be wasting my vote. Representative Robredo was accused by her former political rival (Villafuerte) of accepting campaign donations from U.S. citizens and non-Filipino corporations and Filipino American dual citizens when she ran for Congress in 2013.My nephew, Dr. Ruben Lariosa Lasala, a city government doctor, suggested to me, “Why don’t you cover the campaign sortie of Mayor Duterte in San Pedro today?” Because I had a prior appointment on that day, I passed up the opportunity.

That chance could have made me observed up close and personal what makes Duterte a charismatic candidate. Now I regret I wasted the opportunity.

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Joseph is a former reporter of the Manila Bulletin, former president of the Rizal-Metro Manila Reporters Association and former president of the Chicago chapter of the National Press Club of the Philippines. A native of Sorsogon, Philippines, he and his family now live in Chicago. A prolific reporter, Lariosa writes a column and news stories for the Filipino Star News and other Filipino community newspapers in the US as well as for GMA News and the Manila Bulletin.

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