I FOUND myself singing along to “My Way” in a bar with former president Duterte and his former Cabinet members last Wednesday, November 9, at Bistro RJ. The irony is not lost on me. The provocative, feared, vilified, and still very popular former president of the Philippines sang “My Way” in a dark bar. “My Way” is a song that has caused many brawls and shootings in local karaoke bars. In the Philippines, singing this off tune or heckling at anyone slightly off tune could lead to your death. Not an urban legend, check PNP records.
It was a small get-together organized by former executive secretary Salvador Medialdea. The invitation said “The Night of the Singing Ex-Cabinet.” I was there as a guest of the former Tourism secretary, now deputy governor of the central bank, Berna Romulo-Puyat. What I assumed to be a small private karaoke get-together, turned out to be a mini-concert with a rock band broadcast live on RJ TV and Facebook. Each Cabinet member was given five slots for their personal guests. The rest in the bistro were regulars.
This was no ordinary sing-along. There were some very impressive performances. Medialdea and RJ Jacinto opened with “Hard Days Night” with both of them on vocals and guitar. Medialdea can play the guitar like a rock star. Former spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. sang the Eraserheads’ “Pare Ko.” Former presidential communications secretary Martin Andanar donned a fedora while singing Tony Bennett’s “The Good Life.” Romulo-Puyat did an impromptu performance of “I Will Survive.” Current Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno surprisingly had a very smooth voice in his rendition of “Just the Way You Are.” You get the gist.
Former national security adviser and NTF-Elcac chief Jun Esperon sang romantic songs dedicated to his wife and in memory of his late first wife. Former Defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana sang “My Love Will See You Through.” This prompted former Foreign Affairs secretary Teddyboy Locsin to get up and say, “It is a coincidence. I sing. Then Del sings. Jun sings. I was the good cop. Those two guys were the bad cops of the South China Sea.” Locsin has been appointed ambassador to the United Kingdom by President Marcos Jr.
About 90 minutes into the performances, President Duterte entered the venue while the trio of Karlo Nograles (Cabinet secretary), Mon Lopez (Trade and Industry), and Boy de la Peña (DoST) sang the Eraserheads’ “Ang Huling El Bimbo.” The room went wild. The guests who were relaxed all night, got up and gravitated towards the former president as he proceeded to sit down. It was crowded, loud and electric. The trio continued to sing. Shortly after that, Duterte was escorted on stage, gave a short speech with his usual Tagalog swear words, to which many said, “We’ve missed you.” Loud cheers. He sang his signature “Ikaw.” And ended it with “My Way.” Directly around him on stage were Sen. Bong Go, former Trade secretary Mon Lopez, former Tourism secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat, and Sen. Imee Marcos.
As an outsider, I found it incredible to see the people who led us through the pandemic and other conflicts all just having fun as friends. The absence of some members was palpable. I messaged former Transportation secretary Art Tugade the next day. He said, “I’m in Tokyo with former DFA secretary del Rosario, former DoF secretary Dominguez. We were conferred The Order of the Rising Sun by the prime minister and His Majesty the Emperor at the Imperial Palace.” A valid excuse.
A recent October 2022 Pulse Asia survey shows Duterte’s trust rating at 90 percent. Four months after he and most of his Cabinet stepped down, the trust and appreciation remain high. I looked back on how Duterte put together his Cabinet. In the beginning, he admitted his network was small. Many appointees were from his Davao circle. And those who sought appointments visited him in his home in Davao. Many were seniors, former classmates and Mindanao-based. There were many appointees who didn’t make it or were let go. Perfecto Yasay, a San Beda classmate, was rejected by the Commission on Appointments as foreign secretary. So was the late Gina Lopez as environment secretary. Some top-of-mind who had to be let go were Vitaliano Aguirre, another San Beda mate, Manny Piñol, a former North Cotabato governor, Ismael Sueno in the DILG, also a Mindanaoan, and Wanda Teo for the DoT, a Davao City travel agency owner.
Duterte also appointed leftists in his Cabinet, in a gesture to be inclusive — Judy Taguiwalo for DSWD, Rafael Mariano for DAR and Liza Maza for the Anti-Poverty Commission. Taguiwalo and Mariano were rejected by the Commission on Appointments. Maza resigned when Duterte formally terminated all peace talks with the communists. Duterte also brought in retired generals, citing their obedience in following orders and efficiency in getting things done. He didn’t flinch when he let go of his friends or allies for missteps, unlike former president Noynoy Aquino who adamantly kept and defended his men regardless of mistakes. Duterte also did not limit his appointments to his own allies. The Justice secretary in his time was Menardo Guevarra, an Aquino Presidential Management Staff undersecretary, now incumbent solicitor general. Guevarra sang “The Young Ones” and “Because.”
Teddy Locsin, who served President Cory Aquino as legal counsel and speechwriter, will move to the UK once his appointment as ambassador is confirmed. Before he sang “Yesterday When I was Young,” Locsin dedicated the song to Duterte. He chose it saying, “because I’m an old man, but it does not reflect the later years of my life when I served with the best president this country has ever had.”
Read More: The singing ex-Cabinet of Duterte