BACOLOD CITY – The room was stuffy.
Some in the waiting crowd made up mostly of Negros peace advocates, social entrepreneurs, and reporters brought out their fans as Chinese lantern lights made the mercury rise even more in the small room in a (you guessed right) local Chinese restaurant.
It is right next to a hotel where President Duterte sometimes stay when he visits here, just like many other presidents before him.
The room was small, the atmosphere, intimate.
For some strange reasons, the air-conditioner conked out before the event, a book launch, was about to happen.
“I don’t think Malacañang has something to do with this,” social entrepreneur Ted Lopez said in jest when he opened the program that was delayed by half an hour.
Lopez chairs the Altertrade Foundation that sponsored the event.
A small table with a single chair was centered in front of the room as waiters in red cheongsam shirts placed on a side table fried chicken parts, lumpia Shanghai rolls and freshly-steamed siopao, white and fluffy like a baby’s cheeks.
Across that I sat on a table where books with a minimalist cover design were placed. On the cover was a photo of a man in barong. A sideview with blur effect.
The man’s cheeks were not as white as siopao. In fact, the dark spots on his face indicated to critics that he was sick and could die anytime soon.
Cancer, some critics say. He has lupus, the disease that killed Marcos, others venture. Rumors also abound this man has regular dialysis sessions to clean his blood. His kidneys are failing, they say.
Some even speculate he is a bastard, a Chinese stooge, his son, Polong, the new capo de tuti capi of drug syndicates.
The man who waded through all these rumors and speculations stood in the middle of the room. He wore a flesh-colored cheongsam, his cheeks white and looking freshly-scrubbed like a baby’s.
Earl Parreño, award-winning journalist, social entrepreneur, political analyst (the adjectives to describe him could go on), spent years chasing people and documents – a discipline honed as a long-form or investigative journalist – in trying to sift the grain from the chaff about Rodrigo Roa Duterte, the 16th president of the Philippine republic.
Parreño, whose roots are in Negros and Panay islands, is a master of the unauthorized biography, which means he was not commissioned by the people he wrote about.
His first book, Boss Danding, came out in 2003 and did not only delve into the public life of Marcos crony Eduardo M. Cojuangco Jr. but probed deep into the coconut levy funds, which is said to have enabled Cojuangco amass private wealth.
“They would ask me first: ‘is the book pro or anti?'” Earl recalls about the question friends would ask him when he approached them in the initial stage of research for Beyond Will and Power, a biography of President Duterte.
The question did not surprise Earl but it left him wondering if Filipinos could take a stance of not really judging their leaders first unlike the polar choices, pro- or anti-Duterte positions that most citizens are making now.
Tomorrow: A lot of unprintable parts