Duterte: Becoming a dictator would dishonor my mother

QUEZON, Philippines – Rodrigo Duterte, a dictator? His mother would roll in her grave. 

This was the response of the Mindanaoan presidential bet to pronouncements by President Benigno Aquino III that his campaign promises bring him just one step away from being a dictator.

Si Presidente, nakalimutan niya na ang nanay ko was one of the 3 or 4 or 5 marching down the streets of Davao during martial law. In the dark days of martial law, ang nanay ko led the Yellow Friday sa babae sa Davao,” said Duterte on Wednesday, March 30, during a sortie in Catanauan, Quezon. 

(The President forgot that my mother was one of the 3 or 4 or 5 marching down the streets of Davao during martial law. In the dark days of martial law, my mother led the Yellow Friday Movement among women in Davao.) 

Duterte was speaking of his mother, Soledad Roa Duterte, who was a leading figure in the Yellow Friday Movement in Davao, a movement that supported Corazon Aquino during the final days of the Marcos dictatorship. She went on to become president after the ouster of Marcos.

“So I will dishonor the memory of my mother by following the person she helped put down? Masyado naman si Presidente (The president is exaggerating),” continued Duterte.

Soledad Duterte’s name was so associated with Aquino supporters that when it was time to appoint an officer-in-charge for the position of Davao City vice mayor after Marcos’ fall, her son’s name was floated, thus beginning the political career of Digong Duterte.

The presidential bet had previously said he would not be a dictator, just a hardliner against crime and corruption. Part of his iron-fisted approach will be a crackdown on drug syndicates, increasing the salaries of the military and police. and bringing back the death penalty for heinous crimes – all with the goal of suppressing crime, drugs, and corruption within 3 to 6 months.

But Duterte has admitted that his governance style will be “like” a dictator’s in the sense that he hopes to bring back discipline in a society where, he claims, “obedience to the law is optional.” 

This strictness, he said, is why Davao City has become one of the safest hubs in the country and why Davao City police are considered among the country’s best.

He also points to Davao City as a place where citizens still enjoy their democratic freedom despite his strictness.

Loyalist father

But if he is proud to say his mother fought the dictatorship, he has also promoted the fact that his father was a Marcos loyalist “until the end.”

In Ilocos Norte, bailiwick of the Marcoses, he told an audience that his father, Vicente Duterte, a former governor of the undivided Davao, stuck with Marcos despite shifting political alliances. 

Duterte has also said that former president Marcos, if not for the abuses of his dictatorship, was the country’s best president.

If elected into the presidency, Duterte would allow the dictator's burial in the Heroes' Cemetery (Libingan ng mga Bayani), saying that doing so would pave the way for "the nation's healing." – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.