Before anything else, it’s important to stress that this article is not arguing for anyone to become president. Just in case the title isn’t clear, this column gives reasons for Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to contest the presidency, and not necessarily to win it.
Let this writer also stress that one is not in the service of any candidate. Nor has one decided which presidentiable to support, for the simple reason that those contending for the top post won’t be known until after the October 16 deadline for filing certificates of candidacy. More important: one cannot decide whom to support without studying candidates’ platforms and listening to their pronouncements.
Still, there are some pluses for the nation if Mayor Duterte contests the most powerful position in the land, whether or not he wins.
First, he would be the first Mindanaoan to contest the presidency, judging from reported lists of candidates since the Third Philippine Republic in 1946. If there may be one or two southerners missed in the lists, Duterte would still be the first serious contender from the island, ranking third or fourth in recent surveys.
Since Mindanao has long been largely neglected, if not disadvantaged in national governance, Duterte’s candidacy would give the region and its concerns and interests long-overdue national prominence. For one thing, media cannot but talk about Mindanao in the course of profiling Duterte and covering his campaign.
Duterte would, of course, raise Mindanao issues in his campaign. So must his rivals, if only to avoid conceding to the Davao leader those southern voters who would tend to support one of their own. Moreover, if Duterte is the only one with comprehensive and solid initiatives for the south, he could take the region by default.
One more plus in having a Mindanao presidentiable: Seeing one of its stalwarts aspire for leadership of the nation would boost the island’s feeling of being part of the Philippines. And given the current unhappiness of Mindanaoans, whether Christian, Lumad or Muslim, toward the government, national unity gains from enhancing the region’s sense of belonging to the Republic through a viable candidate from the south.
Federalism deserves a national voice
Reason No. 2 for a Duterte candidacy: He would present the case for federalism on the national stage. Normally, constitutional change of any sort isn’t an advocacy to turn voters’ heads. But packaged with a slew of policies and initiatives to channel more power and resources from so-called Imperial Manila to less endowed and empowered provinces and regions, it can get Filipinos at least thinking seriously about federalism.
That would be a plus. Among various charter change proposals, it may be one of the most worthwhile. By reducing the national government’s control over power and resources, it would help lessen the abuse, corruption, and electioneering at the top, especially by the Executive and Legislative branches.
This has been the bane of Philippine politics: the massive power and money at the national level, which prods political parties to conduct no-holds-barred, money-no-object campaigns to snare the presidency and all the spoils that go with it, including the flocking of opportunistic politicians to the winner’s party.
Those excesses have reached post-EDSA record levels under President Benigno Aquino 3rd. Smuggling trebled from $7.9 billion in 2009 to $26.6 billion last year, based on International Monetary Fund trade data, and exceeded P4 trillion since 2010, with revenue losses topping P760 billion.
Pork barrel also leapt from about P9 billion in 2009 to more than P20 billion a year under Aquino. Plus billions of pesos in dubious contracts and programs in the Metro Rail Transit, military helicopters, police rifles, and others.
With the Aquino regime having shown how to rob the people blind and still keep high survey ratings, finding a way to reduce presidential and congressional clout is a must. Federalism would help do that, while giving more control and cash to regional leaders, who know better about and can be held more accountable by their constituencies.
Duterte is arguably the best advocate for federalism at this time. His success in running and building up Davao City, which is actually the size of a province, shows that given ample clout, regional leaders can govern well. His Mindanao roots also highlight how federalism could advance peace with Muslim rebels, whose demand for more autonomy may be more acceptable under a federal system.
Give voters a wider choice
A third reason to wish for a Duterte candidacy is choice. Voters’ choice, to be exact. Stretching the range of candidates beyond big family names and traditional politicos is good for democracy, especially if the newcomers give the establishment a good run for their ballots.
Duterte looks set to do that, and even if he loses, he would encourage future would-be national leaders to challenge the old guard thriving on name recognition, nationwide networks of longstanding loyalties, and massive campaign spending.
Having Duterte on the ballot would also afford an alternative choice for citizens who may want to choose Senator Grace Poe, but might lose that option to disqualification. Those voters presumably are not keen on Vice-President Jejomar Binay or Aquino man Mar Roxas, and prefer a candidate other than those two.
With Duterte and even without Poe, the electorate would not be left with the longtime head of what is allegedly an immensely corrupt city government, and the standard bearer of the ruling administration marred by unprecedented sleaze (details above under the Federalism subheading), crime (triple 2009 levels to 1 million-plus incidents a year), and insensitivity to the plight of the people (just ask Metro Rail Transit commuters burdened by MRT anomalies, Yolanda victims still homeless after two years, and the bereaved families of 44 police commandos killed on Aquino’s botched Mamasapano mission).
Come May, will Duterte stand for Mindanao, federalism, and electoral choice? Let’s hope the mayor and his family ponder the decision well, and choose the best course for the nation and democracy.