Along with the other stars of the current election circus, I tried to discount Rodrigo Duterte as a viable candidate. I couldn't believe that a person so abrasive could ever get close to leadership on the national level. For a moment I forgot that this is the Philippines we are talking about, where ridiculousness in politics has become the norm.
I wouldn't vote for Duterte nor recommend that others do so, for the simple reason that there is no place in public office for an admitted and unrepentant murderer who vows to kill more people to establish his goals. He even joked about killing the next president so his running mate could take over. The kill jokes are funny, yes, until it's you or your relative who is killed without due process.
He is a sleazy womanizer who proudly leads with an iron first, famously making a tourist eat his cigarette after being caught smoking in a public space. He heads the Davao Death Squad that "cleans" the streets of "criminals," making Davao City the envy of other cities when it comes to peace and order, never mind the resulting death toll of 1,700 to achieve it.
What's even more surprising are the growing number of vocal supporters Duterte has among the youth and the educated population. In my social circles alone, intelligent friends are standing up to support this unlikely candidate. The sole member of a political counterculture, Duterte's defiance and indifference to popular opinion are being considered a breath of fresh air.
This development prompted me to finally ask around why Rodrigo Duterte is so appealing.
Duterte doesn't give a crap what you think
Sometimes I get the draw. Duterte stands for women's rights and reproductive health, recognizing the necessity of population control by giving free contraceptives and cash incentives to those who avail of Davao's free ligation and vasectomy services. He is the only candidate who openly speaks against the discrimination of the LGBT community and supports same-sex marriage. He promises to “stop corruption, stop criminality, and fix government” no matter what it takes.
He doesn't dodge these pressing issues, woo the church to gain its approval, or attempt to please the political establishment. To Duterte's supporters, he oozes fearlessness and appears brave enough to stand up for what he believes is right, regardless of the consequences.
Mina Roces, an entrepreneur from Quezon City, supports Duterte because of the order and discipline she saw when she visited Davao City. About her chosen candidate, Mina says, "Ang laki ng pagkakaiba niya sa usual politiko na sobrang people-pleaser, takot maka-offend, pa-diplomatic kuno, masyadong pa-neutral. Eh siya tipong, 'Kung ayaw mo huwag mo!'" ("He is so different from the usual politician who are people-pleasers, afraid to offend and pretend to be diplomatic and neutral. He is more like, 'If you don't like me, I don't care'").
She believes that Duterte is honest in his presentation and there is no need to reveal "the real Duterte" because whatever he is, he puts out there without regard for anyone’s feelings. "He is able to discuss any topic directly and will not make promises he cannot keep. I believe he is the change we need," she says.
Travel writer TVL* recently expressed her support for Rodrigo Duterte after talking to cab drivers, cafeteria ladies, service crews, and enlightened friends in places she ate and stayed at during a visit to Davao City. She found that Davaoeños seem to respect and trust their mayor, having known him longer and seen him in action.
"I like the zero-BS act. It's refreshing," says TVL, adding that she enjoys Duterte's swiftness in the way he responds to issues such as laglag-bala (bullet-planting scheme) and Haiyan. TVL likes that Davao City implements anti-LGBT discrimination regulations.
"The possibility of hindering the impunity of the country's uniformed and civilian power mongers and criminals is also very appealing," TVL says, but adds that "All this comes with the trust that the local politicos and activists will always be on alert and ready to criticize and take to the streets, just in case."
Lawyer Anna Iglesias from Tarlac believes that Daang Matuwid (The Straight Path) led to the situation that the Philippines is currently in and created the need for a Rodrigo Duterte the presidential candidate.
"Thanks to an inept government that created a huge abysmal mess in its wake, Duterte is the President that we need. Unlike 99% of politicos who brazenly emblazon their names and faces on their projects, Duterte does not put his name or his face on anything. I honestly think that he has a broad support base and he has the gumption to get the job done," she says.
Anna says she did her research on Duterte, read his interviews, and was pretty surprised to learn that Duterte was no buffoon despite his Dirty Harry persona. She found that he is progressive in his views and articulate about a variety of issues – on Mindanao and the economy, among others.
Zamboanga native Liz Nanquil, a Senior Production Coordinator for an Australian manufacturing company, has placed Duterte among her Top 3 presidential contenders. She believes that he represents change and discipline - something Pinoys badly need.
Once again, a visit to Davao showed her how disciplined its citizens are, how rules are enforced properly, how the citizenry follow the rules without fear and even uphold and require visitors to follow them. She adds that Davao is not a perfect city but it is leaving the rest behind because of Digong's leadership.
While she disagrees with his womanizing and believes he's crude, rude, sexist and chauvinistic, Liz recognizes Duterte's good programs and services for women and children. She likes the fact that he's pro reproductive health, pro same-sex marriage, pro federalism, pro environment, and understands that the country needs to take care of the agriculture sector and prioritize education.
"I know other candidates say the same thing but I don't think they can walk their talk like Digong," adds Liz. "Definitely not Mar especially after his management fiasco of the Zamboanga siege."
While Liz is disturbed by the summary executions of killers, rapists and murderers in Davao, she wonders who among the candidates are not guilty of being part of another person's death.
'If I have to kill you, I'll kill you'
"When I said I’ll stop criminality, I’ll stop criminality. If I have to kill you, I’ll kill you. Personally." said Rodrigo Duterte during a recent interview that highlighted his presidential platform. Is this a promise or a threat to the 101 million Filipinos who are desperate for change that they are considering any means to achieve it?
While Duterte has yet to mention going after the big-time criminals, thieves in the administration, and warlord murderers who have more power than your typical street thug, Digong's "honesty" is enticing. His fearless recklessness in speech is refreshing. To his followers, he's the only one with a backbone, the only who will stand up for his principles and what he wants for the nation regardless of who he angers and disappoints. Or kills.
Duterte might never win. Despite appreciating his appeal, I personally hope he doesn't, but as always we only get the leaders we deserve. If there are better candidates out there whose worth are not evident to the majority who now favor Duterte, these contenders have a thing or two to learn from a man who will stand up for women, gays, reproductive health, population control, and his image of clean and orderly communities with no criminality, without being met with an eye roll by a frustrated citizenry that has definitely heard it all.
In a country where a politician's life cycle includes getting arrested for corruption, feigning illness, and resuming public office over and over, palakasan (influence-peddling) is the game and oligarchy is its name. Pleasing the powers that be and silencing detractors are part and parcel of Philippine politics, but because Duterte appears to exempt himself from these, he is quickly being considered a messiah by those who are tired of the same song and dance that sadly ends only in choosing between lesser evils.
This electoral circus is a sea of pied pipers, puppets, followers, and spin doctors vying to run a country that is desperate for a leader who will be able lead them upstream.
Will it be Duterte? Or will the other candidates wisen up and set themselves apart from the inferno of usual players whose faces appear one and the same? Until someone else appears different from the rest, it is dear Digong who will, fortunately or unfortunately, be the most convincing force against the strong current leading to the same corrupt and miserable end. – Rappler.com
*Name was changed at the source's request.