“Sara…walay H”

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It was the way she said it. And how she looked me in the eyes — very fleeting, that connection and the disconnection. She smiled, but her words, all three of them, very cold.

“Sara…walay H.”

It was embarrassing I almost instantly felt the need to crumple the sheet of yellow paper in front of me. I said sorry as I frantically ‘crushed out’ the worthless letter ‘H’.

It was the second sit-down interview that I had with Davao City Mayor Inday Sara Duterte-Carpio. We talked about her tattoos that time, at least that I can remember clearly. It was in 2010, months after she was elected mayor. So far, it was also the last sit-down I had with her.

Before this, in 2009, I had my first sit-down interview with her. I was still writing for the Philippine Daily Inquirer at that time. I promised it would be quick. I said 10 minutes after she attempted to say no. She was vice mayor and was running for mayor — against a formidable rival, then Speaker of the House Prospero Nograles.

She won that election and became the first woman mayor of Davao City. But she also pulled the curtain down on Norgales, making him politically insignificant altogether. Nograles was never able to make a return.

It was that same first interview that served as a preview of the returning mayor’s brand of politics. But it also allowed the public to see through her as a daughter, a mother, a woman.

We all know now that she harbors an aversion to being told what to do and how to do things. Dabawenyos have also been witnesses to how she questioned, countered, and stood against many policies pushed by her father.

Inday Sara is unafraid to speak her mind, her words often naturally flow out like a gorgeous set of freshly sharpened paring knives slowly removing bleeding flesh from bone. Editing herself to satisfy public perceptions is apparently not her thing. Her rawness is refreshingly painful and offensive to some, while many others see her as the perfect ‘unphotoshopped’ version of your favorite movie stars — say, Kris Aquino.

And like her father, President Rodrigo Duterte, Inday sneers at corruption.

I remember how one day, while vice mayor, she exposed several cases of corruption involving some members of the City Council. It was surprising, to say the least. The councilors were supposed to be under her care. But she cared too much for others that she didn’t care about rocking her own home. She refused to tolerate and join the corruption party in her house and this rattled the occupants. Later, she said cleaning up the city council of corrupt members was a tough battle.

In 2011, Inday became very controversial after she punched a court sheriff who insisted on demolishing the homes of informal settlers in Barangay Soliman.

According to Inday, their brand of politics is “recognizable as it is distinct.”

“It is a kind of service that emanates from the heart. Ours is not mechanical. We see through people and we respond to their needs appropriately,” she said.

Now that her father is president, Sara said she wants to focus in her role as mayor of Davao City. She doesn’t want to lose sight of the things that should be done to her city by being distracted by the affairs of her father.

“I am the mayor of Davao and I do not think I will still be able to take another job, another position or another role from the President,” she said.

Yes, she really means business.

And now that she’s back, make no mistake — It’s not Sarah.

Please. Minus the H.

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