There are those in political circles who say that the acronym “DDS” best stands for the “Diño-Duterte Substitution” rather than the alleged Davao-based vigilante group investigated on and off in the Senate this last quarter of the year.
In recalling the months that led to President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s surprise victory in the May elections, the name Martin Diño will surely ring a bell as PDP-Laban’s first presidential bet, and who, along with the rest of the political party, waited with bated breath until the Davao Mayor finally decided to run for the highest office in the land, substituting his candidacy.
Now chairman of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), Diño said in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times Magazine that he neither felt important nor regarded his involvement in the succession of events that led to Mr. Duterte’s election with grandeur.
“That was my role, but I’d like to emphasize that this post [as SBMA chair]is not bayad-utang [payment for debt]. It’s work,” he stressed while sat behind his paper-filled desk in Subic, Zambales.
Diño was offered four portfolios to choose from when Mr. Duterte took office in June—the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), Clark Development Corporation (CDC), Bases Conversion Authority (BCA), and SBMA. But as former chair of advocacy group Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), he thought he can do much more if Bureau of Customs (BOC) were given to him.
Fate seem to have other plans for Diño with the BOC assigned to former Philippine Marines Captain Nicanor Faeldon, so he decided to go for the SBMA portfolio, bringing his advocacy to rid the agency of anomalous practices and transactions.
Looking into the task at hand, one of Diño’s immediate projects in SBMA is the long overdue development of the Subic International Airport, which was supposed to have been converted into a gambling mecca by the previous administration.
“The SBMA was established not to make money for the government but to provide jobs for the people in Olongapo, Subic, Zambales and nearby places like Bataan,” the chairman asserted.
“Casinos are for the rich. It may rake in revenue for the government but very few can benefit [from it]. What we would like to do here is to provide jobs for the locals, the Aetas, and those who have been displaced by the pull-out of the Americans from Subic,” he explained.
Work is underway for the airport with Diño projecting operational status within six months to one year, and without a single peso spent from the agency’s budget nor the national government.
“Everything will go by PPP [Public-Private Partnership], G2G [Government to Government, between the Philippines and China] and BOT [Build Operate Transfer],” he enumerated.
Moreover, posted across the walls of his office are four other gargantuan projects worth P140 billion in total comprised of Expansion of Naval Supply Depot Compound, Road Widening of the existing Tipo Road, New Bypass Road Connecting Seaport Terminals Directly to SCTEX, and the creation of the 3,000-hectare industrial zone.
Backed by consultants with a one-peso-a-year remuneration for legal, engineering, architecture, accounting requirements, Diño explained these developments are made possible through the culture of volunteerism that still pervades in Subic.
As such, he would like to recognize the work and efforts of past volunteers whose efforts have made Subic what it is today, and conveyed that his chairmanship will allot the agency’s budget for these do-gooders.
“Matatanda na sila [they’re old], and even in a small way we would like to compensate them,” he said.
During The Sunday Times Magazine’s visit, a group of Aetas were in fact at the chairman’s office, raising their misgivings over a joint management agreement they had signed with past administrations. Diño listened intently to what they had to say, and promptly made suggestions on what steps they should take before putting his arms around them in appreciation of their concern for community. He then gamely posed for pictures with the indigenous group, and clearly endeared himself to them with his genuine concern and friendly demeanor.
One of the Aeta elders, who made a wooden nameplate for Diño in fact could not help but exclaim admiration for the new chief.
“Champion siya. Makatao. Parang kapatid lang niya kami kung ituring [He is a man for the people and treats us like his brothers],” intimated Gregorio Quiambao to The Sunday Times Magazine.
A son’s promise
Diño’s involvement in politics and government work started at the barangay level in 1978. That same year, he became Youth Chairman of Laban, Ninoy Aquino’s political party, which fielded a Senate slate against President Ferdinand Marcos’ Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL).
When the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino merged with Laban to become PDP-Laban, he became trainer and chairman of the membership committee.
The success of the EDSA Revolution which ousted Marcos and his family out of Malacañang and installed Aquino’s widow Cory as president earned the party members various positions in government—except Diño, although he was then working as regular employee at GSIS (Government Service Insurance System).
He recalled, “Ako lang ang hindi nabigyan ng puwesto sa gobyerno ni Cory Aquino [I was the only one not given a position in the Cory Aquino government],” confessing he was actually relieved he had not been appointed.
It turns out, he had misgivings about being in government, what with his father, Simplicio, a barangay captain in Quezon City, overly zealous in helping others.
“Kasi kakainin na lang namin ibibigay pa sa tao [My father would even give away food that was meant for our family to eat],” he recalled his attitude back then. He even told his mother, in fact, that he would never follow his father’s footsteps.
In 1992, however, his father died in his arms, and bade him with his final breath, “Promise [me]na ipagpatuloy mo ang pagiging [to take over as]barangay captain.”
By this time, Diño had already moved on to work as coordinator of the Amoranto Sports Stadium in Quezon City, and was content with his responsibility overseeing some 150 security personnel.
But to fulfil his father’s dying wish, the obedient son resigned from his job at Amoranto and filed his candidacy on the last day of the following barangay elections in 1994. He found himself up against the incumbent and many prominent personalities.
Despite the challenge, Diño realized during this time how well-loved and well-respected his father had been by so many people. These same supporters gave him a landslide victory with 400 more votes than the second placer for the barangay leader.
The second-generation Quezon City barangay captain soon gained national prominence when he filed a case on behalf of then 10-year-old Rodessa “Baby” Echegaray who had been repeatedly raped by her stepfather Leo Echegaray.
“It was against all odds,” he recalled. But as he never let up on the case, the Supreme Court eventually affirmed Echegaray’s conviction, who was executed via lethal injection on February 5, 1999.
“[Then] President Erap [Joseph Estrada] made a go for the execution despite debates in the Senate, but it was ironic that with his support, [go ahead with the execution], we in the VACC were also the ones who filed the plunder case against, which led to incarceration,” Diño confided to The Sunday Times Magazine.
Meanwhile, Diño also continued to be an active member of the PDP-Laban party and became its National Capital Region (NCR) chairman until 2007. His first encounter with the future President Duterte would be in 2010 when the Davao City Mayor was invited as a guest to a VACC affair.
Fast forward to 2016. With Diño’s spotless track record as a member of PDP-Laban, and then Mayor Duterte’s indecision on running for the presidency, fate had an important plan for him.
The party met and chose the most popular among their ranks besides incumbent Senator Koko Pimentel to run for the presidency. They asked Diño, “Are you ready to sacrifice for the party?” It meant filling his candidacy just in case Duterte finally commits to join the race.
Initially considered a nuisance candidate by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), Diño who went out on a limb argued that PDP-Laban was a major political party, which had produced a president in Cory Aquino, a vice president in Jejomar Binay, and countless Senate and Congressional seats in every election. His point taken as strong arguments by the commission, he was officially included in the shortlist of presidential candidates.
Divine intervention eventually stepped in with Diño serving as the cogwheel in the succession of events with the eventual election of Mayor Duterte as president of the Philippines.
For one who has sacrificed much both for party and country—including threats to his life for fighting crime and corruption— Diño considers his advocacies fulfilled with President Duterte shepherding the nation today.
“Regardless of social status, there was fear among us previously—as parents, children, or plain citizens— that anytime we can die from criminality around us. Hindi mo alam na sa paglalakad mo bigla ka na lang sasaksakin ng adik sa daan. Pero sa ngayon, look, wala na ang ganung takot. Ang mga adik na ang takot na maglakad sa mga daan dahil dadamputin sila at ikukulong, at mamamatay kung manlaban sila. [In the past, a drug addict would be walking the streets pouncing on you at any time. Today, there’s no such fear any longer. Instead, it’s the drug addict who fears to walk the streets lest he is caught and jailed, or worse, killed if he resists].”
Diño declared for the record, “President Duterte has restored peace and order, at least in Metro Manila.”
Subic in focus
With the utmost faith in the President’s anti-drug and anti-criminality campaigns, Diño is happy to give Subic his undivided attention.
His ambitious project as SBMA chairman is the development of a 3,000-hectare industrial zone, which is veritably an area as big as Makati City. He said there are already many investors who signified their interest in the project.
Meanwhile, projects that are soon to be implemented include the widening of the existing Tipo Road from two lanes to four lanes via a new tunnel and bridge, which will accommodate the additional lanes. Costing P2 billion, the project will be undertaken by the Manila North Tollways Corporation (MNTC) as part of its concession.
Yet another project is the creation of a new bypass road connecting seaport terminals directly to SCTEX (Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway), which will also ease traffic in Bataan, Olongapo, Subic and Castillejos. With a projected length of 17.273 kilometers and a cost of P11.5 billion, the project will proceed via PPP.
Specifically, for the Aetas in the community, Diño promised to bring in agricultural experts to teach them how to plant high-yielding and in-demand cacao on their ancestral domain as a long-term livelihood program.
Furthermore, the chairman is looking into the expansion of the Naval Supply Depot Compound to accommodate the volume of the North and South Harbors in Manila when finished.
“Iba-iba ang magiging bagsakan ng bigas, asukal at arina [There will be different bays for rice, sugar and flour],” he enthused.
Bataan folks who initially complained they seem to be left out in Diño’s development plans were pacified when details about the construction of a bridge connecting Bataan and Corregidor were revealed. Modelled after Incheon Bridge in Korea, which spans 22 kilometers, Diño said this would be shorter but nonetheless significant in trade, and promising as a major tourist attraction when realized.
“Another monumental task is the creation of a railway between Subic and Clark, which would shorten movement both for goods and people,” the chairman rounded off, clearly bent on doing as much as he can for SMBA.
Diño candidly lamented the fact that Senator Richard Gordon, the first SBMA chairman, had been critical during his early days in the post, which he attributes to his lack of a background in business.
But just two months into the position, Diño has proven he can take on the job, and noted Gordon to be less critical now.
“I take it as a sign that the Senator is giving me the chance to prove my worth,” he said with a smile.
Addressing a more pressing issue, Diño told The Sunday Times Magazine he understood he was both chairman and administrator of SBMA when he received his appointment papers.
“That is what the SBMA Charter indicates,” he added.
However, while he was in Beijing with President Duterte in November, he learned that an administrator was also appointed in the person of Randy Escolango, whom he had not met before as part of the team that campaigned for the Chief Executive.
Broadcast media particularly has been lashing at Diño for this seeming power struggle, but the chairman maintains he has no personal quarrel with Escolango. In fact, they stand side by side during the weekly flag ceremony.
All the same, Diño continues fulfilling his duties, holding on to the President’s directives.
“I have a fixed six-year term signed by no less than the President. Sabi niya sa akin, ‘Ayusin mo at palaguin mo ang Subic [He told me, ‘Fix the problems of Subic and make it flourish’],” he narrated.
He noted that in past administrations from the time of Erap to PNoy’s presidency, the SBMA chairman and administrator positions had also been separated “to accommodate appointees.”
A subject matter that Diño is extremely excited talking about is the mining of palladium in a co-venture with Japan.
The rare and costly mineral like platinum, is found in delta deposits in Subic and other parts of the country as it developed out of erosion from the mountains. Besides the Philippines, only South Africa and New Zealand are the locations in the world with substantial deposits of this ore.
“Our total palladium deposit is estimated to be worth P400 trillion. With our annual national budget of P3.3 trillion, that could take care of our national needs for 16 years or even more,” he excitedly said.
He added that he has in his staff and among the one-peso-a-year consultants, individuals who are experts in the process of mining palladium.
Asked how he sees the country in the next 10 to 20 years, Diño said the Philippines would still be in need of another Duterte to sustain the gains of the present administration especially in abetting crime and corruption.
“We can look around from among the crop of leaders now, in local governments or even among barangay leaders,” he said with optimism.
Could he be perhaps the next Duterte to ensure the continuance of clean governance?
SBMA’s promising chairman simply smiled and quipped, “Puwede.” With six years to go, perhaps it will be worthwhile to keep an eye on Martin Diño, who, just like a “mere city mayor” can suddenly shoot to the top if he makes a better Subic for the Aetas, Zambales, Bataan and the Philippines.