MAASIN CITY – “Maayong pagbisita sa atoa (rough translation: a pleasant visit to our place) Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte”, screamed the tarpaulin hanging in front of the Southern Leyte Provincial Capitol in this city.
Duterte returned like a triumphant warrior in the city of his birth as the people of Maasin wore their hearts on their sleeves Tuesday afternoon.
The mayor was born in Barangay Laboon, about six kilometers from the city proper which gives Maasin and Southern Leyte bragging rights to the rock star with the political stock that continues to rise with each passing day.
As was his custom in nearly all his sorties, the mayor gave his respects to the head of the local Roman Catholic church that followed his courtesy call on Maasin Mayor Maloney Samako but this time the bishop had a surprise for Duterte.
Bishop Precioso Cantillas all but erased any doubts on Maasin’s claim to its most famous son when he handed the mayor a copy of Duterte’s baptismal certificate.
Duterte, ever quick on the draw, muttered in jest that Cantillas virtually blew his cover on his birth date that he normally does not reveal.
After his refreshing exchange with Cantillas, Duterte proceeded to the Capitol for a brief chat with Gov. Rogaciano Mercado.
Mercado came in late and virtually flew up the flight of stairs leading to the second floor where Duterte was waiting in his office.
The governor, who is not seeking reelection but is trading places with his brother, Rep. Damian Mercado, only had kind words for Duterte that was expected considering the latter’s link to the province.
Duterte’s team decided to abort a motorcade around the main streets due to time constraints. His caravan, that originally included 14 vehicles, grew which each stop.
By the time the caravan arrived at the terminal where a mammoth crowd was waiting for him since morning, it had more than tripled its original length.
Duterte spoke shorter than usual because he still had another engagement in Ormoc City. There was little need for him to win his audience over.
Long before the chopper that flew him in landed at the Maasin port, residents were already outdoing each other to show their support for the most exciting candidate in this year’s presidential election.
Nearly everyone was wearing a Duterte shirt but wearing different designs – and spelling – a testament to the emerging creativity that has characterized the mayor’s unorthodox campaign.
Just as varied were the welcome tarps that adorned many homes particularly those along the roads where his convoy would pass by.
On Tuesday morning, some residents embarked on massive cleaning of their lawns that exceeded the preparations in other places.
The enthusiastic welcome is understandable.
Duterte is unlike many politicians who return to the land of their birth only during the campaign season.
The mayor had always been with Maasin and Southern Leyte during dark times including the killer typhoon Yolanda.
Duterte arrived in Maasin in the aftermath of the country’s most destructive typhoon unannounced to personally hand in donations including a seven-figure check dressed only in his sleeping attire.
That scene was forever etched in the minds of many of Maasin and Southern Leyte residents enough for them to give him a special place in their hearts.
Little wonder then that when he returned Tuesday, the welcome resembled that of a triumphant warrior.
The man more and more Filipinos look up to as their champion against criminality, illegal drugs and corruption is fighting the biggest battle of his life.
In this one, the man who might yet become the first president from Eastern Visayas can count on the land of his birth.
There was no mistaking the message Maasin’s welcome gave to Duterte: there is no place like home. | Chito Fuentes