CEBU CITY – It was a welcome fit for a king in the queen city of the south.
Mayor Rodrigo Duterte walked into a packed Cebu Coliseum 10 pm Sunday evening and was greeted by a wildly cheering a crowd that did not mind the long wait.
The 7,000-seat venue was smoking hot as confetti rained when Duterte was introduced.
Nearly everybody was on their feet, waving small Philippine flags and the country’s colors and roaring as one the now familiar three-syllable chant of “Duterte! Duterte! Duterte!”
Mobile phones flickered like thousands of fireflies, either snapping groupies or taking videos of the momentous event.
Buoyed by the highly emotional welcome, the mayor showed no signs of exhaustion despite the stressful debate earlier at the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu campus in Lahug where he gave a good account of himself – dominating Facebook and twitter as though they were his own private domain.
Appropriately dubbed “Konsyerto Para sa Kausaban”, the event opened with live performances from popular artists spiced up by the folksy humor of novelty singer and Duterte pal Max Surban and a stirring nationalist medley from Chad Borja.
Duterte’s youngest son, Sebastian, broke out of his shell, belting out two songs from his heavy metal repertoire in a rare performance that pleasantly surprised the predominantly youthful audience.
The mayor also acknowledged the presence of his eldest son, Davao Vice Mayor Paulo Duterte, who came with nearly all his city councilors.
There was unmistakable electricity in the air as Duterte took center stage even though it was already close to midnight to a crowd that started streaming in as early as 4 pm.
Duterte did not waste time explaining the reasons why he eventually decided to run after vacillating for a long time, among them the health concerns of his first wife, his lack of funds and his age.
As he had declared on several occasions, he said he eventually gave in to the popular clamor after looking at the field and the baggage going against each candidate: Jojo Binay’s corruption charges, Grace Poe’s citizenship and Mar Roxas’ incompetence and ineptitude.
It was obvious Duterte no longer needed to convince a crowd that had virtually declared support for him.
Even before noon, supporters were already streaming into the “Bisaya Napud” headquarters in Lahug to drum up support not only for the debate but for Duterte himself.
Volunteers waved free Duterte tarpaulins and stickers to passing motorists, many of which pulled over to respond to the invitation.
Near the venue site at UP Lahug, Duterte supporters came in nearly all colors: blue, green, red and white – proof that they came out of their own volition in contrast to the uniformed partisans of rival candidates.
Beside the road, improvised t-shirt printing shops sprouted to accommodate fellow supporters who wanted their shirts to express their choice.
The more affluent supporters went around the city in spontaneous motorcades, their glamorous cars and SUVs screaming the name and face of the undisputed political rock star.
It is not only because Duterte is every bit a Cebuano as he prefers to think (“I can no longer come home because I have long since migrated there”) although that is a big part of it.
It is not only because Duterte is one tough hombre who has the brains to go with his guts – although that too is part of it.
Like many other parts of the country, it is largely because the scourge of drugs, crime and corruption have grown so big none of the other candidates have shown that they have what it takes to lick them.
The mayor’s rivals love to tick off statistics and platform as though they automatically translate to reality.
In contrast, the eagle of the south hammers home on issues close to home: parents who won’t be at peace unless their daughter is home, traders milked by highwaymen and cops on the road, the breakdown of law and order in different areas in society – and the dangerously expanding inroads of narco-politicians.
Duterte hit the hammer in the nail in his closing statement when he said it is not a matter of statistics or platforms – because that is the easier part.
It all boils down to leadership.
This is where Duterte has separated himself from the rest.
No wonder the queen city of the south gave him a welcome fit for a king.