DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/22 October) – It’s been a long while since I last listened to Mayor Rody Duterte deliver a speech. Until last Friday when I was invited by Businessman Sonny Dizon, bossman of the Davao American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) to attend the joint foreign chambers meeting at the plush Seda Hotel at the Abreeza Mall complex at Bajada. For almost two hours, his was not a speech but a conversation of sorts, down to earth, no frills, nothing bombastic, at times bordering on the unorthodox, interspersed with his trademark expletives. But yes, talking from his heart all throughout. And the full-house guests all listened in rapt silence.
DIGONG MY FRIEND? –When I walked in, they were still waiting for the guest of honor to arrive.
Civic leader Nonoy Villa Abrille, the event’s organizer conducted me to the head table and told me: “Sit beside the mayor. Amigo man mo, di ba? (You’re close friends, right?”).
I did not answer. Well, Nonoy’s question was addressed by the mayor himself in his talk when at one portion during his recollections, he mentioned how he was expelled from the Ateneo during his high school days, then transferred to other city schools and still not “good“. So he had to be brought to Digos, a small municipality then (now a city) 60 kilometers south of Davao City. The roads were so “pre-historic” and bad then it would take about 3 to 4 hours to reach the town proper from Davao City. But that was where I grew up in my teens. I remembered one day (some 50 years ago?) his late father, Gov. Vicente “Tete” Duterte came to the campus of the boys department of the Holy Cross Of Digos (now Cor Jesu College) in the south. Tagging along was a young teen-aged boy. I was a working scholar then with the Canadian Brothers Of The Sacred Heart when Rody was brought to Digos in “exile“. He was frail and mestizo looking but had that naughty, mischievous flash in his eyes. We stayed in the same “dorm“. That was the beginning of a friendship that lasted up to this day. (But I’ll skip recalling those high school days together, for the meantime, lest I miss up telling you about Friday’s event.)
RODY’S “DILEMMA” — Fast forward to Friday at Seda Hotel. The consular offices were represented by Consul Koichi Ibara of Japan and Consul General Abdullah Zawawi Tahir of Malaysia. Also present from Manila was Martial G. Beck of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines. Several foreigners were also around. And I could tell that they could decipher the mayor’s intermittent, usual expletives in the local dialect with the way they squirmed and reacted to the mayor’s momentary tirades. (His favorite was of course when he talked about his “dilemma”, DOJ Sec Lilia De Lima, but that’s more than I could write about, okay? Shhhhh…)
MISHANDLING —But Mayor Rody had a mouthful about recent events. And he was not mincing words. For example, his readout of the Zamboanga incident was quite to the point. In so many words, he was critical at the way “those officials” mishandled the situation, starting from mistakenly tagging MNLF’S Nur Misuari as a “spent force”. Admitting that Nur Misuari was his friend and with whom he could talk to at any time, he marveled at how the authorities just got it all wrong. . For how could armed men, crossing over in several waves from the nearby island provinces with ammunition and combatants be unnoticed by Zamboanga and then to wake up one morning already in deep shit? “Simple! Utter failure of intelligence!” he boomed.
DON’T MESS UP — He had his own thoughts on how he dealt with his own in Davao — something Zamboangenos ought to have learned from. “I am mayor of all — Muslims, Christians, rebels or criminals. MNLF or MILF or NPAs. I respect them for what they stand for and I hope they respect mine. I talk to them, I even go see them. But they understand me when I say : You just don’t mess up with my city! Or you’re dead!”
MNLF IN DAVAO—I recall how Nur Misuari also marshalled several months before the Zamboanga incident his forces in Davao City in a peaceful rally at Sonny Dizon’s horse tracks at the Crocodile Park area in Matina, all with MNLF flags hoisted and paraded. After Nur Misuari in his usual fiery and kilometric speech unleashed his angst, they peacefully dispersed and went home. Only a massive traffic jam at the diversion road saw the worst of it.
ZAMBO FORMULA —But not in Zamboanga City. MNLF sources claimed they were holding the same peaceful protest rally in Zamboanga. But the problem erupted when some MNLF elements were first arrested and rounded up with the City Mayor Beng Climaco vowing “no MNLF flag be hoisted at all cost in Zamboanga”. This triggered armed reinforcements from Ustadz Habier Malik. This also explained why some MNLF surrenderees were forthright when they confessed that they were there at the outset not for any firefight but only to join a rally proclaiming Mindanao independence. The rest is history.
YOU’RE DEAD! —Mayor Duterte categorized challengers to peace and security into two: the revolutionaries and the criminals. He said: “The criminals I know how to handle : just wipe them out — if they persist. The revolutionaries, you talk to them. Why? Firearms are still proliferating. And you cannot kill an idea or a generational aspiration — even if you kill the revolutionary himself.” How true. Martyrdom will even feed on it.
In Davao City, according to him, peace and security are paramount. “I take care of my policemen and the soldiers. They need support because the salaries they receive cannot support their families. But if any of them is involved in drugs, they’re dead. If they commit kidnapping for ransom, they’re dead. If they are criminals, they’re dead. That’s it”. (The crowd did not stir a bit.)
DAVAO REPUBLIC — He invited the crowd to go see the modern, anti-crime “911″ complex facilities. ” With the CCTV cameras all over Davao City, I can even see what’s going on in your bedrooms, if I want to,” he said with a smile. When he first had it installed, the service providers at first refused to activate “911″ as the calling number because the technology would not allow it. But he stood his ground. Finally, MVP’s (Manny V. Pangilinan’s) SMART got it done. “Now, there are only three places in the globe that has 911 as an emergency number to call. The United States of America, Canada. and (he paused) the Republic of Davao!” (The crowd broke into an applause.)
COURTING DISASTER —He gave a shot in the bow on the current peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and indirectly referred to government’s “bungling“. He thundered: “Why in heavens name are we negotiating peace with the Murad’s MILF and ignoring that we have already a signed agreement with the MNLF of Nur Misuari? That’s courting disaster!”
Waxing historical reference, he said the Philippine government had signed in the Marcos years, using First Lady Imelda’s charms, the Tripoli agreement in 1976. “We are bound by that international agreement and the OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference) countries are our benefactors and sponsors. They still even recognize Misuari as the Bangsamoro representative. Why all this mishandling?”, he asked.
Then he went for the jugular. “So we are giving unprecedented concessions to the Bangsamoro through the MILF. Fine! Well and good! But what do you think the Christians in Mindanao will do if we also deprive and deny them of the same concessions and benefits that we are giving to the Muslims?”. He mentioned the clamor of former Mindanao independence advocate Reuben Canoy and the Federalists that are now starting to percolate again. “Do not misread and ignore the situation,” he counseled , obviously addressing it to Malacanang. He predicted the problem will even go beyond President Aquino’s term. You can bet on it!
NOT A SAINT — Briefly referring to the current corruption controversies hounding the country, he turned to the need for systemic changes. He even scoffed at some quarters who are blogging ‘Duterte For President’. They don’t know what it takes to be president under the present system, he said.
“ I am not a saint but how can one remain clean if you have a system where one needs billions of pesos to win and then you have to satisfy the insatiable greed of those whose support you need to be in power? If you don’t know this, then you are either naive or you don’t know what you’re talking about”, he gestured as if about to throw that dirty finger! (oooops, good self control, Mr. Mayor.)
He said: “With due respects, but I do not wish or dream — nor am I even qualified — to be president of this country, the way some sectors are now suggesting. This system is shot. There is no way we can redeem it. Unless we radically change things.”.
“SPIT ON THEM” —Yes, he is willing to join any national effort, even join a “transitional revolutionary government”. But he’s giving up hope on the present system. It will no longer work, the way the masses have lost faith on their top leaders, he said. To stress his point, he said Sen. Miriam Santiago described accurately the public’s outrage by saying: “Everyone wants to spit on them!”.
His closing message: Let’s all get together and redeem ourselves. There are many who can do it. Get a group together. We can still go for changes in the system. Then — and only — then can you count me in!
Do you believe in Mayor Rody Duterte?
I do! What about you?
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Lawyer Jesus G. Dureza was Presidential Adviser for Mindanao for former Presidents Fidel V. Ramos and Gloria M. Arroyo. He was also involved in the peace negotiations in the talks with the MILF and the CPP-NPA-NDF and initiated, while Presidential Peace Adviser, the Tripartite Review of the 1996 MNLF Peace Agreement. He is currently President/Chair of the Philippine Press Institute. This piece is from his syndicated column, Advocacy MindaNOW).