It's lonely at the top for Rodrigo Duterte

Philippine leader misses easy-going days as mayor, cuts back on formalities

Meet Mr Rodrigo Duterte: the overworked, underpaid President of the Philippines.

Nearly a month since he took office, he is realising it can be lonely at the top.

The 71-year-old former mayor finds living in the capital Manila boring, and pines for his beloved pub and favourite fried banana fritters in his southern home city of Davao, 980km away.

He has had to ditch the buttoned- down polos and slippers he prefers wearing for the stuffy barong - formal Filipino men's wear - and lea- ther shoes.

At a gathering of mayors on Thursday, Mr Duterte said he is "very lonely" and may just "die of boredom" in a year if he remains cooped up in Malacanang, the presidential residence.

"I'm okay here (in Manila) if I only have to drop by once in a while. But if you insist that I stay in Malacanang, you'll be burying a president next year," he said.

Mr Duterte finds it particularly jarring having to deal with protocols.

He misses his days as mayor, when he could wake up well after lunch, and then at night scour his streets incognito, as a cab driver, for thugs and thieves, or, at a drop of a hat, drive by a karaoke bar and sing a song or two.

Now, his security men knock on his door so he can start his day early. The day usually ends at 3am, when he takes a barge to a modest house across the river from Malacanang.

"I am not used to this kind of life," he said, and the pay may not even be worth the sacrifice. He gets 130,000 pesos (S$3,730) a month.

"I do not feel short-changed. My will to work is still there. But if you ask me if I'm happy, I am not," he said.

Mr Duterte said he sometimes finds himself crying whenever he thinks about his late father and the responsibilities he now carries on his shoulders.

In jest, he said he has also thought about punching the man who "duped" him into running for president. That would be former president Fidel Ramos.

Mr Duterte barrelled his way to a landslide victory in the May 9 presidential elections, casting himself as an anti-establishment everyman.

Known for breaking norms, he has been pushing back and seeking to change some government practices to suit his style.

For his first State of the Nation Address, he demanded that his guests drop the flashy suits and gowns.

He insists on not being called "Your Excellency", finding it a bit phony, and prefers to roll up the sleeves of his barong, a big fashion no-no. Eschewing protocols, he queues at airports and sits in coach on commercial flights. He has requested that his planes not be given priority landing and takeoff.

Looking back, Mr Duterte said it might have been better if he had remained mayor.

"But that's life," he mused.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2016, with the headline 'It's lonely at the top'. Print Edition | Subscribe