A deafening silence broken by muffled sobs became the anti-climactic ending to what many believed was Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte much-awaited announcement that he is gunning for the presidency.
Duterte, the tough-talking mayor of the country’s largest city, on Monday faced reporters at the Grand Men Seng Hotel where he called a news conference to make a big announcement.
The 70-year-old, who in the past year had gone on a speaking tour to rally support for a shift in the form of government to federalism, was rumored to be eyeing the highest post in the land in next year’s elections.
Monday’s news conference, which many expected was Duterte’s acceptance of a strong clamor for him to lead the charge to Malacañang in 2016, dashed the hopes of his supporters as his critics rejoiced.
“I would like to categorically state now and end the agony of those waiting, of those who believed in me na hindi ako tatakbong Presidente [that I will not run for President]. “Wala akong ambisyon maging Presidente in 2016, may usapan na kami ni Inday Sara [I have no ambition to be President in 2016, my Little Girl Sara and I already talked about it]… I asked her to run for mayor. In 2016, I will retire from public life for good. Yun ang usapan namin sa pamilya [That is the agreement in the family],” he said.
Inday Sara refers to his daughter who had served as Davao City mayor.
Duterte said his campaign for a shift to a federal form of government will continue and that he would campaign for candidates from Mindanao who would support his advocacy.
He apologized to the Muslims, who were pushing him to run for the presidency, and told them to stay with him in his campaign for federalism.
“And to the Moro people… mga kapatid kong Moro people, patawarin na niyo ako, but kung sino man yun kandidato na susuporta ng federalism, sundan lang ninyo ako tutal ito eh para rin naman sa inyo [my friends, the Moro people, forgive me, but whoever will support federalism, just follow me because it is for you]. Mamili tayo ng mga kandidato, mangagaling sa inyo ang choice na susuportahan nila ang federalism [Let us choose candidates, who will come from your ranks and who will support federalism] and I will play an active role, but not as a politician,” Duterte said.
“Maghahanap tayo ng kandidato na gustong tumulong sa Moro people at maibigay ano lang ang sa kanila. Isauli kung ano ang sa kanila at bigyan sila ng hustisya… but I am warning everybody, pag hindi lumusot yan BBL [We will look for candidates who would want to help the Moro people and who would give them what they deserve]. [Return what is theirs and give them justice]… but I am warning everybody if the Bangsamoro Basic Law is not passed], nothing short of federalism will appease the Muslim community. Tandaan ninyo yan [Remember], nothing short of federalism can make Mindanao peaceful,” he added.
“[Whether the BBL is passed, we have to confer with Nur Misuari and everybody else in Mindanao. What is asked for by the people in Mindanao, all of them, if there is no BBL, give them federalism and I say nothing short of federalism will make this place Mindanao peaceful. I am giving them this warning, either act on the BBL and take care of Misuari and everybody else… especially if the BBL is not acceptable to the Moro people, the amended version ng BBL. I hope that version will satisfy the Moro people because if it does not, then you have to go to federalism,” Duterte said.
Misuari is the founding chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the first Filipino Muslim organization that initiated an armed rebellion to establish an Islamic homeland in southern Mindanao.
At present, the MNLF is insisting that Manila fully honor a peace agreement that was signed between it and the government a few years ago.
Lawyer Alexis Lumbatan, who was among Duterte’s supporters in attendance, said, “There goes our dream for a better Philippines.”
Duterte’s announcement was consistent with his previous public statements that he is not interested in the presidency.
He repeatedly cited a flawed government system, opposition from his family and lack of funds, among others as reasons why he should be counted out of the 2016 race.
“I’m not running for President and I never wanted to be one…. Ayaw ko talaga. Ayaw ng pamilya ko, pati iyong anak ko na [I don’t really like the idea. My family also does not like it, including one of my children who was a] mayor and she’s vocal about it,” Duterte told the Asia CEO Forum in Makati City last June.
Anticipating a declaration for 2016, Malacañang earlier in the day, issued a statement saying they see no problem if Duterte decides to join the presidential race.
“[The decision is his to make],” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a news briefing.
“Basta naman po kuwalipikado o gustong maglingkod sa bayan ay dapat nating bigyan ng pagkakataon at magalang na pagdinig ang kanilang mga pahayag [If one is qualified or wants to serve the public, he should be given the chance to run],” he added.
In the latest Social Weather Stations survey in June, Duterte ranked fourth, just one percentage point behind Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas 2nd, who got 21 percent.
Sen. Grace Poe topped the survey with 42 percent, followed by Vice President Jejomar Binay with 34 percent.
With JEFRY TUPAS