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Duterte’s House

By David Haldane

July 19, 2018

It’s not an easy place to find. You drive a long time, stop for directions, then drive some more. Finally, at the end of what seems like an unreasonably circuitous route, you arrive at a narrow street in what looks like a middle-class neighborhood. Then clamor out to sign the guestbook at a table manned by officers of the Philippine National Police.

“Where is it?” you ask one of them.

He doesn’t respond, just grunts and points his nose towards something down the street. Finally, after a long hike in that direction, you find what you came to see; a modest house watched by a lone security guard dressed in plain clothes. What really gets your attention, though, is the life-sized cardboard cutout standing in the driveway smiling in your direction. This must be it, you think, the President’s house.

If you live in the USA, as I have for a long time and will for a little bit longer, you don’t hear many good things about Rodrigo Duterte. “Rise of the Strongman,” screamed a recent Time Magazine cover featuring the Philippine president’s likeness next to that of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “The Punisher,” announced another, under Duterte’s picture alone.

Frankly, those aren’t even the most lurid headlines frequenting American news outlets these days. And when I tell friends of my plan to move to the Philippines, they often respond with “yeah, but aren’t you worried about that dangerous president?”

Being married to a woman from Mindanao, of course, I am acutely aware of the story’s other side. Ivy and her family pretty much adore Duterte. And in our frequent visits to the country’s southernmost regions, it’s been difficult to find a Filipino who doesn’t feel the same way. Explaining this to Americans who’ve never been there, however, can sometimes prove quite daunting. And so, we had set out for Davao to see for ourselves from whence this President came; is he really a man of the people as he claims, I wondered, or is that just a well-crafted image?

Standing near what looked like a gated carport, I took in the scene. The house seemed pleasant enough, with green plastic overhangs and potted palm plants out front. What struck me more, though, was the light security; just the single young guard standing there holding a mysterious-looking satchel. The President’s family still lives here, he assured us, and Duterte himself comes home every weekend.

And then it struck me; can you imagine an American president or his loved ones living anywhere in such unpretentious circumstances? I don’t know the ins-and-outs of Duterte’s security but, apparently, he’s not too worried about it and neither is his family. Could that be because he really is a “man of the people” much-beloved by his community?

Pondering the possible answer to that and a host of other questions, I posed for pictures with my wife flanking Duterte’s lifelike cutout. When we posted them on Facebook a few weeks later, the reactions were amusing. My favorites: “Don’t piss him off!” and “You could easily take him down.”

My response to both: not bloody likely!






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A former Los Angeles Times staff writer and winner of a 2018 Golden Mike award in radio broadcast journalism, David Haldane fell in love with the Philippines on his first visit there in 2003. A few visits later, he also fell in love with the beautiful young Filipina to whom he is now married and, with whom, he has returned many times. David has written extensively about his experiences in the Philippines for several publications including Orange Coast and Islands Magazine. Today he and Ivy, along with their eight-year-old son, Isaac, divide their time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Surigao City, Philippines. His award-winning memoir, Nazis & Nudists, recounts, among other things, the courtship of Ivy and finding a place to call home. For David that turned out to be at the tip of a peninsula marking the gateway to Mindanao where he and Ivy are building their dream home next to a lighthouse overlooking the sea. This blog is the ongoing chronicle of that adventure.






  1. Will says:

    I doubt his family still lives there. The presence of a single guard pretty much ensures it. He may be a man of the people but he is still the President and with that comes many enemies. Its been widely documented that he has many homes….and he has even bought homes for his mistresses. He probably still owns this home though but at first glance it looks more like a museum now, or a tourist attraction.

  2. Michael P says:

    I enjoyed your article David. My wife is a huge Duterte fan. His biggest detractor is the New York Times who have smeared him since the beginning. Hard to imagine a politician of his stature living like an average (or above average) citizen. U.S. politicians seem to get elected as average citizens and retire as millionaires!

    • David Stanley Haldane says:

      Glad you enjoyed the article, Michael. I agree; Duterte is probably the least corrupt Philippine president in a generation…

    • Mike says:

      You are right David but please, don’t mention America or American politics as it is a dirty word around these parts. President Duterte is a much loved President by the majority of Filipinos.

  3. Yeah, Bob, hard to find anyone there with anything bad to say about him. I surely couldn’t…..

  4. Rob Ashley says:

    Duterte is a true Philippine Patriot. From my perspective, most of what he does and says comes out of his love and protection of the very best things the Philippines could be. He’s against corruption, drugs and anything that would take away the autonomy of the Philippines. These are not bad qualities. Did you buy a Duterte, life size cut out for your wife? I’ve seen them for sale.

    • David Stanley Haldane says:

      Believe me, Rob, if I’d seen one I would have purchased it. They were probably all sold out…

  5. Paul Thompson says:

    ;In January 1965 my first Navy ship sailed out of Mayport Florida crossing the pond to Europe, mainly to the Mediterranean Sea countries including North Africa and Turkey.

    I was 18 years old, and as worldly as a clam. But as we passed the Rock of Gibraltar we rendered a Ship’s Salute to the Royal Navy stationed there. I was excited to see something I’d only seen in books and movies.
    The crusty old timer standing in ranks beside me said; “Youngster, remember as you step on the soil of another country, it is their country, and none of your US Constitutional Rights have any value here, you are now subject to the laws of that nation you are a guest of.”

    I have since then sailed around the earth many times and those words stuck with me and have served me well.

    The reason I enjoyed your article was I noted you follow a similar rule, while your wife enjoyed the visit the home of her President.

  6. Jeff Jenks says:

    Great story!

    I love Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte because I’ve seen his accomplishments over the past 30 years. And yes, he lives in a simple house, recognizing his government salary.

    My co-teacher and I paid a courtesy call on his father, who was the Governor in 1963, when I was a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer teacher in Davao del Sur.

    President Duterte has a 30 year track record in government of adding public value as a Prosecutor, Mayor of Davao City and President of the Philippines.

    I’ve been able to observe positive and negative changes since 1962 in Davao.

    And yes there is a huge backlash by the various wealthy and political dynasties and the corrupt and dug dealers since he’s recognizing and giving back to the poor and improving their lives, and recognizing and including the middle class in his programs.

    When President Duterte asks “Why am I here?” look around and see Digongs years of accomplishments and more to come.

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  8. The Phlippines is blessed with such a beautiful land and amazingly warm people. I always love coming back to the Philippines every year.