MANILA, Philippines – It’s a catch-up game for the campaign team of Rodrigo Duterte.
The Davao City mayor firmed up his decision to run for president only in November giving his hastily formed campaign team a short time to prepare. In comparison, the other presidential candidates, particularly Jejomar Binay and Manuel Roxas II, have been boosting their campaign machinery for years.
Duterte’s is a ragtag team of his closest friends, seasoned political strategists, and volunteers who have organized themselves into a panoply of die-hard support groups.
Add political party PDP-Laban and the staff of his running mate Alan Peter Cayetano into the mix and you have an idea of the team behind the Duterte-Cayetano tandem.
Duterte’s campaign is unconventional for many reasons. For one, it’s the only presidential campaign to be run from outside Metro Manila, from Davao City all the way in the south, to be specific.
Secondly, for many core members of the team, this will be their first time running a national campaign. The “neophytes” include Duterte himself who is the only 2016 presidential candidate who has never run for a national position.
The third challenge is their candidate himself who has made unconventional decisions like refusing to show his face in political ads generated by the team (he has acquisced for ads paid for by supporters), and refusing to accept funds from companies with government contracts. This is apart from the profuse cursing and flirting that would usually give image handlers a headache.
Here’s a look at his campaign team based on Rappler’s interviews with its key members:
Leoncio Evasco Jr, campaign manager – This 3-time mayor of Maribojoc, Bohol has been a close friend of Duterte since the 1980s when Duterte was a city prosecutor, and Evasco, a detained NPA rebel. They met while Evasco was in prison in Davao City. Since then, Evasco has served as Duterte’s chief of staff and campaign manager for his mayoral bids. A former priest known for his integrity and organizational skills, Evasco runs Duterte’s presidential campaign from Davao City. He is hardly seen in sorties.
Christopher “Bong” Go, executive assistant – Go is the man with Chinese features always seen at Duterte’s side in any public event. Most people who want to talk to Duterte have to go through Go first. As Duterte’s executive assistant, he plays the role of sortie manager for the campaign. He coordinates with organizers and tries to make sure Duterte sticks to his schedule for the day. Insiders say Go is the son of a family friend of Duterte. Go’s grandfather, in fact, stood as godfather when Duterte married his first wife, Elizabeth Zimmerman. Go has been Duterte’s assistant for 18 years, ever since Duterte’s days as a congressman in 1998. Go has his own assistants.
Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez, finance head – This scion of an influential Davao City clan is Duterte’s childhood friend and former schoolmate. He is in charge of finances and fund-raising. Dominguez owns the Marco Polo Hotel in Davao City and has held leadership roles in many major companies like Philippine Airlines, RCBC, Northern Mindanao Power Corporation, and Shangri-La Plaza Corporation. He’s been environment and agriculture secretary under the Corazon Aquino administration.
Butch Ramirez, advance party head – Ramirez is a former chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission and also served as sports chief of Davao City under Duterte. He’s in charge of coordinating logistics of sorties.
Danilo Dayanghirang, parallel groups coordinator – A Davao City councilor, Dayanghirang is part of the committee that makes sure the many support groups of his candidate are on the same page.
Peter Laviña, media relations head, spokesman – Releases of statements to the press and coordination with media for coverage are spearheaded by Laviña, a former Davao City councilor.
MRRD – Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte group, FORD – Friends of Rody Duterte group
Evasco consults with a small core group some campaign team members refer to as the “Mindanao Group.” They are joined by seasoned political strategists from Metro Manila.
Composed of 5 to 7 members, they meet regularly either in Davao or Manila to assess how the campaign is doing in terms of messaging and policy. To help them do this, they have a social media and monitoring team.
Members of the group include think tanks and seasoned campaign strategists, a campaign team member told Rappler.
Under Evasco, there are some 8 committees: secretariat, finance, communication, advance party, sortie management, legal, media relations, production and logistics.
Evasco described the entire team as “simple, lean, and small, but easy to manage and carry.”
Overall, the team’s organization is more horizontal than vertical. While Evasco, acting only with the approval of Duterte, is at the helm, the numerous support groups often act independently but with coordination from the committees.
Groups like Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte (MRRD), for instance, are financially independent. Allan Garcia, head of MRRD-Pampanga, says they have not asked for a single cent from Evasco’s team. Their new Angeles City headquarters, for example, was a donation from a friend.
Other supporters help out by sponsoring the production of Duterte merchandise like T-shirts, caps, ballers, and even car plates. MRRD has its own national headquarters in San Juan, Metro Manila.
OFW groups from all over the world have only recently begun streamlining their efforts with the main team. But for the most part, they act on their own, even issuing special IDs for OFW Duterte supporters.
Some parallel groups have distinct purposes. PDP-Laban, for instance, is in charge of organizing public rallies. Staff of Alan Peter Cayetano also help organize consultations with various sectors and help in aspects like production and equipment for major events.
The number of volunteer groups that have mushroomed around Duterte pose a challenge in terms of coordination and staying on message, admits a political strategist in the team.
Over the past few months, the campaign team has been fine-tuning its operations.
In terms of developing platform, Duterte and Cayetano sit down with field experts. Recently, the pair has met with economic experts, agricultural experts, even one on culture and the arts.
For fundraising, there was enough collaboration to launch a scratch card donation system before it was put on hold because of Comelec rules.
Volunteer groups and PDP-Laban organize public events in their localities. There is improved media coordination, with news outfits receiving multiple press releases and advisories daily. Now, media are sometimes even provided transportation to cover sorties.
Duterte’s campaign team is in for a rollercoaster ride this campaign season. They may be able to depend on a core group of supporters, but they must also deal with Duterte’s unpredictability, and the slim margins between candidates that mean every detail counts. – Rappler.com
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