Rodrigo Duterte

Mindanao independence: Duterte’s ‘joke’ that just didn’t fly

Ferdinand Zuasola

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Mindanao independence: Duterte’s ‘joke’ that just didn’t fly

Former president Rodrigo Duterte speaks during a press conference at a restaurant in Davao City on February 27, 2024.

Manman Dejeto/Rappler

'It was just a scare tactic, just a bluff,' says ex-president Rodrigo Duterte, 28 days after he called for Mindanao independence

DAVAO ORIENTAL, Philippines – Former president Rodrigo Duterte sang to a different tune nearly a month after he called for Mindanao secession, saying that it was merely a bluff and he was joking about it to get the attention of “Manila.”

“Pang hadlok ra man na, pang atik lang yun kasi kung hindi mo ganunin ang mga taga-Maynila, parang sipain mo yung paa at sabihang, ‘Putang ina mo, hindi lang ikaw ang Pilipino! Hindi lang kayo ang Pilipino!’” Duterte told a news conference in Davao City on Tuesday night, February 27.

(It was just a scare tactic, just a bluff because if you don’t treat the people of Manila the same way, it’s like kicking them in the leg and saying, “Son of a whore, you’re not the only Filipino! You’re not the only Filipino!”)

It took Duterte 28 days to take back what he said during a similar news conference in Davao on January 30, when he announced that he had asked former House Speaker and Davao del Norte Representative Pantaleon Alvarez to lead the movement because he was among the first to circulate papers “about the desirability of Mindanao seceding from the Republic of the Philippines.”

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He was serious then, angry at the Marcos Jr. administration, and even answered reporters’ questions about his call for Mindanao independence.

Earlier that same day, Alvarez advocated for Mindanao’s independence during an interview with Cagayan de Oro-based broadcaster Magnum Radio, where he said that he drew inspiration from the late public intellectual Reuben Canoy.

Canoy, a former Cagayan de Oro mayor and assemblyman during the first Marcos administration, was a well-known advocate of Mindanao independence and even authored a book about it.

Duterte’s call for Mindanao’s independence in January fell flat. Many Mindanao leaders, including Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim, rejected the idea, doubting Duterte’s motivation.

The Marcos Jr. administration, including the Philippine National Police (PNP), rejected the call, and some members of the House of Representatives sought an investigation into the matter.

About a month ago, a furious Duterte called for Mindanao independence just two nights after an anti-charter change rally in Davao where the former president spoke ill of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., referring to him as a drug addict.

He has also accused the Marcos Jr. administration, including First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos and Speaker Martin Romualdez, of being behind the so-called people’s initiative to amend the 1987 Constitution, supposedly, to perpetuate themselves in power.

Hours before the Davao rally, the Dutertes vented about the Marcos Jr. administration supposedly allowing investigators from the International Criminal Court (ICC) to come into the country to investigate the previous administration’s bloody war on drugs.

The combative Duterte, however, mellowed down his tone during a similar, but smaller anti-Cha-cha rally in Cebu on Sunday, February 25.

During the Tuesday night news conference, Duterte advised people not to take his January 30 pronouncement about the prospect of an independent state of Mindanao seriously.

But he said it was “a legitimate dream of the people of Mindanao to have an independent, separate state of Mindanao because of the historic maltreatment of the people of Mindanao.” 

He added, “We have always been an economic laggard. But I don’t want my country dismembered. I don’t want any parts of the country to be taken away. I don’t want my country to be disturbed physically. Just give us a better deal for Mindanao.”

Duterte said Mindanao was only able to catch up with the rest of the regions in the country during his presidency, claiming that he made sure the national wealth would be distributed equally.

“Tayo ang pinaka late nag-bloom. Ngayon lang tayo nakabawi noong naging presidente ako. Di ko naman sinabi na bigyan ng lamang ang Mindanao. Patas lang in the distribution of the government budget,” Duterte said.

(We were the ones who bloomed late. We only caught up recently when I became president. I didn’t say to give Mindanao an advantage – just fairness in the distribution of the government budget.)

Earlier, Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez told Rappler that Mindanao did not receive a larger portion of the national budget throughout the six-year Duterte administration.

Rodriguez said, “Not so much also during President Digong’s (Duterte’s) time.” – with reports from Herbie Gomez/

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