Power of the peo­ple

Ro­drigo ‘Digong’ Duterte’s land­slide win in the Philip­pine pres­i­den­tial elec­tion re­flects a sea change among the elec­torate, in their choice of a city mayor over a na­tional politi­cian and of a tough-talker on crime and cor­rup­tion. James Gabrillo re­ports

The National - News - The Review - - Front Page -

At past three in the morn­ing on May 11, 10 hours af­ter the polls had closed, Ro­drigo Duterte told his aides he wanted to pass by the pub­lic ceme­tery in Davao, the south­ern city of where he has been mayor for more than two decades. He wanted to visit his par­ents’ grave, he said.

As elec­tion re­sults trick­led in from across the coun­try, it be­came clear that Duterte had won the Philip­pine pres­i­den­tial elec­tion by a land­slide, earn­ing al­most twice as many votes re­ceived by se­cond-placer Mar Roxas, the grand­son of for­mer pres­i­dent Manuel Roxas.

As he ap­proached his par­ents’ grave, the tough-talk­ing and crime-crush­ing mayor known as The Pu­n­isher star­tled his aides when he be­gan to break down in tears, as if re­al­is­ing the tremen­dous burden of lead­ing a coun­try.

Clench­ing his fist on top of his mother’s tomb, he sobbed like a child.

“Ma, please help me,” he said in the lo­cal Visayan di­alect. “I can’t be­lieve this. Who am I? I’m just a no­body.”

Duterte, 71, en­acted many head­line-grab­bing mo­ments through­out the elec­tion sea­son: mak­ing fun of his op­po­nents; threat­en­ing to kill crim­i­nals; in­sult­ing the Pope; jok­ing about rape; kiss­ing fe­male sup­port­ers. What he never did was show emo­tion, un­til now.

“I have long wanted to cry aloud like that,” he told one of his aides as they drove out of the ceme­tery.

Af­fec­tion­ately called “Digong” by his sup­port­ers, Ro­drigo Roa Duterte will be sworn in as the 16th pres­i­dent of the Re­pub­lic of the Philip­pines on June 30. He is the son of a pub­lic school­teacher, Soleng, and a for­mer politi­cian, Vi­cente. Duterte worked as a lawyer be­fore be­ing ap­pointed as vice-mayor of Davao by pres­i­dent Co­ra­zon Aquino af­ter the 1986 Peo­ple Power Revo­lu­tion that over­threw the dic­ta­tor­ship of Ferdinand Mar­cos.

Duterte went on to serve as Davao’s mayor for seven terms – more than 22 years – and turned the once-mur­der cap­i­tal of the coun­try into what many now con­sider as the most peace­ful city in South East Asia. Along the way, how­ever, he has been ac­cused of or­gan­is­ing vig­i­lante death squads that tar­get crim­i­nals and drug deal­ers.

“A leader must be a ter­ror to the few who are evil,” Duterte once said, “in or­der to pro­tect the lives and well-be­ing of the many who are good.”

His stern stance on law and or­der has res­onated with mil­lions of vot­ers in a coun­try where crime and cor­rup­tion re­main ram­pant. But Duterte’s win em­bod­ies some­thing more sig­nif­i­cant: the elec­torate’s yearn­ing for change.

Duterte is the first of all the 16 Filipino pres­i­dents to have never held a po­si­tion in na­tional gov­ern­ment prior to be­ing elected head of state, not count­ing Aquino, who was cat­a­pulted to power by a cit­i­zen revo­lu­tion af­ter the as­sas­si­na­tion of her hus­band, op­po­si­tion leader Benigno Aquino Jr.

Dur­ing the elec­tion, Duterte’s four op­po­nents were all ma­jor play­ers in the na­tional po­lit­i­cal arena: in­te­rior min­is­ter Mar Roxas, vice pres­i­dent Je­jo­mar Bi­nay and sen­a­tors Grace Poe and Miriam De­fen­sor-San­ti­ago. In vot­ing for Duterte, the peo­ple sent a re­sound­ing mes­sage to the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment: we’re tired of wait­ing for progress – and we’re ready to try some­body new.

While cam­paign­ing for the pres­i­dency, Duterte’s plat­form fo­cused on two mat­ters. First, switch­ing from a uni­tary form of gov­ern­ment to a fed­eral and par­lia­men­tary model, re­sult­ing in a de­volve­ment of power from the cap­i­tal city Manila to thou­sands of ne­glected towns across the coun­try’s 7,107 is­lands. Se­cond, crack­ing down on tax evaders and cor­rupt politi­cians to boost fund­ing for wel­fare and ba­sic ser­vices. “He showed in Davao that he can build a city. Now he has to show us that he can build a coun­try,” said Eve­lyn Ma­ca­pan­tay, a 31-year-old ac­coun­tant in Manila who voted for Duterte. “If all the al­le­ga­tions be­ing thrown against him – about killing crim­i­nals and dis­re­spect­ing women – are true, how come he has a near-per­fect ap­proval rat­ing with Davaoeños? Why do they keep elect­ing him?”

Duterte re­ceived 96.6 per cent of the pres­i­den­tial vote in Davao, proof of the city’s trust in his lead­er­ship. That his prom­ises struck a chord with vot­ers is un­sur­pris­ing. While the Philip­pines en­joyed six years of ro­bust eco­nomic devel­op­ment un­der the lead­er­ship of out­go­ing pres­i­dent Benigno Aquino III, 90 per cent of Filipinos are still clas­si­fied as lower or work­ing class. About half of the pop­u­la­tion live on less than US$2 (Dh7) a day. While the coun­try’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct has im­proved, a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Filipinos re­main job­less. So­cial ser­vices and in­fra­struc­ture are sub­stan­dard.

Many have been forced to seek bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties in dis­tant lands, re­sult­ing in the de­struc­tion of the fab­ric of home in a coun­try where the fam­ily is con­sid­ered the

Mohd Ras­fan / AFP

Jes Az­nar / Getty Im­ages

Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Ro­drigo Duterte (in white, cen­tre), in Manila on his cam­paign trail. Duterte, the toughtalk­ing mayor of Davao City, was the sur­prise pre-elec­tion poll favourite, pulling away from ri­vals de­spite con­tro­ver­sial speeches and min­i­mal...

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