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BOHOL, Philippines – Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, presidential candidate, walked into a packed gymnasium in Ubay town in Bohol with his left fist in the air.
“Leftist ko, pero dili ko extreme left. Ari ko sa ilok,” he cracked a joke before a visibly excited crowd on Sunday, April 3. (I’m a leftist, but not on the extreme left. I’m closer to the armpit.)
Bohol, a province of 750,000 registered voters, had been the setting for frequent clashes between the communist New People’s Army (NPA) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Duterte told the crowd that he tells criminals in Davao City, “When I say get out, get out. Or you’ll be killed. Pero wala’y apil ang NPA (NPA members are not included).”
Bohol was one of the strongholds of the NPA in the 1980s.
He said that while he would target criminals, he wouldn’t kill NPA members because they are fighting for “an ideology.” Duterte joked, however, that he would tell communist guerrillas to get out of his city and “go to Cebu and Bohol instead.”
Duterte’s national campaign manager himself was a former NPA guerilla. Leoncio Evasco is also the mayor of Maribojoc town here, one of the areas hardest hit by the powerful 2013 earthquake.
Evasco stood by Duterte’s side as the candidate addressed the packed Tagbilaran City Square.
Duterte told Boholanos of how Evasco, a former priest, turned from a detained NPA rebel into his chief of staff and campaign manager.
Evasco was best known for refusing aid from the Red Cross during the 2013 Bohol earthquake. He was criticized by Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon for not cooperating with the agency; he criticized the organization for not working with the local government units in distributing aid.
According to JP Maslog, a volunteer organizer for Duterte from Tagbilaran, the Davao City mayor came to volunteer and help in Maribojoc right after the earthquake. The local chief executive handed over a check for P1 million from the Davao City government to the municipal government of Maribojoc.
“Whenever candidates and presidents came to here to Tagbilaran, I’ve never seen so many people packed into the City Square,” Maslog told Rappler.
Duterte connected with the crowd through his Bisaya brand of humor.
“Naa ka’y bana, day? (Do you have a husband, miss?)” Duterte asked one woman in the crowd. She nodded.
“Patyon nako? (Should I kill him?)” Duterte jokingly responded.
Julie Nicolo, a hairdresser from Dauis town, said that drug crimes are on the rise in her municipality and in Tagbilaran, where she works.
But could Duterte stop drug crimes in 3 to 6 months, as he has been promising during the campaign? “I don’t know, but let’s give him a chance,” Nicolo said in Visayan.
Nicolo said that, aside from Duterte’s promises of peace and order, what appeals the most to her are his ideas of job creation and countryside development through federalism. (READ: Will federalism address PH woes? Pros and cons of making the shift)
A little more than half of the mayors in Bohol are members of the ruling Liberal Party, which has fielded former Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II for president. In 2013, LP bets won 29 of the 47 mayoral races in Bohol. – Rappler.com