Neal H. Cruz
When Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte first started delivering speeches outside his city in an obvious bid to test the waters for a possible run for the presidency next year, nobody gave him much chance to become a serious contender. But in a recent poll survey, he surprised everybody by placing third among the “presidentiables,” tying former president and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada. Then his commercial showing the various ills hounding the Philippines—graft and corruption, rampant crime, proliferation of illegal drugs, poverty, squatting, etc.—swarming like flies over the country started appearing on television. In it an arm suddenly appears and swats the swarming flies. The arm is labeled “Duterte.”
The arm is obviously a reference to Duterte’s “kamay na bakal,” or iron fist, that has admittedly kept crime down in his native Davao. And it is obviously because Filipinos are fed up with crime and graft and corruption that Duterte’s ranking in the surveys rose. To them, Duterte, judging from how he has disciplined his constituents in Davao, is the last hope to completely stamp out crime and corruption that other presidents have not been able to eradicate.
It cannot be denied that Duterte has been able to make Davao the safest city in the Philippines. But critics say Davao is only 250,000 hectares, only one city in the whole Philippine archipelago. Can Duterte repeat what he has done in Davao in the whole country, they ask.
At the same time, other critics are afraid of what will happen to human rights if Duterte becomes president. Criminals are known to have disappeared in Davao City in Duterte’s campaign against crime. Some suspect that the mayor has a secret “police” force that sends known criminals to eternal peace. That has made Davao a peaceful place, but what will happen to human rights and due process,these critics ask. They voiced fears that another Jovito Palparan may be let loose in our midst.
Never fear, assured former National Food Authority administrator Lito Banayo, Duterte’s major drumbeater whom we interviewed this weekend. Duterte is not like that. Beneath all the tough talk and scowling mien, Duterte has a “heart of gold,” according to Banayo, if you can believe that. Duterte is merciless on drug lords, Banayo said, yet he still gives them three warnings to reform or leave town before the executioners move in.
As to his perceived presidential run, Duterte himself told a radio-television interview that he is not in the race for the presidency. He said it would be unfair to the people for him to be president because at 69 years old, he would be too old to be president. He probably does not know that the leading presidential contender according to the latest survey, Vice President Jejomar Binay, is 72 years old.
Duterte is clearly a reluctant contender, unlike Binay who openly declared his presidential ambition immediately after he was proclaimed vice president in 2010 and spends most of his waking hours campaigning for the top position although the campaign period is still far away.
Banayo confirms that the Davao mayor has yet to decide whether or not to throw his hat into the presidential ring. “Duterte is not driven by ambition,” Banayo said. First, he wants to make sure that he can provide solutions to the myriad problems that the nation faces.
Duterte has been going around the country advocating a shift from the highly centralized unitary system to a federal system similar to those of other highly developed countries like the United States, Germany, Canada and neighboring Malaysia. He offers federalism as an alternative to the highly controversial Bangsamoro Basic Law that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front wants for Muslim Mindanao.
The Duterte camp admits, however, that federalism is a long-term solution that would require a constitutional amendment. It added that Duterte would soon undergo “immersion” programs to crystallize solutions to the festering problems plaguing the country. Why would someone who denies presidential ambitions in favor of remaining in Davao want to learn more about the economy, public finance, national security and other national issues? Action speaks louder than words.
While Duterte is still reluctantly testing the presidential waters, his drumbeater is all optimistic for a presidential run for his client. Duterte’s bailiwick of Mindanao, he said, has 22 to 23 percent of the total voting population. And he would likely get the Visayan vote or, at least, the Cebuano-speaking bloc with vote-rich Cebu, Bohol, Negros Oriental and even half of Leyte.
It has been almost 60 years since Filipinos elected a president from the Visayas in the person of Bohol’s Carlos P. Garcia. This means that unless you are 79 years old and above, you have not cast a vote for a Visayan president, since under the constitution prevailing at the time, the minimum voting age was 21 years, and not the present 18.
Duterte was born in Maasin, Leyte, of Cebuano parents. He just might receive a sentimental favorite-son vote from the Visayas and Mindanao, should he seriously pursue the presidency. That is according to his drumbeater. He can dream, can’t he?
Philippine Daily Inquirer