Inday Sara: Duterte daughter shuns First Lady role

David Dizon, ABS-CBN News

Inday Sara: Duterte daughter shuns First Lady role 1
Sara Zimmerman Duterte, daughter of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, distributes campaign materials to residents of Catbalogan, Samar during the Du30 bus road tour in the Visayas to help promote the candidacy of her father. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
PROFILES: The next First Lady or First Gentleman
Regardless of who wins among the 5 presidential candidates, Malacanang is going to welcome a much bigger First Family as bachelor President Benigno Simeon Aquino III bows out of office on June 30, 2016.
The Philippines will either have another First Gentleman if Senator Grace Poe or Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago wins, a First Lady if Vice President Jojo Binay or former DILG chief Mar Roxas makes it, or a daughter as First Lady if Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte succeeds.
What role the next First Lady or First Gentleman will play and how well (or bad) he or she performs will impact on the Philippine presidency. Will he or she be like an Imelda Marcos, a Ming Ramos, a Loi Ejercito, a Mike Arroyo, or the Aquino sisters? takes a look at the women and men who may soon be moving into the Palace as First Lady or First Gentleman.


CATBALOGAN, SAMAR – It was 35-degree weather when the Du30 bus rolled into town early April.

Outside the bus, a crowd had gathered, eager to catch a glimpse of the mayor from Davao City. Inside, a hubbub of excitement as volunteers pulled out stacks of Duterte fliers, stickers, tarps, and t-shirts -packed floor to ceiling - to give out to supporters.

There was a cheer when Inday Sara Zimmerman Duterte, daughter of Mayor and presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte, stepped out of the bus. For the next two hours, in scorching heat, Sara led a motorcade through the city, pressing hands, getting selfies and giving out stickers to supporters before moving on to the next city, the next town, the next port of entry.

It was Sara’s idea of using the bus – a donation from a businessman-friend - to spread the word of Duterte right down to the barangay level. The plan: a 30-day tour across Visayas and Mindanao before going back to Davao City for Election Day.

"We started the bus tour April 5. It’s Day 7 now. We started in Davao and then we went up. Stayed in Butuan the first night. Second night in Tandag. Third night in Surigao. And then we went to Liloan and Baybay before staying in Tacloban, crossed San Juanico Bridge, and then Guiuan. Now, we are targeting Catbalogan and later Calbayog,” she said in an interview inside the Du30 bus.

"Ang main purpose talaga ay magpasalamat sa mga volunteers. Andaming volunteers kasi, tapos sigurado ako na hindi sila lahat madadaan ni Mayor Rudy… We are surprised, shocked even that even in areas where there is no Internet, we have volunteers campaigning and doing materials for him.”

Sara and her husband have spent a little over a million pesos to print tens of thousands of tarpaulins, handbills and stickers for the bus tour. Most of the t-shirts distributed by the Du30 bus tour are donations – a last-minute adjustment for the campaign.

“Wala kaming binili. Hindi ko kasi alam na ang gusto pala ng mga tao t-shirt. Had I known, hindi na kami nagpagawa ng stickers,” she said, adding that they now give out silkscreens and paint to volunteers so they could print their own shirts.

Some of the things she has seen on the ground have amazed her. One image in particular stands out for her: a volunteer who cut a rice sack in half and hand-painted the words "DU30" because he couldn't afford a tarpaulin.

Actually we do have that gratitude with the mother of PNoy, si Cory, because she appointed Rudy as OIC vice mayor, - Sara Duterte

Most of the volunteers inside the Du30 bus are Sara's high school friends and former employees of GMA Davao, where Sara once worked as a TV host.

Also along for the ride are Sara’s two kids, Sharky, 7, and Stingray, 3. Both sleep on rubber mats at the back of the bus. Better to bring them on the bus, she said, than leave them behind for a month while she tours half the country.

“The biggest challenge of being a politician is motherhood. It’s time management. Yun yung pinakamalaki. Kaya ganito kami. Hindi ko sila maiwan. Hindi ko maiwan more than one night. Kunwari, aalis ako. One night lang, kailangan kong bumalik. Better na isama ko sila sa ganito basta nakikita ko, ma-supervise ko kesa iiwan ko isang buwan dun sa Davao,” she said.


Second in a brood of three, Sara Zimmerman Duterte was just eight years old when her father was appointed by then President Corazon Aquino as the OIC vice-mayor of Davao City after the 1986 EDSA Revolution.

Elizabeth Zimmerman, Duterte’s ex-wife, said the position was first offered to Duterte’s mother, Soledad Roa Duterte, but the latter declined. Duterte’s mother was an active member of the Yellow Friday Movement that mounted protests against the Marcoses.

“Actually we do have that gratitude with the mother of PNoy, si Cory, because she appointed Rudy as OIC vice mayor,” Zimmerman said.

Sara said things changed fast when her father left his job as a prosecutor and became OIC vice-mayor. Duterte ran and won the mayoral seat in 1998, starting a decades-long rule in Davao City.

“Busy siya. Busy siya talaga…Growing up, ano yung father ko naka-focused siya sa trabaho niya. Lumalabas siya umaga tapos gabi na siya uuwi. Kami naman nasa school so hindi nag abot,” she said.

It wasn’t all paperwork for the new mayor either. A huge part of Duterte’s job was cleaning out the criminal element that had turned Davao into the Philippines’ version of the wild, wild west.

“I was just eight years old. Naaalala ko lang , bigla na lang kami nagkaroon ng bodyguard. Ewan ko ba dun sa father ko, minsan uuwi duguan sila. Marami kidnap-for-ransom sa Davao. May mga times na uuwi sila duguan kasi nag rescue sila ng kinidnap,” she said.

Zimmerman, 68, said Davao even became a ghost town “because there were so many kidnappings.”

“The criminals were targeting Chinese businessmen and local businessmen. Those who were well-off had left town. We were like a ghost town. Almost every day, a policeman would die dahil binaril ng NPA [New People’s Army]. Barilan dito, barilan doon.”

The solution was an iron fist. Duterte, who would be dubbed “The Punisher,” ran mercilessly after criminal gangs while forging deals with insurgents to stay out of his city.

Thus was born the Davao Death Squad (DDS), a shadow group that is believed to have killed an estimated 1,000 criminal suspects for over a decade. Human Rights Watch has claimed the DDS gets firearms and is managed by former and incumbent police officers in Davao City.

Duterte has admitted, and then denied, links to the DDS in the past. He has made no qualms about killing criminals, telling ABS-CBN that he once killed three rapist-kidnappers during his first term as mayor.

READ: Duterte confirms killing 3 rapist-kidnappers

He also vowed to kill 100,000 criminals and dump their bodies in Manila Bay if he is elected President.

READ: Duterte admits links to Davao Death Squad

Sara said her father’s vow to solve crime and corruption is part of his “mix” for economic development in the country.

“He can’t explain it properly because he uses a ‘kanto boy’ style. Hindi intelektwal ang explanation. It’s a mix of security and development. One cannot exist without the other. They have to go together. There will be no development without security and there are many aspects of security. No corruption, a lower crime rate, peace and order – that’s his mix,” she said.

So what about fears that he will send death squads all over the country?

“Well, that remains to be seen. Kung gagawin naman niya yun, meron naman tayong mga batas na in full force and in effect,” she said.

She then added: “Pero pag sinabi niya, ano e, sinabi niya talaga ano? Ang problema kasi sa kanya, kapag sinabi niya, gagawin niya talaga.”


Talking to Sara, one gets the sense of a daughter who fiercely loves her father even though they don’t always see eye to eye.

Sara said she refused to talk to her father for years after she got a tongue-lashing in public during the 2010 elections.

“May love-hate relationship kami ng father ko. Alam naman ng lahat, pati yung mga taga Davao alam nila. In fact, nag mayor ako for three years. Hindi kami nag-usap. Nagkaroon kami ng…Well, pinagalitan niya ako nung campaign ko for mayoralty, Pinagalitan niya ako. Nagtampo ako. For three years ko hindi siya pinansin,” she said.

“Nagalit lang siya, one rally lang. Sa isang rally lang. Sinabon niya ako ng sinabon ng isang oras. Three years…”

Duterte’s fierceness is a familiar refrain in Sara’s story. Sara also had to defy her father’s wishes after the latter opposed her plan to get a law degree.

“I wanted to be a doctor. Nag med school ako actually. Na kick-out ako one year lang kaya lumipat ako law school. Hindi ako makauwi ng Davao kasi baka hindi ako tanggapin ng …Naghanap ako ng ibang kurso,” she said.

As her mother explains it, Sara wanted to shift to law school but her father was against it.

“We were on vacation and her father did not want her [to take up law]. E we were separated at that time. [Sara and I] were on vacation in the US. Sabi ni [Sara]: ‘Hindi na ako uuwi. Dito na lang tayo magtrabaho.’ We told [Duterte’s] assistant Bong Go. 'Hindi na kami uuwi diyan.'"

After a while, Bong Go called Zimmerman with instructions from the mayor.

'O, ipa-enroll ka na sa San Beda [College of Law]. Umuwi na daw kayo,” Zimmerman recalled, laughing.

It was during Sara's time in law school that she met her future husband, Mans Carpio, who was working in Bar operations.

Sara said her father cried when she passed the Bar exam. "I think he cried because I did better than him and that made him successful," she said in an Instagram post.

The father and daughter also had a disagreement about Sara’s electoral run for vice-mayor in 2007. At the time, Sara had no intention of joining politics – something that she holds to this day.

Zimmerman said that before the 2007 polls, Duterte called her up to ask Sara to consider running for the position. Sara refused.

“I told Rodrigo: ‘Oy, ikaw ang magsabi sa anak mo.’ Hindi siya papayag. I don’t know what happened. Nag-usap sila. Nag-oo naman si [Sara].”

To this day, she has no idea how Duterte convinced Sara to run.

Sara said she found herself copying the mistakes of her father when she entered politics. A neophyte politician, she had to learn the ropes when she became vice-mayor in 2007, leaving her with no time for adopted daughter, Sharky.

“Si Sharky ang pinakakawawa nung 2007. Kasi hindi pa ako marunong noon so naiwanan ko talaga siya. Feeling ko nagkulang oras ko sa kanya,” she said.

“Parang nangyari sa akin parang sa tatay ko. Tulog pa si [Sharky], aalis na ako. Pag-uwi ko ng gabi, tulog na siya. Parang ganun yung feeling ko. Pero at least sa akin, OK lang, first years kasi. Limited lang ang maaalala niya. So bumawi ako nung…sabi ko mali. Mali na itong ginagawa ko. Bumawi na ako.”

Sara served as vice-mayor of Davao City from 2007 to 2010 and then another three years as mayor from 2010-2013. She dropped plans to run for congresswoman in 2013, defying her father’s wishes.

As a politician, she said she had to be flexible and learn to operate in "gray areas."

"You have to learn to adjust and be flexible because it's hard to make a move in government. It's not all black and white. You have to learn how to operate in gray areas," she said.

"Say for example sobrang laki ng hahawakan mo. Tapos ipapatupad mo dito yung batas tapos dun sa isa hindi mo ipapatupad. So sila sasabihin: 'Bakit siya ok lang pero sa akin, hindi OK.?' Dapat meron kang mix. It’s not really all black and white."

Sara said Duterte’s leadership style is the same "whether as a father or as a politician," saying that there is an iron will in him to stick to the rules.

This toughness, she said, extends to his immediate family.

"Si Mayor Rudy kasi yung style niya as a father, makikita mo pareho sa pagiging politician niya. [He has the same style when he is a father and a politician.] When he is hard, he is really, really very hard. Talagang papagalitan ka. [He will really lecture you.] “

“Yung kuya ko, kumbaga physical atsaka verbal. Ako verbal lang, I don’t know. Maybe because babae ako, he spared me. Yung younger brother namin, hindi ko na maalala kung…”

(To my brother [Paolo] he was physical and verbal. He corrected me verbally. I don’t know. Maybe because I am a woman, he spared me. My younger brother [Sebastian] I don’t remember if he was ever lectured.)

“Pero kung generous naman siya, mabait siya, sobrang generous siya." [But when he is generous, he is very generous.]

Sara has no regrets about her father’s time spent away from family during her youth because she saw the improvements in Davao. She said that when she was young, policemen wouldn’t even go out of the police station “because the [NPA] sparrow units would kill them.”

“Now, they can walk in broad daylight. So, no regrets,” she said.

So, is there nothing about her father that she wants to change?

She doesn’t speak for a while. And then, she said in halting Filipino: “Siguro, kasi naisip ko kung hindi naman siya ganun, hindi kami matututo. Kasi ganun ang style niya. So nothing. Wala, wala.”

[Maybe, I think if he wasn’t like that, we would not learn. Because that’s his style. So nothing. I wouldn’t change a thing.]


There is one choice that Sara still regrets to this day.

It happened on July 1, 2011, during Sara's term as mayor of Davao City.

A riot broke out in the city after a demolition team started tearing down shanties at a contested property in Agdao district. One policeman was wounded after being hit with an improvised dart by one of the rioters.

Inday Sara was not at the demolition because she had to supervise relief operations for residents of Talomo district who were victims of massive flooding. At least 13 residents were killed in the flood.

After hearing about the riot, she immediately went to the site and castigated the police chief for not heeded her instructions to wait before proceeding with the demolition.

The police officer then pointed to Court Sheriff Abe Andres as the one who ordered the implementation of the demolition.

Video of the incident showed Sara beckoning to the sheriff to come closer. And then she punched him four times in the face.

The response was immediate. The sheriff was brought to the hospital. Later, he would be transferred to Manila.

The Sheriff's Confederation of the Philippines condemned the act as “brazen mockery of court processes” and filed a disbarment case against Inday Sara. Then Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo mounted his own investigation of the incident.

The Ombudsman also ordered a one-month suspension of Sara, which she followed.

The incident made national headlines, with some columnists calling it a "symptom of warlordism."

It was Sara’s father, who was then the Vice-Mayor Duterte, who would come to her daughter’s rescue. In one press conference, he cursed "bleeding heart columnists" who criticized Sara, flashed the dirty finger at them and said he would have done more than just slap the sheriff.

"Ako, hindi lang sampal ang inabot nun...There is no such thing as implementation of the writ of eviction at all cost even if people will have to die. There is no such thing here in the Philippines," he said.

In an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel after the incident, Sara said she was angered by the sheriff’s insistence to push through with the demolition when she had already asked for a two-hour reprieve so that the demolition would go smoothly.

“It was I who sent him to the hospital after the confrontation. I think that is sorry enough,” she said. Less than a year later, she would send a formal apology to Andres for the incident.

Sara admitted she was short-tempered even before she got to the demolition because she was attending to another emergency in the city. She had also received word that the rioters were throwing bottles at the police.

“Before ako dumating, lumilipad na yung bote. Nagkaroon na ng gulo. Tinawagan ako kasi, yung isang pulis daw tinamaan ng indian pana. Nagdilim na yung paningin ko,” she said.

She also said that she had to learn how to manage her temper after the incident. “Oo, grabe yung anger management ko. Mabilis sobrang bilis. After that, binabaan ko na,” she said.

Sara’s mother also revealed another side to the story: Sara’s daughter, Sharky, was in the hospital the night before the punching incident.

“The nurses were telling us: ‘Mam, have you seen the news?’ Even my friends started texting me. So I turned on the TV and saw what happened. I texted her and said: ‘Sara, it is not appropriate for you to do that. You have to apologize,’” Zimmerman said.

“Sharky was sick in the hospital, there was a flood that killed 13 people and there was a demolition. Sabay-sabay. That is why she was asking for time. They didn’t know about that.”

Sara said she still regrets that people know her more as the mayor who punched a sheriff.

“Regrets? Everyday. Nakakahiya kaya yun…Kung gusto kong ma-national news ako, hindi naman yung ganun (That was embarrassing. If I wanted to be on national news, I don’t want it to be for that).”

She also feels that it is unfair to point to that incident to show that she is very much like her father. “He never lost his cool in public. Ako kasi very public yung nangyari sa akin. Siya naman, he never lost his temper publicly.”

If given a chance to change things, she said she could have switched her schedule that day – going first to the demolition and then the relief operation.

Five years later, Sara has yet to close the book on the punch seen nationwide. She is facing two disbarment cases as a result of the incident, one filed by a private lawyer and another by the sheriffs' confederation.

“Yung kaso umabot na sa [Supreme Court]. The Integrated Bar of the Philippines had recommended censure. Nung umabot na sa board, suspension. Verbal lang ang censure,” she said.

She added: “Siya [my father] never pa na-suspend. Kawawa nga ako e. I was suspended for a month. Wala rin siyang disbarment case.”


A curious thing happened on the way to the May 2016 electoral race: one of the runners passed off the baton to a substitute and the new guy ended up leading the race.

Say what you will about the Rodrigo Duterte candidacy but it's been one hell of a run. Last year, it was political striptease: will he join the race? And when he actually joined, the question was - will he win?

All that will be answered after May 9.

The Duterte story is also Sara’s. After all, it was her decision at first NOT to run for Davao City mayor that could have derailed the Duterte candidacy.

Sara said she was adamant that her father, now 71, not seek the presidency.

“Sinabi ko sa kanya: ‘Wag ka nang tumakbo for president.’ Kasi sinabi niya kung pwede ako tumakbo for mayor dahil tatakbo siya for president. Sabi ko sa kanya: ‘Hindi ako tatakbo. Wag ka nang tumakbo.’ Sabi ko, hindi mo naman kailangan.”

Asked why, the truth comes out – a daughter trying to protect her father from the harsh light of national scrutiny.

“He doesn’t owe anybody anything. I didn’t want – like right now, he is being pilloried for the extrajudicial killings, the womanizing, the cursing, everything. Ayaw ko nang maging national yun. I mean, sa Davao sanay kami e. [I didn’t want it to go national. We are used to it in Davao.] When it goes national, the entire family is affected,” she said.

The Duterte campaign was at an impasse: the would-be presidential candidate unwilling to move forward because no one would take his place in Davao.

He did not want to run if I didn’t run. Hindi daw siya kampante. Kumbaga priority niya talaga ang Davao. Igi-give up niya yung Pilipinas for Davao City, Sara said.

Duterte’s ex-wife, Elizabeth Zimmerman, also said the mayor was courting the idea of running as early as August last year after he started a national tour to promote his idea for federalism.

Duterte broke the news to her in an unconventional way: after she was hospitalized for a lump in her breast, which later turned out to be cancer.

“He was in Manila. Umuwi kaagad siya. The first thing he asked me instead of my health was: ‘Ate, do you want me to run?’ I don’t know why he asked that. Kasi he was already campaigning for federalism.”

“Do you want me to run? Sabi ko: ‘Kaya mo? Matanda ka na.’ I told him. ‘Go for it. May request lang ako.’ Ano yun? ‘Pwede ba yung mga friends ko makapunta ng Malacanang?’ (Laughs) Sabi niya: ‘Sige, sige. Doon na kayo matulog.’ Sabi ko: ‘Ayaw ko matulog doon kasi maraming multo.’”

Zimmerman said she also had to convince Sara to take her father’s place in Davao so that he could run.

“[Sara] did not want to run for mayor. I told her: Let your father run. That is why we had that – dual purpose na - nagpashave na siya ng hair,” she said.

On October 13, 2015, Inday Sara posted the following photo on her Instagram page, with the caption, "Nagpa upaw nalang ko samtang naghulat #Duterte2016 #kalboparasapagbabago #NohairWecare bisan walay kwarta, bisan way makinarya, bisan mapildi #justDUit"

The post translates to, "While waiting, I decided to shave my head. #Duterte2016 #kalboparasapagbabago #NohairWecare. Even without money, even without machinery, despite the risk of losing #justDUit"

The post was done about three days before the deadline of filing of certificates of candidacy (COCs) for the national and local elections.

Sara said the purpose of her shaving her head was two-fold: to show support for her father’s candidacy and her own mother’s struggle with breast cancer because the latter would lose her hair while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

After she posted the photo, she told Duterte's assistant Bong Go that she was now allowing her father to run and that she would run for mayor.

“Sinabihan ko si Bong Go, kasi hindi kami nag-uusap. Sabi ko: ‘Alam mo, suporta naman ako sa kanya. Sige, gawin niya lang kung ano ang gusto,’” she recalled.

That message, however, got mixed up in the excitement.

Sara said she called up Bong Go the night before the deadline of filing, only to be told that her father wasn’t running after all.

“Sabi niya: ‘Hindi na daw talaga. Ang sabi niya, sabi ko, ayaw mo daw kasi.' E di ba sabi ko suporta ako sa kanya? Ako na pinakamalaking contribution dito kasi ako ang tatakbo na mayor,” she recalled telling Go.

Go then replied: “Sabi niya: ‘E hindi namin naintindihan kung ano yung suporta e.”

“E hindi ko naman pwede bigyan kayo ng millions diyan. Ito na yung pinakamalaking contribution at support na makukuha niyo sa akin, na sa-substitute ako sa kanya,” Sara said.

Duterte filed his certificate of candidacy for president on November 27, 2015, replacing Martin Dino as the PDP-Laban standard-bearer in the May 2016 presidential race.

A Pulse Asia survey conducted last December 4-11, 2015 showed Duterte statistically tied with Sen. Grace Poe for second place.

The latest Pulse Asia survey conducted last April 26-29, 2016 showed Duterte leading the race with 33 percent voter preference, 10 to 11 percentage points higher than joint second-placers Mar Roxas (22%) and Grace Poe (21%).

READ: Duterte keeps lead in ABS-CBN survey

Duterte earlier said that if he wins the presidency, he would want Sara to be First Lady. The presidential bet's current common-law wife is Honeylet Avencena.

Inday Sara, however, doesn’t want the job of First Lady.

“Wala akong plano na maging First Lady. Siyempre, pag nagsabi sila na tutulong, tutulong ako. Kung magiging mayor ako ng Davao sa 2016, gusto ko nakatutok ako sa trabaho. Mahihirapan ako gumalaw,” she said.

She also has this message for those who are undecided about her father.

“He is promoting to do something, it’s not just programs. He is the only candidate who is saying gagawin ang dapat gawin from Day 1 para umayos ang bansa natin. Lahat nang dumaan na politicians puro lang plataporma, puro lang programa, promises. Why not try this one?” she said.

“People are surprised why the people of Davao are so passionate about him. It's because we've seen what he can do. Yung iba taga-Davao, dala nila yung kwento nung Davao. Subukan natin siya for six years. After, kung hindi maka-deliver, pwede natin siya pagalitan. Pwedeng hindi mahalin."