The new capital of the world
I was in Davao before last weekend, and saw that it had become virtually the mega capital of the world. Some people also speak of it as the new Pardise. Long famous for its Durian Dome, its view of Mount Apo—the country’s highest peak, its indigenous people’s park and a few other things, its best attraction now is Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the tough-talking presumptive president-elect of the Philippines. He has staged the nation’s biggest surprise by dominating the May 9 presidential contest in spite of his saying the most awful things that normally turned off people, and continues to surprise even his closest supporters.
Duterte has yet to be officially proclaimed president-elect. But ever since all his opponents conceded his victory in the hotly contested balloting, and US President Barack Obama telephoned to extend his official congratulations, even though allegations of massive fraud have cast a dark shadow on the vice-presidential contest, the city has attracted all sorts of visitors wanting to have a glimpse of, if not a possible “selfie with,” the man of the hour.
From Manila and Cebu to Davao, all the commercial flights are full. From other parts of Mindanao, all roads literally end in Davao. And getting a room for the night in any of the city’s 65 hotels could prove a real test of patience and endurance.
All hotels booked
I flew in at nine o’clock on Thursday evening, after failing to book an earlier flight and then waiting for over an hour at the airport to get on my flight. I had to go straight to my meeting which had been pushed back because of my delayed arrival, so from the airport my host drove me in his imposing SUV painted over with a large sparkling image of the presumptive President-elect looking like the Thinker by Auguste Rodin, assured that I had a room booked for the night. My meeting ended quarter to midnight, and my host drove me to my hotel, only to be told with profuse apologies that they had to give my room to another guest, thinking I was no longer coming.
The assistant manager spent the next half hour calling other hotels for possible space, without any success. It was now past midnight. As I was flying back to Manila by 9:20 that same morning, I was ready to spend the next several hours working with my computer at the lobby, next to the coffee machine. But one hotel finally called to say they had a presidential suite whose main bedroom had been padlocked because of faulty air-conditioning but whose “smaller room” I could use if I was not too picky or particular.
I agreed to take a look, so by 1:30 a.m. I found myself inside this poor excuse of a “presidential suite,” after paying a king’s ransom for just a few hours of much needed relaxation. It didn’t turn out to be that at all; my cell phone’s alarm went off as soon as I had begun to drift into sleep. I flew out of Davao after a modest breakfast and after what seems to have become an obligatory hour-long wait at the airport. Yet while waiting, I was thrown into the company of proud Davaoeños who were all very excited to talk about their new folk hero of Mindanao.
Forming the new govt
They welcomed the apparent shift from imperial Manila to imperial Davao. But there was some worry about how the presumptive President-elect seemed to be forming his government. One kindly gentleman, who spoke to me with utter familiarity but forgot to introduce himself, said he hoped I could help “Digong” choose good men and women to help run his government. He said he had been following reports on the various Cabinet nominations, and was still waiting to be impressed by any particular nomination.
I said I wasn’t part of or even close to Duterte’s circle. Aside from running an independent column three times a week on the front page of The Manila Times and conducting a weekly program on Destiny cable TV (GNN), I am part of the National Transformation Council, which rejected the legality and trustworthiness of the automated elections, and did not vote on May 9.
He said he had followed my Cabinet and senatorial career and everything I had written about the presidential candidacy of the former American citizen of no known biological parentage, Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares. Although nine Supreme Court justices had flouted the Constitution to rule that she could run for President, he said he agreed with me that she could not, and the people voted “with us” in the end.
That, to him, helped clear the way for Duterte’s victory, (which Poe Llamanzares was the first one to concede), and made me Duterte’s “natural supporter and ally.” I should then be able to provide some “inputs” or “feedback” to the presumptive President-elect, he said. It was an over-generous analysis of the non-partisan role I played in the elections, but I promised to do whatever I could to help. Thus this column.
Duterte and Erap
I did not have a chance to see Duterte on this visit. There was no material time, and I did not ask for it. I learned that Duterte held court in one of the bigger hotels from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m., and there were large crowds wanting to talk to him. This working style reminded me of Erap Estrada, who used to spend evenings with his “midnight Cabinet” feasting on “lechon” and drinking the most expensive red wine (Petrus) until the wee hours of the morning.
The difference though is that while it was “la dolce vita” for Erap, for Duterte it seems to be work. Erap had fun with his friends, Duterte talks and listens to his people. But this lifestyle and working habits could ultimately exact their toll on one’s health, and that ought to be a primary concern. One hears that Duterte has excellent doctors in Taiwan, who look after his migraine; but he cannot be too careful. He has to outlive those who want to boot him out of the presidency even before he is in, and put in their preferred successor.
As important as his health is the strength and vigor of his new government. This has yet to be formed—he has not even been proclaimed president-elect yet; but the names being floated as “trial balloons” for various Cabinet positions have not really inspired much public confidence. His search committee—if there is one—needs to work a little harder, and look beyond his immediate environs in Mindanao.
One of Nur Misuari’s valid complaints, when he abandoned the armed insurgency of the Moro National Liberation Front and returned to the folds of the law to become Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, was that his most trusted lieutenants were great freedom fighters but were not exactly meant to hold important government positions. They remained loyal to him and his cause, but they could not help him run the ARMM. The same could be true of many of Duterte’s most devoted friends. Not all of them are meant for Cabinet positions.
As in any power circle, professional jealousies and rivalries are expected to set in. They apparently have in this particular circle. The most persistent talk I heard in Davao was about the apparently strained relationship between Duterte and his longtime friend and partner Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, arising from the announced choices for Cabinet positions. Quiboloy is the founder and leader of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name. He wears the title “The Appointed Son of God” and campaigned for Duterte not only in Mindanao.
At one point, when Duterte was being charged by vice-presidential candidate Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV of having amassed so much unexplained wealth, he was quoted as saying Quiboloy was the source of his alleged wealth. But once seen as the closest to Duterte, Quiboloy has reportedly lost the merest access; the presumptive President-elect has reportedly failed to return Quiboloy’s telephone calls. Quiboloy’s complaint, as reported in the press, is that no process was followed in announcing the proposed Cabinet appointments.
“The original group has been sidelined by the newcomers,” said one Davao observer. Aside from Quiboloy, mentioned among the “originals” are Mayor Leoncio Evasco. Jr., of Maribojoc, Bohol, ex-priest, ex-rebel, who became Duterte’s highly effective national campaign manager, and Peter Laviña, who has been speaking for Duterte from the very beginning. Evasco has declined the offer of Secretary of Interior and Local Government, while Laviña, who continues to speak for Duterte, appears to have been replaced by Salvador Panelo as spokesman outside of Davao.
This has prompted all sorts of speculation in Davao, but the presumptive Executive Secretary-designate Salvador Medialdea assured me during a chance encounter in Quezon City last Saturday that the reports are exaggerated, the reported problems are entirely manageable.
The real problem though spills beyond Davao’s natural boundaries. Duterte’s announced plan to give four Cabinet positions to the communist Left has not begun to be discussed in the open. But even now there is intense grumbling within the Armed Forces and the national police. Affected are such critical departments as the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Agrarian Reform and the Department of Labor and Employment. Not only do these departments represent enormous government resources and a huge sprawl of personnel; they are genuine instruments for building a populist mass base.
Putting these departments in the hands of seasoned communists could result in the rapid “communization” of the Philippines, long after communism has collapsed worldwide. The military and the police, including the retired generals inside Duterte’s political camp led by the retired AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, and the traditionally anti-communist Filipinos cannot be expected to take this sitting down. So the natural outcome could be chaos and a bloody civil strife.
Where’s FVR in all this?
“Where does former President Fidel V. Ramos stand in all this?” someone asked me, in the course of the analysis. FVR is known to have backed Duterte, and is seen by some as the single personality with whom most of the proposed Cabinet appointees are identified.
Certain sectors concerned with national security are proposing that as early as now, Duterte’s decision to create a coalition government with the communist Left should be subjected to a competent “war gaming” exercise, for the education of the bureaucracy, the defense and security establishment, and the general public.
We should be hearing more about this in the coming days.
ERRATUM: In my last column (Friday), President Aquino’s 5-million vote plurality in the 2010 elections appeared as 500 million. That was not a hyperbole, just a typing error. My apologies.