The greatest upset in Philippine presidential elections this past May 9 has been the phenomenal 90-day campaign by the then little-known mayor of Davao City in Mindanao—Rodrigo Duterte, a one-term congressman but mayor for more than two decades. He rose to national prominence three months ago by being his own true self.
However bombastic, crude and frightening his threats to impose autocratic rule and kill without trial may have been, one thing is sure—it worked and more than 16 million Filipinos approved and voted him in as presumptive President.
However, 26 million-plus Filipinos did not vote for him but one of the other four candidates. Yet his 40-percent support of the voting public across all sectors of society is astounding. It was a rejection of the Aquino administration, which failed to improve the plight of the poor and the middle-class.
Rodrigo Duterte is the head of a local powerful dynasty, his family and friends have controlled Davao city since 1988. He is frank, honest and unrepentant in his oft-repeated admission on television of his human weakness and his crude offensive language and mannerisms. “That’s the way I am, that’s the way I talk,” he explained.
One outrageous statement or vile joke about rape was followed by another yet he was still the darling of the media, as audiences were excited to hear his latest gaffe or dire threat of murder and mayhem that he would unleash on corrupt officials, crime bosses and drug lords. He is known as the “punisher.”
The 40 percent of voters who supported him were likely to be angry—the unemployed, the disgruntled traders and small business people, the victims of corrupt, bribe-taking officials and totally disillusioned with the rich, elite-dominated political establishment run by millionaires. They were the 26 million hungry poor people without hope of a Messiah until Duterte came along.
He, imperfect and flawed, as he humbly confessed in public, was one of them. He talked and cussed like them and threatened the violent retribution that they want to be unleashed on their perceived oppressors and exploiters.
The left of center political class see him reluctantly as the only alternative leader capable of breaking the strangling grip of political dynasties on the economy and the lives of millions of poor Filipinos.
By declaring himself a socialist, he won over the left, center-left and the poor who experienced no relief from hunger and poverty despite a 6 percent growth in the economy.
He was said to have approved the extra-judicial killings of over 1,000 suspects in Davao as mayor and, to the delight of the adoring, cheering crowd, he declared, “The 1,000 will become 100,000. It will be bloody” and there will be “no need for more jails—just funeral parlors.” He promised to “eliminate criminality in the entire country within three to six months.” Of course, it was hyperbole but the voters loved it. Yet he seldom, if ever, talked about bringing justice and defending human rights. Many are hoping his talk of threats was just a campaign tactic and as President he will follow the rule of law and respect human rights and the Constitution.
He is an outsider and announced at one interview that he was a socialist and seemed to have closer ties to the communist armed groups than to any establishment clique. His campaign manager is a former commander of the New People’s Army (NPA). That fact might cause much discomfort and unhappiness to the chiefs of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Who engineered this amazing political victory? One of the leading architects of his victory is a former Catholic priest, Leoncio Evasco, Jr., ordained a priest in 1970. He joined the communist rebels of the NPA during the oppressive Martial Law regime of Ferdinand Marcos after his parish in Catigbian was raided by the Marcos military. He became a brilliant strategist and leader of the communist underground resistance in Mindanao.
In 1983, he was arrested in Midsayap and four of his companions were killed on the spot during a wedding. He was tortured and then prosecuted by the then city prosecutor Rodrigo Duterte, found guilty and jailed, but when the regime of Marcos fell, President Cory Aquino released him from prison.
Davao was then plagued by an NPA hit squad called the Sparrows. Whatever deal was made between them, Evasco became the campaign manager of Rodrigo Duterte when he ran for mayor of Davao in 1988.
Years later, Leoncio Evasco ran and won as mayor of his hometown Maribojoc, in Bohol province. They remained good friends and, today, the former NPA commander has engineered an astounding presidential win for his former public prosecutor.
As mayor of Davao City, Duterte created an image of a successful peace-and-order mayor on his reputation as a supporter of vigilantism and turning a blind eye to extra-judicial killings by the so-called Davao Death Squad. This supposedly evolved from the NPA hit squad, the Sparrows, and is still active today.
These unproven allegations and innuendos will unfortunately follow and overshadow his term as President unless they cease and they do not spread across the nation as a solution to criminality. Thousands of corrupt judges and officials would have to be targeted. He denied any connection with the Davao Death Squad and claims he had no part in the 1,424 documented killings in a 10-year period, although it is claimed he read out lists of suspects over the radio who later were found dead, his critics say, but they cannot connect him to killing anyone.
Yet that is a troubling allegation. Among those allegedly killed by the death squad are 132 children (17 and below)—126 boys and six girls. The youngest was a 12-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl. For the last five years (2011-2015), there were 385 victims of extra-judicial killings in Davao—39 of them below 17 years old and 118 young adults (18-25).
Extra-judicial killings, if they happen as claimed, are not a very effective crime control method and no big time drug pushers or crime bosses have been eliminated or put on trial.
According to the data from PNP covering 2010-2015, out of 15 chartered cities, Davao was fourth in terms of Total Index of Crimes: 37,797 incidents. In terms of murder, Davao was No. 1 (1,032 incidents) and in terms of rape, Davao was No. 2 (843 incidents).
Whatever the propaganda about the success of violent solutions by a death squad in every town, it will not end crime and injustice, but create more. Only the conversion to spiritual values and respect for the dignity and values of every human person will bring about positive change in society. We hope, pray and work for justice and respect, and that this will be the path that the new administration will follow for the good of every Filipino.