Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Two "Promdis’ as our top leaders and the 'YMCA Dorm Mafia' in Duterte Cabinet


Greetings to all those who have followed this blog faithfully for some time now. I disappeared from this space for a little over a month as my friend Nena Cruz and I joined a quest in two European cities for a fine violin for our outstanding young Filipino classical violinist, Joaquin Maria “Chino” Gutierrez, and we two ladies then treated ourselves to two operas at the magnificent 2,015-year old Arena di Verona in Italy. With that search mission for Chino Gutierrez accomplished, thanks to the help of a support group that realized the critical importance of assisting our artists, I am ready to get into the “political boxing ring” again, where so many developments are taking place. 

Indeed, this new Duterte administration is like a Pacific cyclone spinning around the country!

This blog promises to dig into the crucial issues facing our nation, but before this, allow me to talk about the lighter issue---the story of the two “promdis” who now lead us, straight from Davao City and Naga City.

Believe me, I was laughing and laughing as I was putting this blog together. Enjoy the laughs while they last, as I’m sure there wouldn’t be too many laughs in future write-ups, for the issues facing our country, such as the war against the drug and criminality menace with its concomitant grave potential for human rights abuse, and the predictable struggle to shift to federalism---which many politicos won’t like but which I fully support---would be no picnic.


The turnover of the AFP leadership at the Camp Aguinaldo Grandstand from Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya last July 02 provided the first opportunity that President Digong Duterte and Vice-President Leni Gerona Robredo met eye-to-eye. It’s said that the new Veep was afraid that she’d be snubbed by the new President, as she ran under the opposing LP; but it turned out that he was quite warm toward her. “M'am, I would have wanted to sit beside you, but the Defense Secretary is sitting between us,” Duterte was heard saying, which sent the Veep giggling like a young girl in front of the cameras. Rumor says that her daughters later accosted their mom for giggling too much. Because the weather was so hot, an aide gave the President some buko juice which he yielded to the Veep---thus helping to further warm the friendship. 

These gestures are not surprising, for Duterte’s gallantry toward women is pretty well-known (save for that unfortunate remark during the heat of the campaign for which he got it in the neck from all his critics).  For some days, however, it was not known whether he would accommodate Robredo in the Cabinet, and I must confess that I was among those who were irked by this snob of her---I thought it was quite petty of him. 

But Duterte’s senses got the better of him and Leni Robredo was in Tawi-Tawi when she got a call from him a few days later---he was offering her the chairmanship of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), a Cabinet position she readily agreed to take.


When the Veep paid a courtesy call on the President in Malacanang, her official driver parked the car assigned to her in the street outside the Palace walls.  Mr. Duterte took her on a tour of the Palace and because they both speak Cebuano they got along pretty well and quite easy---though he kept addressing the Veep as "M'am." When it was time to bid him goodbye on the second floor, she saw that Mr. Duterte was going to bring her down the Grand Staircase and she insisted that he should not do so. He dismissed her protestation, however, arguing that “M'am, they might think I am not a gentleman anymore!” 

Downstairs in the Palace's main entrance, while waiting for the Veep’s car that was negotiating entry to the grounds, Robredo began bowing  and he told her to stop doing so; but as an eyewitness narrated, pretty soon, however, they were bowing to each other repeatedly. Here I'm reminded of the way the Japanese do---one sees folks at phone booths, bowing incessantly to an imaginary someone.

As someone remarked to me, our two top leaders are “promdis” now thrust into the center stage, pero promding-promdi pa rin!


We folks by now are accustomed to the crazy mix-up in fashion exhibited by Mr. Duterte, such as wearing a barong with boots or maong jeans (now called the Maong Tagalog). Would his get-up for his first State of the Nation Address on July 25 at the House of Representatives would the Maong Tagalog?  I note with pleasure and approval, though, the Palace admonition to those who until last year would spend lavishly on ternos---be they members of Congress or the distaff side---to be more frugal in their outfits. Note how in the past era the ladies loved to disclose which couturier did their gowns---and by their dropping of names you’d know how much their gowns would cost. The admonition now is so refreshing! 

The President is also photographed riding commercial economy class to Davao, but those who work with him note his very informal manners too. In the afternoon following his noon-day swearing into office, he held his first Cabinet meeting in the Palace, and because of the workload it seems he failed to take even a bite of the merienda. At some point he saw the maruya (cooking banana wrapped in thin paper-like flour and fried crisp) uneaten on the plate of his Health Secretary, Dr. Paulynn Ubial, and asked her, Paulynn, hindi mo ba kakainin ang maruya mo? Akin na, ha, at gutom na gutom na ako!

The new President confesses to still use a mosquito net for sleeping and speculation is whether this habit would persist in the elegant Bahay Pangarap across the Pasig, which he has made his official residence in Manila.


Like most chief executives as well as us ordinary mortals, Digong Duterte relies on personal ties dating from way back. Note that a good number of those he appointed to his Cabinet are people he knew from his days living as an out-of-town student in the YMCA Youth Center Dorm in Arrocerros, near the foot of the Ayala Bridge in Manila, not too far from Malacanang. 

In that YMCA dorm, now DFA Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. was his roommate for two years, while they were both law students---Digong Duterte in San Beda College and Jun Yasay at the UP where he finished law in 1972.  Other guys at that dorm were Arthur Tugade, then studying at San Beda College where he graduated magna cum laude in 1971, who was former chair of the “Perry Group of Companies” and now the new Secretary of Trade and Industry, and Cesar “Billy” Dulay, the new BIR Commissioner. New Justice Secretary Silvestre “Bebot” Bello, an Ateneo law graduate, was also residing at YMCA at one point, while reviewing for the bar.

Now the 'YMCA Dorm Mafia' of yesteryears is dominant in the Duterte Cabinet. 


At the Malacanang reception for foreign and local dignitaries after the President's oath-taking, he and Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay were chatting at the top of the Grand Staircase while awaiting the guests. They recalled that back in 1972, they were only talking about the martial rule imposed by President Marcos and other critical issues then. This time, 44 years later, they were in Malacanang, awaiting the dignitaries.

The President then turned to his former YMCA roommate and exclaimed, “Everything is happening so fast, and I had not been programmed for this.”

But such is destiny---at times there is no such programming indeed, but it happens. I didn’t vote for Mr. Duterte----in fact I was quite critical of him due to certain pronouncements of his during the campaign period. But now I am praying for this leader like I’ve not prayed for any President before, as he wages all-out war vs. drugs and criminality.  Digong (accent on the second syllable, as former Sen. Nene Pimentel, leader of the federalism movement, stressed during our initial assembly last Saturday) Duterte needs a lot of prayers. 

May the Lord keep the new President safe from harm and imbue him with wisdom and more courage to effect real change in our hapless country.

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