To better understand Duterte, one must remember that he is only human: Philippine Daily Inquirer Columnist

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaking before the Philippine Councilors League in Pasay city, Metro Manila, Philippines, on March 8.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaking before the Philippine Councilors League in Pasay city, Metro Manila, Philippines, on March 8.PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Contrary to what many think or believe, President Rodrigo Duterte listens to advice. But it must be given in a manner that neither humiliates nor embarrasses him in public. Otherwise, one risks stirring a hornet's nest.

To paraphrase Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, advice is seldom welcome because those who are perceived to need it the most like it the least.

Though sometimes couched in diplomatic language usually suggesting moves intended to improve public service or enhance relations with other nations, advice usually carries with it a subtle hint that to ignore it might result in undesirable consequences. That is, of course, understandable because that is precisely what advice is for.

Two persons, among others, whom the President holds in high esteem and whose counsel I know he would truly appreciate are Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III.

This is because the President knows that these two paragons of competence and integrity could always draw from their wealth of experience, snippets of wisdom which could help him as he negotiates every zig and zag of every road on his way to a more responsive government and a better Philippines.

At the risk of being repetitious, I say that advice must be given with care so that it does not irritate the President. The President need not be told twice. He listens, he remembers and he acts accordingly and appropriately. In rare instances, it may take some time for him to act, but act he will.

That has always been his norm of conduct during the almost 16 years that I was privileged to work as a public official in Davao City under his leadership.

That said, let me now go to another concern: the President's health.

The President is tired. I can sense and feel his physical and mental exhaustion. A person who is fatigued, both in body and mind, can be testy, touchy and unpredictable at times.

I know. I have been through such a state on many occasions when I was the city administrator of Davao. I rued those times when I was impulsive in my actions and gruff in my language. I deplored those days when my touchiness and unpredictability, born out of fatigue, got the better of me. And after realising a wrong I had committed and the magnitude of its impact, I scrambled to set things right. And while scrambling, I did not wish to be distracted by any comment from anyone which could only add fuel to the fire that I was trying very hard to douse.

The President is human like me. Why then should I expect him to act differently from how I acted when under similar circumstances? He is a person first before he is President, is he not?

That is why the President has to be conceded a little understanding and given enough breathing space to clarify any misunderstanding his public pronouncements may have created. Listen when he speaks after the dust settles. That way, one will be able to understand him better.

The President commenced his work running, and he runs still. He is everywhere, even in the unlikeliest places. He works as though there were no tomorrow. It is not healthy. He has to rest or slow down, at the least, his frenetic pace. It is for his own good and the country's.

On the matter of the country's relations with America, from all indications, President Duterte is bent on pursuing an independent policy detached from America's apron strings.

From where I sit, I see him cutting the strings that tie our country to the dictates of our former colonial master. But the President is not anti-American.

He is simply a Filipino who loves his country, the land of his birth and the home of his people. It would do well to put this in mind whenever we feel like criticising him for his seemingly anti-American stance.

For all his hotheadedness and use of fiery language, he is a patriot who has nothing but the best interests of the Filipino at heart. Echoes of former president Carlos P. Garcia's "Filipino First" policy reverberating from the past is how I hear it. It's what I believe will define his administration until 2022, as I shall explain soon in more detail.

The writer is an assistant executive secretary, office of the President, Republic of Philippines