Duterte, Cayetano to launch campaign in Tondo on Feb 9

Pia Ranada

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Duterte, Cayetano to launch campaign in Tondo on Feb 9

Alecs Ongcal

What message are they sending by kick-starting their campaign in Tondo, a symbol of urban squalor and launchpad of populist figures like Joseph Estrada and Fernando Poe Jr?

MANILA, Philippines – Rodrigo Duterte and Alan Peter Cayetano are set to launch their 2016 campaign in Tondo, Manila on February 9, Duterte’s campaign manager Leoncio Evasco Jr told Rappler.

The main event will take place at the corner of Morga and Zamora Streets, Evasco said.

“This is where we will dramatize the issue of urban poor in Tondo. This is where people, mostly Visayan, are living in Manila. These people come to Manila because of the opportunities denied in their region. The Duterte government will focus on the empowerment of the poor people,” explained Evasco. (PODCAST: Leoncio Evasco Jr on Duterte’s ‘unorthodox’ campaign)

Some 50% to 80% of residents of Tondo are migrants from the Visayas, said Evasco and his assistant Butch Ramirez, citing anecdotal evidence from Tondo local government officials.

Tondo Quick Facts:
  • 2 legislative districts
  • 267 barangays
  • 344,045 registered voters

Since the 1960s, natives of the Visayas have flocked to Manila seeking greener pastures. With Tondo near Manila’s ports, it was inevitable that some would settle in this district.

Tondo remains a symbol of urban squalor in Metro Manila. Though attention from charity organizations, government, and civil society groups has brought some change to the area, it remains one of the most impoverished communities in Manila.

The choice of Tondo for the Duterte-Cayetano campaign kick-off also heralds a political partnership.

“This is where we will officially declare our partnership with the Amado Bagatsing team,” said Evasco.

Manila 5th District Representative Amado Bagatsing, who is running for Manila mayor, will be campaigning for the Duterte-Cayetano tandem in Manila.

His team is helping organize the February 9 event. They finalized the details last Tuesday during a meeting with Duterte and Cayetano campaign staff.

Why Tondo?

Very few districts in Metro Manila evoke such specific feelings and imagery as Tondo.

The grit of its streets, the urban legends lurking around every corner, the rich history of its long-lost kingdom, the heroes and anti-heroes it has birthed, have all made their way into Filipino consciousness. 

Other candidates have organized their own kick-off events on this date. Given how momentous such an occasion is, the choice of venue is itself a campaign message. 

So what kind of message is Duterte sending out by choosing Tondo?

“We look at NCR (National Capital Region) as an important venue for sorties,” Evasco’s assistant Butch Ramirez told Rappler.

AFTER THE FIRE. Rebuilding of new homes begins after a massive fire in Dagupan Extension, Tondo, Manila. Photo by Pat Nabong/Rappler

Ramirez had just come from an ocular inspection of the area near Santo Niño Church where Duterte’s rally will be held.

Tondo is at the heart of NCR’s central node, Manila. For a son of the South like Duterte to declare in the heart of the “imperial” city could be a declaration of his stepping out of the mold.

Many have criticized Duterte for being too parochial, for promising to change the country on the strength of his accomplishments as a local government official alone. By launching his campaign from the country’s capital, it seems he is saying he is ready to take the national stage. 

But that isn’t the number one reason for choosing Tondo.

The migrant’s story

Tondo as a resettlement site for Visayans is the perfect stage from which to sound Duterte’s call for the even distribution of progress and development throughout the country. (READ: Duterte, Cayetano platform focuses on crime, economy)

Metro Manila is flooded with people from less developed parts of the country, hoping to make it big in the capital. Those who don’t succeed eke out a living in the mega-city’s slums. (READ: Duterte-Cayetano: Dispersal is key to decongesting Metro Manila)

Such is the Filipino migrant’s story as immortalized in the cult film Maynila, sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag, part of which was set in Tondo.

It helps that Duterte too is a migrant. His family migrated to Mindanao from Maasin, Leyte when he was just a boy. 

By addressing Tondo’s diverse residents, Duterte will be reaching out to Metro Manila with one hand, while the other is still firmly on his roots: the Visayas, the region of his birth. 

“This community mirrors the poverty of the country. They are the ones most in need of Duterte’s type of leadership: tapang at malasakit (fearlessness and compassion),” said Ramirez, revealing another part of Duterte’s messaging.

ULINGAN. Tondo is home to a charcoal industry fueled by both adults and children. Photo by Kim Pauig

Aside from being poor, Tondo is the most populated district in Manila with an average of 69,297 people living in every square kilometer.

Stretched-to-the-seams housing projects share a skyline with the infamous Smokey Mountain, long a symbol of Manila’s urban decay. 

Thus, Tondo is a strategic launch point for any campaign being the home of the Manila district with the biggest number of registered voters. Tondo is composed of two legislative districts with a total of 344,045 voters.

Whether intended or not, Duterte’s choice of Tondo will inevitably bring to mind an aspect of the place that has been stamped onto Philippine pop culture: its reputation as a haven for criminals.

Most taxi drivers will still hesitate to bring you to this part of town, fearful of carnappings, hold-ups, and thievery. Though residents will protest that not all parts of Tondo are dangerous, deaths from gang wars are still reported there.

In terms of safety and security, Tondo is a long way off from Davao City, where citizens boast of being able to walk without fear even in the dead of night.

Duterte, with his accomplishments in Davao City to show, has promised to quash crime and “give back to the people their right to use the streets.”

As far as declaring a commitment to stare crime in the face, launching a campaign from Tondo sends an interesting message.

Hero of the urban poor? 

Tondo is a breeding ground of populist, strong-man figures – something Duterte projects himself to be.

Tondo was the kingdom of gangster Asiong Salonga, dubbed both “Manila Kingpin” and the “Robin Hood of Tondo.”

Playing Salonga in a 1961 film cemented present Manila mayor and former president Joseph Estrada’s appeal to the masses, especially to the urban poor.

TONDO LORE. Manila Mayor Joseph 'Erap' Estrada's career as an actor skyrocketed after he played Tondo gangster Asiong Salonga. Rappler file photo

Movies about the lore of Tondo have starred other political figures who command the devotion of the poor like Fernando Poe Jr and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. 

Will Duterte take his place among the personalities the urban poor can trust with their future?

Their stories have similarities. He’s earned a reputation as a tough guy, Mindanao’s own “Dirty Harry” with an iron-fisted approach to fighting crime and corruption.

Will Duterte’s message work? Can he beat other candidates to Malacañang? With February 9 being the start of the official campaign season, the race can only heat up. – with reports from Jodesz Gavilan/Rappler.com


Poe, Escudero to launch campaign in Plaza Miranda Feb 9

LP’s 2016 kick-off: Capiz, Iloilo, NCR, Bicol

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.