Former president Rodrigo Roa Duterte made his first public appearance since stepping down from office five months ago on Wednesday night, Nov. 9, 2022, serenaded by his former co-workers in government at a concert dubbed “Night of the Singing Ex-Cabinet Members” at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati.
But he nearly put a damper on the lively event when he admitted that he has been experiencing “tremors” lately due to past head injuries sustained in the accidents he had as an avid motorcycle rider.
“Pumapayat ako, marami na akong dahilan (‘m getting more lean, there are many reasons). I had a check up the other night. Hindi nila mahanap-hanap kung bakit nag-je-jerk ako. Bakit may tremors ako (They couldn’t find out why I’ve been jerking, why I’ve been having tremors),” said Duterte onstage while surrounded by concerned former Cabinet members.
He went on to further explain: “They found out na marami akong (I have) trauma (pointing to both sides of his head). I started riding (the motorcycle) at 17, and I am still riding.”
But even before this revelation, his former Cabinet members, led by former executive secretary Salvador Medialdea Jr. and former Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) undersecretary Ramon Jacinto, already made sure that this was going to be a rocking reunion that was going to be televised live on Jacinto’s RJTV, as early as 8 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9.
Former labor secretary Silvestre “Bebot” Bello III, who is now chairman of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO), rendered his own version of “Pusong Bato” by punctuating it with “Pusong Digong”.
Former national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., now the chairman of Philtrust Bank, waxed romantic, and sang “Never My Love” and “The Best Thing That Every Happened To Me”.
And not a few were surprised that Jacinto was able to convince the usually mild and scholarly former justice secretary Menardo Guevarra to go up on stage. Now the Solicitor General, Guevarra did not disappoint as he was even able to coax the audience to join him in singing a Cliff Richard classic “The Young Ones”.
Described as the “only rose among the thorns”, former tourism secretary and now Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Deputy Governor Berna Romulo Puyat had a fitting classic to render, “I Will Survive”, that got some of the ladies in the audience up on their feet dancing.
Although there were fleeting moments that, perhaps, the ex-Cabinet secretaries couldn’t avoid tackling during the event – like the West Philippine Sea, anti-corruption, and anti-insurgency – things quickly returned to the mundane as the tunes quickly took over politics.
Also at the event were other former Duterte Cabinet members Martine Andanar (press), Teodoro Locsin Jr. (foreign affairs), Harry Roque (spokesperson), Benjamin Diokno (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas), Alfonso Cusi (energy), Delfin Lorenzana (defense), Francisco Duque III (health), Mark Villar (public works and highways), as well as Senators Imee Marcos, Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, and Francis Tolentino, and former Ilocos Sur governor Luis “Chavit” Singson).
Then came the “Trio Los Bravos” composed of Karlo Nograles (Cabinet secretary), Ramon Lopez (trade and industry), and Fortunato de la Peña (science and technology), who pepped up the crowd just moments before Duterte made his entry into RJ Bistro at around 10 p.m.
Nograles, 46, and his more senior colleagues Lopez and de la Peña started out with: “Kamukha mo si Paraluman”, and the entire venue erupted into wild applause.
Then, being the professional singer that he is, Jacinto perked up the crowd further, before Medialdea belted out “You Are So Beautiful” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”.
By this time, the crowd was already aching to hear from Duterte.
Amid chants of “Duterte! Duterte!”, the 77-year-old former president came up the stage, assisted by an aide, and was just thankful that the men and women he worked with during his tenure (2016-2022) were still there to celebrate their work together, as he recounted his problems with his health.
“This is about a reunion of those men and women who were with me in my journey sa presidency for six years. As there is always a time for everything. A time to start, (and also) a time to retire,” Duterte said.
He also said: “Mabuti naman (It’s good) that God is very kind to me. He made me president at a time na matanda na ako (when I’m already old). And in my solemn moments, I look at like and I see that everything has been good, God has been good to me.”
And when his former Cabinet members and the audience started coaxing him to render some of his favorite songs, it was like Duterte was able to draw strength from them, as Bello bellowed from among the people on stage: “Ikaw, Ikaw!”
“Ikaw” is the George Canseco song that Duterte was known to have sung in both public and private gatherings as his favorite song.
Almost flawlessly, the former chief executive rendered “Ikaw” from memory – not like most of his Cabinet members who survived the night’s impromptu concert-reunion with lyrics read from sheets of paper or from their cell phones.
Then as a finale, Duterte relied anew on his former president assistant and now Senator Christopher “Bong” Go”, ever at his side, to lay claim to the first few notes of another favorite – MacArthur Park, only to go full throttle with the song, himself.
“I will take my life into my hands and I will use it. I will win the worship in their eyes and I will lose it,” Duterte sang as he had everybody enthralled that the song had the most meaning in this man they hailed as the greatest president of the Philippines.
And when it was all over, Duterte quietly slipped away from all the revelry, slipping under the many arms that were reaching out to him onstage. Before everybody could notice it, the man many in the room regarded a national hero had left.
“Ayoko na. Time to be great, I may be a shiny, brilliant star in the sky. One day, just like my father, I will just be an in earth dito. Panahon-panahon lang talaga,” Digong said.
“Those were the days, my friend, we though would never end,” sang about 12 Duterte Cabinet members, underscoring the times shared with “Digong” in those six years marked by remarkable economic growth anchored on anti-corruption and anti-illegal drugs campaigns, and the massive “Build, Build, Build” campaign, yet saddled at the end by the Covid-19 pandemic.
And as if to send off their former boss with the song that would fit him best, together with his achievements, the Cabinet members and the crowd sang: “My Way”.