Digong Duterte in our minds

Patricio N. Abinales

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Digong Duterte in our minds
His political persona is intractable, exhibiting a lissome that is the envy of an embattled Jejomar Binay or a perennially mistrusted Mar Roxas

First of two parts

Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte has been occupying more prime-time space in media and the Internet of late. The upwelling of his popularity comes from a growing disenchantment with a good number of politicos ambitioning for Benigno Aquino III’s successor.

Among the unhappy ones is a group pushing for “Digong” to consider adding his name to the derby. They have declared that he is the only person who can clean up the country of its number 1 problem: corruption and criminality. Just look at what he did to his beloved city!

And it appears the mayor is warming up to the idea, “agreeing” to a political advertisement that makes him look “presidentiable,” and going around the provinces to stump for his favorite theme: peace and order.

Human rights advocates in and outside government, liberal pundits and academics have sounded the alarm. They are matching the boosterism of the pro-Duterte forces, vowing to oppose someone who values coercion as the only way to enforce order. We have seen this before, they warn, in the 15-year regime of Ferdinand E. Marcos, and look what happened to us under him?

Digong’s candor has helped his followers and admirers tremendously. Yes, he would not hesitate to eliminate anyone running illegal drug trades, smugglers of rice and other commodities, thieves harassing taxi drivers and ordinary citizens, or – in the past – cops mulcting drivers. He’d openly state that these evil people had willfully violated the law and thus deserved punishment meted on them. And this is popular, not only in Davao, but increasingly beyond it.

Hence just when human rights advocates had thought they have Digong in a corner for being complicit in these brutal misconducts, he bounces back. His political persona is intractable, exhibiting a lissome that is the envy of an embattled Jejomar Binay or a perennially mistrusted Mar Roxas.

DOING A MAKATI. In his new political advertisement, rumored presidential aspirant Rodrigo Duterte makes a promise that what Davao City achieved in his watch can be replicated across the country. File photo by Karlos Manlupig/Rappler

What inspires this kind of awe? The most cited is his Clint Eastwood-style approach to governance that has made Davao the ninth safest place in the world. This peace and order in turn has allowed for the city to maintain a consistently robust economic performance (6.8% in 2014!) and make it a big draw of people, Filipinos and foreigners alike, seeking a calmer place to enjoy the last years of their lives.

Then there is Digong’s approach to local politics. Those in the know about how political rivals relate to each other in Davao proudly point out to the curious the absence of the fiery polemics coming out of these forces’ respective os. In Manila they hurl invectives and ad hominems against each other; in Davao there is hardly a whimper of this zealotry.

The local lore is that the governing arrangement in Davao is something that groups from Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance to the CPP’s National Democratic Front would die for simply because it works. Theirs often do not last. Ex-activists admit that Digong may know about the current killings, but they are also quick to tell that the political killings that tore the city apart in the 1980s are now a thing of the past.

Left-wingers and nationalists are delighted when Digong lashes at American interference in our national affairs, and his occasional defiance of the wishes of the national government. Peace advocates loved what he did in 2008 when he banned the entry of long firearms of politicians and rebel groups in the city, and hope this will become a permanent policy.

It is therefore uncommon to get a strained response from a local civil society, NGO or political activist when you ask about Digong and his alleged felonious acts. “Yes, there may be some basis to that accusation…but then look at the other side of the picture,” is the kind of answer you get over bottles of beer in a local carenderia.

Traditional Davao and Mindanao political families who are in Digong’s good graces are happy with that he often leaves them (the Ampatuans have a big mansion in the city; now a tourist attraction). Rivals however are unceasingly pummeled for their patronage politics and purported corruption: the Nograles family has never recovered from the political standing they built in the 1980s and even 1990s.

And finally, Dabaweños warm up to their mayor because of what my friends would call his chico de calle no-nonsense demeanor. He talks their language, down even to the very accent they are familiar with. Plus their curses, of course.

If one wants to hear these first hand, all one needs to do when in Davao is to watch Duterte’s TV program Mula sa Masa, Tungo sa Masa (note the homage to Mao Tse Tung). The frankness is there, so is the biting and in-your-face criticism which makes the program sound more like a Bombo Radyo than the humdrum of a Rico Puno talk show. Vintage Duterte, classic Sugbuanon. – Rappler.com

To be continued: How then to classify Digong?

Patricio N. Abinales is an OFW.

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