PRESIDENT Fidel V. Ramos, undeniably among the best leaders of the country, was emphatic in his declaration that the elections of 2016 offer the best hope for Mindanao to produce its first President.
The subject of the former president’s hopeful projection is the colorful, yet controversial, mayor of Davao City, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, who as a public prosecutor sent criminals and malefactors to jail and who is now suspected to be the main reason why the same criminals, especially drug pushers, do not get jailed anymore.
Accused by human rights groups of being behind the extra-judicial killings of drug dealers, kidnappers and even rogue policemen and called “The Punisher” by the international publication Time Magazine, the 69-year-old Duterte has transformed Davao City from the “Killing Fields” of the Philippines where communist assassins and criminals operated with impunity into being named as One of the Safest Cities in the World to live in.
His modus vivendi forged with the Communist New People’s (NPA) and friendship with leaders of the two major Moro rebel groups in the Southern Philippines, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has made Davao a virtual “Peace City.”
In fact, on Oct. 26, 2002, during Filipino boxing icon Manny Pacquiao’s defense of the IBF Super Bantamweight title, Duterte invited the NPAs, the MILF, the MNLF, soldiers and policemen to join him in watching the fight at the RMC Gym.
The event was a knockout both for Pacquiao, who demolished the Thai challenger in the first round, and Duterte, who proved to the rest of the country that people who would kill each other in the battlefield could be brought together under one roof.
Davao City has become what people living in other areas would like their city to be or what this country should be.
It has the only working 911 Emergency Response Group which could respond in less than 10 minutes, the only city where no firecrackers or fireworks mark the celebration of Christmas and New Year but just “torotot” and where watering holes close at 1 a.m.
Davao City is the first local government unit to implement a very strict campaign against smoking in public places and a speed limit ordinance in the city which saw the arrest of hundreds of speedsters, including the Mayor’s own daughter, Sarah Duterte-Carpio, herself a former mayor of the city.
A former Davao Governor’s son, Duterte has also endeared himself to the people for his simple lifestyle, moving around the city in an old model pickup and living in a low-cost housing subdivision.
Businessmen in Davao City, including new investors in the city, attest that nobody asked them to shell out money in exchange for the facilitation of their business permits and other documents.
In fact, in the last elections, Duterte turned down contributions from big businessmen in the city saying that he did not need the funds because he was running unopposed.
There are, however, several things about Duterte which ruffle the feathers of some people.
His the-hell-do-I-care attitude rubs on some people, especially those who are not used to hearing cuss words which come out aplenty from the colorful city mayor’s mouth.
Duterte’s thoughts on how to end the 46-year-old Communist insurgency where he proposes allowing Jose Ma. Sison and his group to work with him in government on the condition that they lay down their guns scares some sectors, especially the landed.
His proposal to transform the governmental system from Unitary Presidential to Federal Parliamentary is also sending shivers down the spine of the big political interests in the Philippine national Capital City who have been used to holding the purse and controlling the country’s political destiny.
The most problematic issue, however, which would negate a Duterte presidency is his unwillingness to run for president.
Although he has softened a bit on his earlier hardline position against the idea of the presidency, in jest threatening even to shoot people who are endorsing him, Duterte maintains the presidency does not excite him.
“What will I do there (referring to Malacañang)? The salary is small and the workload is huge. Besides, I might end up in jail after my term, just like the others,” Duterte tells those who are asking him to run.
Lately, however, Duterte has agreed to listen and has started a nation-wide
“Listening Tour” where he will continue to espouse his advocacy on Federalism while at the same time gauging the sentiments of the people on the presidency.
Should he be convinced to run, Duterte would be Mindanao’s best hope to have a son occupying the Palace by the Pasig River.
The country, on the other hand, would have a bright prospect in its fight against corruption and criminality and may finally have a president who has the guts to hold by the horn the age-old problems of the Communist Insurgency and the Moro Secession.