Unite vs dictator? Mini-dictatorships persist in provinces

Ryan Macasero

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Unite vs dictator? Mini-dictatorships persist in provinces

Alecs Ongcal

The strategy now seems to turn the last two days of the campaign into the classic 'good vs evil' story or voting for democracy over dictatorship

It’s been a long, tough and emotional campaign season for candidates and citizens alike. But only two days before May 9, President Benigno Aquino III himself called on presidential candidates to unite against Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who has been leading by a wide margin up to the final pre-election surveys.

Duterte maintained his lead in the surveys even after a string of controversies that started with a viral video of the mayor joking about the rape of an Australian missionary, to an exposé by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV on the alleged billions in hidden wealth deposited in various bank accounts

Digong now seems unstoppable. 

So the strategy now seems to turn the last two days of the campaign into the classic “good vs evil” story or voting for democracy over dictatorship. Over the past few days,  Aquino repeatedly called Duterte a “dictator in the making.” 

Later on, Roxas publicly urged early poll front-runner Grace Poe, to have unity talks with him, presumably to ask her to withdraw and support his presidential bid.  

Roxas said in a press conference: “Citizens of good will from all walks of life are worried. They are concerned that damage is already being done to the country and our democracy. Uncertainty and the specter of a dictatorship are looming over our country once again.” 

Poe immediately rejected Roxas’ invitation.

Many are afraid, but are coming to terms with the likelihood that the popular candidate from Davao may win on Monday.  Is the fear called for? Of course. 

In one breath, he’ll talk about the need for citizens to respect the rule of law, and in another say that he’ll abolish Congress if they block his plans with cases or impeachment.

‘Pocket dictatorships’

But I could not help but huff at how the 11th-hour campaign is being packaged into a question of good versus evil or democracy vs authoritarianism.

Covering politics in the province, deciphering the good guys from the bad ones isn’t as simple as looking at the name on their ballers or the color of their t-shirts. And it certainly cannot be defined by political parties.

I was assigned to cover the elections in Cebu and Central Visayas, so I couldn’t help but think that while it is quite possible Duterte could make good on his word and really shut down Congress and rule as a dictator, there are pockets of dictatorships that persist across the country. 

The administration does not only tolerate these pocket dictatorships; they even support them.

Take Danao City here in Cebu, for example. The Durano dynasty, established by patriarch the late Ramon Durano Senior more than 50 years ago, remain in power until today. 

The New York Times called the older Durano “the Warlord of Danao” for exercising control over his constituents through political, economic means and had been accused of using violence as a means to suppress political opponents. 

Danao City is now headed by Mayor Ramon “Nito” Durano III, the father of 5th District Representative Joseph “Ace” Durano, with more family members taking up positions down to the barangay level. 

And while there has been less violence reported under the new generation of Duranos, the  family’s control and influence over the district remains.

During the 2007 elections, Nito, who is described by Sun.Star Cebu as the “kingpin” of his district, and armed men, were accused of kidnapping 4 bodyguards of vice mayoral candidate Sonia Pua of Carmen town, who was running against a Durano rival.

Ace, who is also the campaign manager of presidential candidate Grace Poe, was accused of just watching while the alleged assault happened. He was tourism secretary of the Arroyo administration at the time.

The Duranos established the Bakud Party as their local alliance in the 5th District. The party is allied with the ruling Liberal Party.

In Bogo City, Mayor Celestino “Junie” Martinez, an LP member, has been ruling for decades. In 2010, Martinez was accused of stopping incumbent 4th District Representative Benhur Salimbangon of leaving the premises of Polambato Elementary School where he was registered to vote

The Ombudsman charged Martinez and his vice mayor, Santiago Sevilla, with grave coercion over the incident. They were accused of using the City of Bogo Anti-Crime Task Force (CBACTF) as a private army to intimidate political rivals. 

Cebu vigilantes

Here in Cebu City, former mayor and LP member Tomas Osmeña is known for his strong-arm tactics in dealing with political rivals and had also been accused of being behind a series of vigilante killings in Cebu City. 

His name was included in the same 2009 Human Rights Watch report that investigated Duterte’s alleged involvement in the Davao Death Squad. 

According to that report, there were 202 vigilante-style killings that took place in Cebu City between December 2004 and September 2008. 

Osmeña denied any involvement, but said:  “I will say I inspired it. I don’t deny that.” The former mayor was never charged or investigated for the killings. Osmeña is publicly endorsing the bid of Roxas and his running mate, Leni Robredo. 

The tandem appeared with Osmeña at a rally in front of the Cebu Provincial Capital on April 28. He is eyeing a comeback in city hall and running against his former vice mayor Michael Rama of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), who defeated him in the 2013 election. 

Dynasties thrive

According to research by the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), from 2004 to 2013, the average dynasty share grew from 0.30% to 0.44%, representing a 47% increase. (READ: How much of our country will we lose to dynasties in 2016?

It’s in the local elections, when dynasty is pit against another dynasty, where things get bloody. 

No election-related event was more violent than the 2009 Maguindanao massacre.

A convoy of 58 people  were killed on their way to file a certificate of candidacy on behalf of Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, who was running for Maguindanao  against Andal Ampatuan Jr. 

Mangudadatu’s wife and several other relatives were killed, along with 32 journalists. Nine of the Ampatuans were arrested for the massacre, including Andal Jr. The case has been ongoing for nearly 7 years and there has yet to be a conviction. (READ: Justice elusive 6 years after Maguindanao massacre)

According to a report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Sajid Islam Ampatuan (UNA), who is out on bail, is running against 3 other Ampatuans from the LP, Nationalist People’s Coalition and an independepent candidate for the mayor’s race of Shariff Aguak. 

Blurred lines

The framing of the narrative in this last stretch of the election attempts to paint one candidate and one party as the “good, decent and smart choice” and the other as the dangerous candidate. 

But if you look beyond the presidential elections, into some dynasties that continue to rule over their areas like fiefdoms with impunity, the line is not so clear. 

It’s the local dictators or town bosses that the voters in the countryside have to see face to face. In some towns and districts, they control the police and courts. When a journalist is killed in this country, it’s likely because they’ve butted heads with a powerful local official.

And almost all candidates have partymates, allies, or sought alliances with these “mini-dictators” in the provinces. 

So perhaps it’s likely that a vote for Duterte is a vote for dictatorship. But I’m not so convinced that a vote for the other bets is a vote against it. – Rappler.com

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Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers social welfare for Rappler. He started at Rappler as social media producer in 2013, and later took on various roles for the company: editor for the #BalikBayan section, correspondent in Cebu, and general assignments reporter in the Visayas region. He graduated from California State University, East Bay, with a degree in international studies and a minor in political science. Outside of work, Ryan performs spoken word poetry and loves attending local music gigs. Follow him on Twitter @ryanmacasero or drop him leads for stories at ryan.macasero@rappler.com