By Daniel Llanto

Critics of President Duterte alluded to the age-old story of how Nero fiddled while Rome burned when the chief of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) reported that Duterte went back to his interrupted sleep after a 6.9-magnitude earthquake jolted Davao del Sur, killing at least five persons and leaving so many properties in rubbles.

The death toll from the 6.9-magnitude earthquake in Davao del Sur rose to five as rescue personnel retrieved a third body from the collapsed Southern Trade commercial center in Padada town, the epicenter of the fourth major quake to hit southern Mindanao since October this year.

The quake struck midafternoon of December 15.  The number of people still trapped inside could still not be ascertained but authorities believe there could be more.

PSG Chief Brig. Gen. Jose Niembra said the President’s house did not sustain damage but government personnel would still check its structural integrity.  He said Duterte went back to sleep after the shaking stopped.

“PRRD is okay, lang natulog uliafter the quake,” Niembra said.

But Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo disputed that, claiming that the President was getting a haircut when the earthquake happened.

“When the quake hit Davao, the President was having his hair cut. That’s what the first lady said,” Panelo said, referring to Duterte’s common-law wife Honeylet Avancena.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said the temblor was felt at Intensity 7– classified by Phivolcs as “destructive”– in Matanao and Magsaysay, Davao del Sur.

Duterte and his family felt the quake and were unhurt in Davao City, where his daughter, Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, declared the suspension of classes.

Three of the fatalities died when the three-story Southern Trade shopping center in Padada, Davao del Sur collapsed, the Bureau of Fire Protection told reporters.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) said the Davao International Airport sustained cracks but its runway was not damaged.

“Recent strong aftershock resulted (in) cracks on the ground near Passenger Boarding Bridge  number five and the International Baggage buildup area. Still verifying level of damage,” CAAP’s status report read.

There were reports of an explosion at the Gaisano Mall in Bajada, Davao City.

The quake was felt at Intensity 6 (very strong) in Kidapawan City; General Santos City; Bansalan, Davao del Sur; Alabel and Malapatan, Sarangani; Koronadal City; Intensity 5 (strong) in Tulunan and Matalam, Cotabato; Cotabato City; Davao City; and Glan, Sarangani; Intensity 3 in Kalilangan, Talakag and Dangcagan, Bukidnon; Intensity 2 in Impasugong, Bukidnon; Cagayan de Oro City; Dipolog City; and Intensity 1 Zamboanga del Sur.

The series of tremors last October left over 20 people dead and displacing 100,000 others. The quakes have destroyed close to 39,000 houses and have triggered over 2,000 aftershocks for several weeks, most of which were unfelt.

Panelo said Duterte and his daughter Kitty were in their house while the President’s partner Honeylet was on her way home when the quake struck. “He is OK,” Panelo told reporters. .

Panelo said Honeylet’s car was swaying when the ground trembled but she was unhurt.

Sen. Bong Go, the President’s long-time aide and de facto spokesperson, also said Duterte remained in his room with his nurse during the incident.

From Manila, Go said he immediately called Duterte’s nurse after the quake but the President refused to get out of his room.

This is not the first time that those close to Duterte have had different accounts of Duterte in situations.

During a recent motorcycle accident, Panelo said the President had an accident (“sumemplang”) while Niembra said “one of the tires hit an obstruction while leaving the garage.