Fil-Am Roxas campaigner on meeting Duterte: 'My impression has evolved'
“My impression has evolved. He’s not as bad as I thought he would be.”
CEO and philanthropist Loida Nicolas Lewis shared her impression of President Rodrigo Duterte after meeting him for the first time.
The chief campaigner among overseas Filipinos for former presidential candidate Mar Roxas came away from the encounter feeling cautiously optimistic and somewhat assured. The man she met was a local leader who is able to govern effectively, a person of humility, and humor. On the other hand, she also saw in him a determined toughness, one who will justify the use of force to maintain law and order.
“He was very personable, spoke without drama,” she said.
Lewis flew to Davao – her first visit to the province — on Friday, June 24. She was with a 25-person delegation from the US-Philippines Society, a private group comprising business executives and diplomats. The meeting was set for 5 p.m.; Duterte arrived 30 minutes late.
She recalled to The FilAm a very pleasant meeting between Duterte and the delegation. The callers included Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia, retired American diplomats, executives from Coca Cola, SGV, JP Morgan, PLDT and other top corporations.
Campaigning for Mar Roxas whose integrity she had characterized as 'maka-Diyos, makatao, makabayan.' The FilAm photo
“When he appeared, the first thing he said was, ‘I apologize for being late. I was with the woman who was held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf… I’m Rody.’ He impressed me that he would apologize. He shook all of our hands. We introduced ourselves as he went around the table. After shaking our hands, he asked ‘Saan ako uupo.’ He sat facing Manny Pangilinan.”
His first remark was to rib Pangilinan. ‘I know you are not happy with my new DENR secretary.’ “Tawanan kaming lahat,” said Lewis.
Pangilinan, a business tycoon, is chairman of Philex Mining Corp. He and the new Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez have clashed over their unyielding views on mining: Pangilinan maintains that “responsible mining” is possible, and Lopez believes that mining is a threat to the environment.
Duterte spoke for about 45 minutes. He reiterated how corruption is the biggest challenge for the Philippines. That is why, he said, he is “very careful about whom I select to serve the government,” according to Lewis.
Lewis is reminded of Transportation secretary Arthur Tugade, a long-time Duterte classmate in law school from San Beda. Tugade from Cagayan worked for the administration of President Benigno Aquino III as CEO of the Clark Development Corporation.
“He has a track record with Noynoy. He cleaned up Clark. He is straight,” she said.
She said further the Benedictine priests took him under their wings and offered him a scholarship at San Beda from elementary all the way to college until he finished Law. “He was good friends with Duterte in San Beda because they are both probinsiyano.”
Lewis said she was impressed by how efficiently the city of Davao has been run. Duterte was mayor for seven terms for a total of 22 years.
“I was very very amazed at how clean Davao was. Not an empty soda can, not a candy wrapper, not a cigarette butt did I see anywhere,” she said.
She saw touches of modern urbanized life in the motion-sensitive traffic lights that will not stop when there are no vehicles passing or pedestrians crossing. Garbage disposal, speed limits and noise pollution are strictly observed. There is no Karaoke entertainment after 10 p.m. or the violators risk the confiscation of their equipment.
Lewis said the so-called “death squad” were confirmed by the locals she spoke to. A lot of suspected drug dealers have been killed, including some who are simply drug users.
“The city is very safe, no drugs, has a low crime rate,” she said. “It’s almost like a Big Brother state.”
The issue of China came up in the meeting. Lewis said Duterte was prone to joking, “nagpapatawa.” He supposedly remarked how he wants to jetski to Scarborough Shoal “to show the Chinese that it belongs to the Philippines. I do not care if they kill me.”
The UNCLOS Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague has recently upheld the Philippine claim over the West Philippine Sea, rejecting China’s stated ‘historic right’ over most of the South China Sea. She said she is encouraged by Duterte’s statements offering to “talk to China.” Nothing wrong with talking, she said, because Duterte has been talking with many sectors, including the MNLF, the M ILF, and Joma Sison.
Lewis said she agreed to be part of the delegation because she believed “being a Mar Roxas campaigner, I would never be able to meet Duterte on my own. The U.S.-Philippine Society is the only chance I had to meet him.” Lewis is a member of the Board.
After feeling “broken-hearted” that Roxas lost the elections, she said she began to wonder how 6 million people could vote for Duterte over Roxas. “How could they be so wrong? Or maybe, I do not see what they see in him….When the chance appeared, I booked my flight to Manila and joined Ambassador Cuisia to Davao.”
Up close she saw a leader who is “no pushover.”
She said, “He will not sell the Philippines. Duterte is going to do what’s in the interest of the Philippines.” —The FilAm