Sara Duterte: The medical student who moved to law school is now vice president

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/June 18) – The first time Sara Zimmerman Duterte heard her father, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, declare “I am proud of you” was 11 years ago, on July 3, 2011, when she was 33 years old. first term as mayor of Davao City.

“All these years – I’m now 33 – it was the first time he said that. I graduated with honors in elementary, grades 1-6. I was either first , or second. And I graduated on a full scholarship. I finished high school, college, law school, became a lawyer. Never. He never said, ‘Congratulations, I’m very proud of you, anak.’ Pero manumbag ka ug tao, “I’m proud of you” (But you hit someone and they say “I’m proud of you”), Sara recalled in an interview with MindaNews a month after making headlines for punching a sheriff on July 1, 2011.

Davao Mayor Sara Duterte challenges the demolition crew hired by landowner Soliman Street to a fight. Mayor Duterte lost his temper after Sheriff Abe Andres refused to give him two extra hours to get to the demolition site so the demolition could begin peacefully. MindaNews File Photo by RUBY THURSDAY MORE

Two days later, Duterte. who graced the cover of Time Magazine in 2002 as “The Punisher” but had repeatedly said there was only one person he was afraid of – his daughter Sara – announced in his weekly television program that he was proud of her.

“You were elected by the people to defend it. You were just doing your job,” he said of his daughter, who was dubbed “The Puncher” at the time.

Citing humanitarian reasons, Sara had asked for a two-hour extension, until 11 a.m., so that she could still talk to the inhabitants before the demolition order was implemented.

Before heading to the demolition site, the mayor was tending to victims of flash floods on June 28 and 29 that killed at least 30 people, most of them children.

At that time too, his eldest, Sharky, then a toddler, was confined to a hospital.

Sara clarified that she did not order a halt to the demolition which would affect 220 families occupying the 2,000 square meter plot in Soliman, Agdao. She said she only wanted it to be applied peacefully.

It was a riot that she had to face when she reached Soliman.

When she heard people on both sides say it was the sheriff, she asked. “When I saw it, that’s it,” Sara said.

When she summoned him, did she think she was going to hit him?

“No. No. At that time, I was really angry and frustrated. Frustration because despite all these plannings we made to make the demolition peaceful, it was not followed through. In my anger, that is two hours for us to do this demolition? Anyway, we will help you, ”she said.

“Ulaw gyud kaayo”

From Soliman, she went to the hospital where her daughter Sharky was locked up. Sharky asked if she had hit anyone. She denied. But her daughter says she saw her on TV.

“Ana gani si Sharky, ‘Ma, nanumbag ka?’ Ana ko ‘wala ko nanumbag uy!’ Ana siya ‘kato gani sa TV nanumbag ka.’ (Sharky said, ‘Ma, did you hit someone? I said no! She said, ‘I saw you on TV.’)

A month after that punching incident, Sara was saying that what she had done was something she couldn’t be proud of, that she was “naulaw.” Ulaw gyud kaayo” (Shame. I was really ashamed).

“Imagine, kinsa ba gyud ang dili gusto musikat like Jennifer Lopez, ana, worldwide, global. Pero be known worldwide for something that na ing ana. Ulaw. Ulaw yeah! …And number two kana, di nimo ma explain sa bata, na di ka makasulti sa ilaha na that’s correct. (Imagine. Who doesn’t want to be famous like Jennifer Lopez, around the world. But to be known around the world for something like that. Shame. Really shame… And number two, you can’t explain to kids. You don’t can’t tell them it’s okay)

“You can’t be happy because you can’t be proud of it because the kids might say it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

“Now you can hear kids saying, ‘I’m going to get you hit by Inday Sara.’ In fact, some parents have told me that and I don’t like it. It’s not okay for them to grow up thinking it’s okay. You can’t be proud of that,” she said.

From medical school to law school

Sara was nine years old when her father, Rodrigo, was appointed vice-mayor of the OCI in 1986.

In this 2011 interview, she recalls joining him on some of his outings. “In fact, when I walk into a barangay now, some people show me pictures of those visits.”

Sara said she never imagined that she would one day be the mayor of Davao City, the youngest and first woman to hold the position.

She wanted to be a doctor, took respiratory therapy at San Pedro College in Davao City, and went to Manila for medical school. How she found herself a lawyer, she put down to fate.

“Since I was in kindergarten, even in my yearbook, I had already said that I really wanted to be a pediatrician,” Sara said in her inaugural speech as mayor in 2010.

“Even in college, I always wanted to be a doctor. I was influenced by the ER series. I wanted to be an ER doctor,” she said.

What changed all that? She missed medical school.

DAvao City Mayor Sara Duterte takes a short walk along San Pedro Street on Saturday (June 18, 2022) to thank staff and police officers involved in preparations for her swearing-in as the 15th vice president of the country on Sunday. PHOTO MINDANEWS

“I was in medical school for a year. I was scared to go home because number one I failed, number two I was ashamed to go home…I already knew I wouldn’t pass med school after one semester . In January of this second semester, I applied for law school” in San Beda, without telling her father, who graduated from San Beda Law School.

Sara enrolled in San Beda because “they said there were only three law schools in the country. Ateneo, University of the Philippines and San Beda.

According to Sara, Ateneo Law was already closed at the time for applications, UP was too far from where she lived in San Juan while San Beda was close and was still open.

When she failed medical school, Sara entered law school.

“I didn’t want to go home. And for Mayor Rody (Duterte), for him, I can always remember this, (he often said) ‘you’re not a successful kung dili ka doctor or lawyer.

“The pressure on me to return home without completing my medical studies was enormous. With all their hopes, I was embarrassed to face my parents and my brothers, so I didn’t want to go home,” she said.

“Those were the years when we really had time to talk to each other”

Sara went to the United States with her mother and younger brother Sebastian. “At that time, I thought I wouldn’t be going home since I was a respiratory therapist anyway, I could probably practice my profession there. But in our phone conversation, Mayor Rody (Duterte) said, “Ipa is kicking out tika dinha. Pauli diri” (I will have you expelled. Come back home).

“I said, okay, I’ll go back to the Philippines, but I’ll be late for the San Beda law school registration. He said he knew because the driver told him that I frequented San Beda. So he worked on my late registration. I started in mid-June,” and eventually learned to love law school.

“For me, it was easier compared to medical school. Although, tungod lagi anang pagka maulawon man gud ko, super maulavon, maglisod ko its recitation (because I’m shy, I’m super shy, I had difficulty during recitation). But this time, because there was no pressure to stand up in front of the crowd, it was easy for me,” said Sara who then shared that she was nervous.

“It may not show, but my husband knows my knees are shaking. He says it doesn’t show,” Sara added.

She entered law school when her father was based in Metro Manila for his congressional duties as a representative for the Davao City First District.

“That’s when we became close because we saw each other at home: from 1998 to 2001. Just the two of us at home. So he would come home bringing takeout and we would eat. Those were the years when we really had time to talk,” she said.

President Rodrigo Duterte leads the wreath laying ceremony in commemoration of the 123rd day of Rizal in Davao City on December 30, 2019. Davao Mayor Sara Duterte (left) also graced the event. MindaNews Photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Duterte, who served as mayor from 1988 to 1998 and congressman from 1998 to 2001, ran for mayor in 2001 and served three more terms through 2010. He ran for mayor again in 2013 and to the presidency in 2016.
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Sara ran for vice mayor in 2007 and mayor in 2010, 2016 and 2019. She received the most votes among national candidates in the 2022 election – 32.2 million, nearly double the number of voices cast for his father in 2016.

Duterte did not publicly congratulate his daughter Sara, but he did confirm his attendance at her swearing-in Sunday as the country’s 15th vice president.

Sunday, which also happens to be Father’s Day, will be the first time in months that Duterte and his daughter Sara have been seen together in public.

Sara had left for Manila when Duterte arrived at mayoral candidate Sebastian Duterte’s lead here on May 6. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

Jon J. Epps