By Edwin Espejo
Close aides and political advisers of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte are digging themselves in. They have a few weeks to go before Duterte makes a final decision on whether he will run for president.
The maverick Davao mayor has been relegated to the background following the endorsement by President Benigno Aquino of longtime ally and close family friend Mar Roxas last week.
Former Duterte chief of staff and current Maribojoc Mayor Leoncio ‘Jun’ Evasco of Bohol says Dutere has chosen to keep a low profile, knowing the media will feast on the Aquino endorsement of Roxas. But he added that they will be in for a big surprise if and when Duterte decides to run for president.
Evasco however declined to categorically say Duterte is running and would prefer that the Davao City mayor announces the final decision himself.
Duterte has repeatedly he is running. But at the same time, he has been moving around the country and laying out an apparent agenda as if a presidential run is a real possibility.
Evasco believes Duterte successfully showed his true self when he appeared on the prime time Sunday show of Vice Ganda last month.
“The funny guy that millions saw on TV is the real Duterte. I have known him personally and up close. He is not only funny and comical, Duterte has an unbridled sense of humor when he is his real self,” Evasco explained.
The national media and their coverage will never be the same under a Duterte presidency, Evasco assured.
A political observer who requested to remain anonymous because of proximity to the people behind Duterte’s media campaign said that image of the 70-year-old politician from Mindanao that appeared on Vice Ganda’s prime time show has resonated with the ‘masa’.
“It balanced his personality and image. What he is offering and the kind of leadership he is exuding is resonating,” the observer said.
The same observer however said Duterte should make himself more visible and appear on prime time nationwide TV programs to improve his name and face recall.
“He is coming strong in Mindanao and to some extent in Visayas,” the observer said.
The same source observed that the ‘May Tapang and Malasakit’ TV ads of Duterte in June captured the imagination of people who were not familiar with his brand of politics.
“Here is a guy pictured as a human rights violator but gamely dances budot with kids and nae-nae with Vice Ganda on nationwide television. How can you say he is evil?” said Evasco, hitting back at Duterte’s critics.
Duterte, Evasco and fellow ex-political detainee Etta Rosales are founding members of an institute named after the late Davao City Councilor Erasto Librado, a militant labor leader in Mindanao.
Rosales, former chair of the Commission on Human Rights, is now a staunch Dutertre critic.
Duterte showed his vulnerable side when he shed tears and spoke with a cracking voice upon arrival in Davao City in 2013 after a visit to Tacloban, which was reeeling from the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda.
Largely unpublicized, he has been giving support and visiting young cancer patients in Davao City – far from the tough hombre image he loves to portray in public.
Duterte has so far maintained the political high ground. He refuses to throw mud at Poe, Binay and Roxas as the three go at one another.
Duterte said all three are good, but the better man is from Mindanao, he would add, in a loaded repartee.
So is Duterte running or not?
Christopher Go, the current chief of staff of Duterte, is certain the Davao City mayor is running for higher office next year, without saying it is for president.
Others say Duterte should make a decision very soon if he is to be a factor in the presidential race and in the crucial scramble for funding sources.
Evasco however said it is not in the character of Duterte to go out of his way seek funds from supporters.
Observers believe a presidential candidate needs to raise PH10-15 billion (US$219-330 million) to give the presidency a shot – but that’s not necessarily a sure win.
“We are very much in the (political) super highway. Those who are weak in their belief in Digong [Duterte’s popular name other than the more formal Rody], will give up on his style. We will start with who are left because they will be our diehard supporters,” said Evasco.
But it is almost now certain he is running.
Didn’t Duterte say he will run for president if Roxas picks Justice Secretary in the administration senatorial line-up? And didn’t de Lima also say she is 80 percent almost certain to run for senator?
Whatever decision Duterte will make, Evasco said his team has already built the necessary support throughout Visayas and in Mindanao where the Duterte’s appeal is at its strongest.