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From Cory to Duterte: A look into how long Philippine presidents work in a day

By Saab Lariosa and Ayie Licsi Published Jan 28, 2022 2:08 pm Updated Jan 28, 2022 3:20 pm

How could someone work eighteen hours a day? Or is this actually the norm for public servants?

This was the question that occupied many on social media after Vice President Leni Robredo's statement during GMA Network's "The Jessica Soho Presidential Interviews," where she was asked how many hours does she work in a day.

“On the average, mga 18 hours a day kasi on the average mga anim na oras 'yung tulog ko,” Robredo shared. 

As a 9-5 employee may find such a demanding schedule surprising, it may be imperative to ask:

Is it normal for a high-ranking politician to work 18 hours a day?

To start with, one key issue in this case is actually determining where to demarcate where work even begins and ends for a certain day. Unlike an employee that punches in and out the work hours rendered in a day, the workload for some politicians may bleed through even within the confines of one's home.

For presidents most especially, public service can be a demanding mistress that may take the entirety of every waking hour.

"Ang nakikita lang [ng mga tao] na work ng president is what they see on TV. Visiting places, giving speeches, talking to people. But there are a lot of things happening behind the scenes," said former reporter Richelle Sy-Kho, who has covered Malacañang before for GMA.

"It’s the planning, it’s the thinking that takes a lot of hard work. Kasi ang nakikita lang nila yung tangibles eh,” Sy-Kho said.

Pulitzer prize-winning veteran journalist Manny Mogato likewise said that presidents are executives with numerous decisions to deal with, thus the long time spent on the desk and away from the public eye. 

If you want to count the number of a president's working hours, you can only cover public events but that won't give you the entire picture.

The Philippine STAR Malacañang reporter Alexis Romero likewise said that just because we don’t see the president, it doesn’t mean they aren’t doing their job: "If you want to count the number of a president's working hours, you can only cover public events but that won't give you the entire picture."

We spoke with some journalists of the Malacañang Press Corps (MCP) from 1986 to 2022 to get a glimpse of the changing schedules through the years of the country's chief executives.

Cory Aquino
“8-5 schedule”

The late President Cory Aquino followed a “business life” schedule, working from 8 AM to 5 PM. Mogato said time after those hours were spent privately, “‘Di mo na siya pwedeng istorbohin,” except when there’s a crisis or coup-de-etat.

“She relied on her cabinet and executive officials to do much of the paperworks. So, decision-making lang siya,” he shared.

Having no background as a public official before being elected president, Mogato said Aquino's consultations with her cabinet were a key facet of her governance. 

Fidel V. Ramos
A systemic worker

Mogato described former President Fidel V. Ramos’ schedule as particularly demanding as he worked for 20 to 22 hours a day. He recalled that the retired general woke up as early as 4 AM.

"Alas-kwatro, dapat sa mesa niyan andun na yung clippings ng paper," Mogato shared. “Ang ginagawa ng staff niya sinasummarize na per issue para alam na niya ang nangyayari. Tapos sa clippings [ng dyaryo] na ‘yan, meron siyang red-inked na ballpen—nagsusulat siya doon ng instructions."

Mogato said Ramos was also a multi-tasker who could read, listen to briefings, and make annotations all at the same time. Mogato said that Ramos brought the rigors of his military training to the president's office, instituting a barcode system to keep track of documents, and having his staff and officials regularly report to him like a field commander.

Joseph Ejercito "Erap" Estrada
The"midnight cabinet"

Sy-Kho and Mogato recalled that former President Joseph Ejercito “Erap” Estrada’s day typically started later than those who previously held the top post. The 13th president would begin official engagements after lunch and end late in the night, thus the emergence of the so-called and infamous "midnight cabinet."

The unofficial cabinet would be up past midnight. “Minsan may kasama pang mahjong o card game o inuman,” Mogato shared.

Estrada was also particularly sensitive about the implications of the phrase “midnight cabinet” in the early days of his presidency. In March 2000, he fired his then chief of staff Aprodicio Laquian for joking that he was the only sober person at 4 am to decide on policy matters. Afterwards, Estrada then stated that the so-called “midnight cabinet’ will be disbanded.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
A “rigid” work ethic

Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo started her day early at around 7AM or 8AM and would end it well within the night. Mogato said Arroyo's work schedule usually reached 16 to 20 hours.

“Ang work ethic niyan ay napaka-rigid,” he said.

Sy-Kho shared that during Arroyo’s administration, GMA Network had to field two reporters to cover her engagements. “Sobra siya magtrabaho, so much so that she had so many engagements in one day. Sobrang siyang sipag, kami yung napagod,” she said. “She was very industrious and she knew a lot but of course she had a temper. ‘Pag ‘di niya type yung tanong mo, she will say it.”

The reporter also shared how while Arroyo was campaigning for Vice President during the 1998 elections, she would have her makeup put on while she was sleeping.

“She would finish campaigning and going to different places at around 12 or 1 in the morning. Then mga 4AM or 5AM gising na, kakampanya na ulit... Tapos habang natutulog siya, me-makeup-an na, para pag-gising, ready to go. Talagang ganun siya ka-workaholic. That was how she was,” Sy-Kho said.

Romero also said that out of all the former presidents he had covered, Arroyo had the most number of daily public engagements and they did not take too long because she preferred to read her prepared speeches.

Noynoy Aquino
"Ayaw magsayang ng pagod"

Aytch Dela Cruz, who has covered Malacañang before for print, recalled that reporters were usually well informed of the schedule of the late President Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III. It was also during the Pnoy administration that Malacañang reporters were given the schedule of the president as part of policy "in the interest of transparency."

Pnoy’s day would normally start at 9 AM and his staff and reporters would be lucky to call it a day by 6 or 7 PM.

"With PNoy, naramdaman ko 'yung ugali na ayaw magsayang ng pagod, pera at oras, kaya sinusulit 'yung mga biyahe sa loob at labas ng bansa. When he visits a particular place, he makes sure all the activities that were planned would be followed,” Dela Cruz said.

She added that the relationship between MPC members and the Palace staff were mostly amicable, with “a very friendly and collaborative work environment” happening between the two parties.

Romero also observed that PNoy usually stayed with the remarks prepared by his staff, though he granted ambush interviews from the media if he had the time.

Rodrigo Duterte
The nocturnal leader

"Things are a lot different under Duterte,” cited Romero, who had also covered Arroyo and Aquino's presidential years. "With his schedule running to the late-night, journalists have no choice but to adjust to his unusual working hours."

Duterte has been known as a nocturnal worker, opting to have meetings and even briefings, at times recorded, well past midnight, and resting during the morning. At times, his briefings and meetings start in the afternoon, some of which will then be recorded and aired at night.

Romero said Duterte's previous late-night address also worked for him “because he prefers to deliver off-the-cuff, freewheeling remarks."

“Duterte wants to portray himself as an ordinary person, hence his preference for long and expletive-laden speeches," said Romero.