The rude awakening: PH polity is not Davao City’s polity

Marlen V. Ronquillo

Marlen V. Ronquillo

The basics of political science inform us why Mr. Duterte was successful in Davao City. And why he was able to transform the city of anarchy into a city of law and order and the prime city of Mindanao. The reason? He had a vast support infrastructure.

The polity, more or less, gave Mr. Duterte the freedom to govern Davao City according to his will and vision, in exchange for peace on the streets and freedom to do business.

The Davao City Council, for one, did what Mr. Duterte asked it to do. Resolutions, mostly on law and order, got passed without the tumultuous debates that often mark deliberations at big-city councils. Mr. Duterte took pride in telling the nation about these during the campaign, which could not have been passed without the cooperation of the City Council.

Collective interests were served. There were excesses and abuses, of course, for you cannot get results so quicklywithout collateral damage on the innocent. Overall, most segments of Davao society, from the chambers of commerce to the man on the street, generally supported Mr. Duterte. The version of Davao City’s Big Business, the public face of which is Mr. Duterte’s finance secretary, peacefully co-existed with Mr. Duterte during the times it did not serve as a cheer leader.

The Revolutionary Left, which can sow mayhem anytime and anywhere, had an undeclared truce with Mr. Duterte. Their areas of agreement we do not know and we may never know, but the Left largely stayed out of Mr. Duterte’s affairs, and largely stayed out of Davao City, except perhaps to get care for their wounded at the Davao City hospitals. On a personal level , Mr. Duterte did not hide his friendship with the Mindanao leaders of the Left.

Davao City’s high-profile religious group, the one led by Lubao-born Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, sang alleluias for Mr. Duterte. Pastor Quiboloy also has the migrant’s enthusiasm for his adopted city, very typical of migrants. From the Left to the very religious, Mr. Duterte has a vast collection of friends.

With across-the-board support and all the important institutions of the city lined up before then Mayor Duterte, there was barely any opposition to his agenda, from law and order to the speed of processing public documents and business-related applications.

Now, I ask this question: Who heads the PLLO, or the agency that has the mandate of serving as liaison, as link and as go-between two institutions, Congress (the two chambers) and Malacañang. This seems to be an irrelevant question after explaining the dynamic of politics and policy-making in Davao City under Mr. Duterte. But it is not and I will elaborate.

The PLLO, as per its broad mandate, is supposed to fast-track the passage of important legislations favored by Mr. Duterte, from laying the groundwork for the shift to a federal form of government to the grant of emergency powers to solve life-and-death issues, such as the Metro Manila traffic gridlock. Or, meaningful socio-economic legislation. Or, to supplement the executive action on the FOI, a Congress-passed FOI law.

A dynamic PLLO with established ties to the Senate/House leadership can do all that. Then monitor the progress of each and every pet presidential bill through the various stages, up to the bicam conference to make sure the original provisions contained in the Palace draft are not weakened or muddled.

That is how Philippine policy-making, at least according to the textbook view of Palace-Congress relationship, is supposed to work.

Right now, we are not seeking any of that, which is beyond explanation. Mr. Duterte’s political coalition, theoretically, controls both chambers of Congress. The coalition even has a term for that – supermajority. But the fact is this: Not one of the major initiatives of Mr. Duterte has moved and there is reason to believe those initiatives have been stuck in legislation’s Hades. A supermajority in Congress and the failure to move Mr. Duterte’s pet legislation with speed cannot really be reconciled.

Even the most publicized effort to seek emergency powers for Mr. Duterte – such a radical and draconian action to taketo ease the Metro traffic gridlocks – has not moved a bit. And the first senate hearing of the emergency powers bill showed that so many issues remained to be debated. Ok, there is the draft on the shift to a federal form of government. It is a working draft and we should not have any illusion that it is the real thing.

Big Business, the real thing, has maintained a stoic front from Day One on Mr. Duterte’s administration up to now. It is not against Mr. Duterte. But it has not displayed any enthusiasm and full-throated support for the government either, unlike the cheer-leading it demonstrated for Mr. Aquino.

Where does it stand? We don’t know. Big Business, by itself, cannot influence votes. If it were that powerful, it could have swung the presidential vote for Mr. Roxas. The power of Big Business actually rests on its ownership of the major media institutions. Right now, the media outfits under the control of the tycoons and the taipans are still reporting things as they happen, without an obvious slant.

The problem of Mr. Duterte is the Church. This is no longer the Church with Pastor Quiboloy as the Main Man. Archbishop Soc Villegas has spoken out, only once but boldly. Cardinal Tagle has stated the sanctity of human life, every human life, which runs counter to Mr. Duterte’s assertion on the uselessness of drug-addled lives.

To be clear, nobody is openly opposing Mr. Duterte except one woman or two. But to the frustration of his administration, the polity in Imperial Manila is not as bending and pliable as the polity in Davao City.


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  1. My understanding of Duterte from the sidelines is that he is fully aware of all the problems you are saying – as any grizzled politician knows. My God, me a high school student from the boondocks of Mindanao even knows these, and you imply that Pres Digong does not – but only the great Marlen knows it? Common…
    In fact he is reluctant to run for President – remember? His main thrust is drugs, corruption, and federalism. The last being a long term solution (hopefully) to many of the problems we are facing, including the gridlock in the congress, and senate, and the paralysis due to over analysis, politicking, and grandstanding. As to your traffic grid lock – what did he say? If you want a fast solution – emergency power! If you want 4 years plus? Business as usual. The choice is yours!… and therefore, the Congress must step up and shape up. People from Manila and you Marlen, must clamor for it. Aim your cannons at Congress.

  2. Gabriel Mensahero on

    The polity in Manila, are the oligarchs who owns and controls, business and political interests. The only to make this oligarchs, is by immediate closure of Congress and implementation of a Federal government.

    I support President Duterte and the new government.

  3. Your perspective of the way President Duterte bring about his governance seem lacking the true definition and understanding of his visions to make the nation back to its grandeur. The emergency power you were talking was not to his liking because its controversal in its form when it can be remedied with other appoach. Where did you plucked that garbage that the stoic attitude of businessmen about Duterte wish. President does not imposed orderism instead the distruction of drugs that slither the less in life prone to indulge in uncivilized behavior. The president does not need applauding to uplift his ego he is a down earth person. Regardless whether the indignation which you are trying to implied does not distract his inviolable objective in lifting the Philippine to the pedestal of greatness.