MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/05 May) – For all his faults, some of them too chilling for comfort, one has to credit Davao City Mayor Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte for succeeding to capture the imagination, nay, rabid support of Filipino voters who seem to have elevated him to the status of a demigod.
Forget the agenda of federalism which he exploited to give him reason (excuse is more like it) to go around the country in the few months before the filing of certificates of candidacy. Truth is he has said nothing substantial about federalism. Not then, not when the campaign started, and not now that it has reached the homestretch.
So what has endeared him to his legions of supporters? What has made him the most talked about presidential candidate in the media, social media and even among tambays drinking the day away in street corners? Why has he succeeded in getting support across all social classes, as well as from the Left in Mindanao which ignored the call of its national leadership to back Senator Grace Poe?
Duterte’s battle cry of getting rid of corruption and criminality is nothing new. It is a recurring theme, like a folk tale that is told and retold many times over that nobody no longer bothers to listen to it. The mayor, however, gave it a new twist by openly bragging about the shortcuts he has employed to keep the peace in his city, and spicing it up with cuss words that, instead of turn off his audiences, make them yell in approval. Indeed, Duterte could order his supporters to crucify his rivals and they would oblige.
While there has been no proof that Duterte had a direct hand in the summary executions of suspected criminals by a purported death squad, the discovery of mass graves in Davao City a few years ago does bring home the message. And except for the Commission on Human Rights and human rights groups everybody looked the other way.
In a perfect world, such reputation would have made Duterte kiss his presidential ambition goodbye. However, he knows the psyche of the voters, a psyche shaped by the inability of this government and the previous ones to nip corruption and criminality in the bud. Desperate as they are, the voters want a no-nonsense leader, somebody who looks like he could get things done. He knows that a certain point of their desperation people would be willing to pay a price, sacrifice a principle of civilized existence called due process.
Davao’s “Dirty Harry” feeds on this desperation. He didn’t just promise to eliminate corruption and crimes; he set a timetable for it – six months – something no other candidate, now or in the past, has done. For the voters, the question at this stage is not whether he can do it in six months if he wins. The deadline, no matter how unrealistic, gives the impression that he is determined to deliver.
Why, it’s not just the cab drivers and other hoi pollois that have caught the Duterte fever. Even some well-meaning professionals I have talked to believe with conviction that a Duterte presidency is what this country needs. Perhaps this explains why his standing in surveys has not changed despite that “rape joke”, a phenomenon that must have made feminists wonder if they were doing the right thing in advocating gender equality and respect for women.
Let’s see if the “expose” by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, a candidate for vice president, on the mayor’s bank accounts will affect the outcome of the polls on May 9.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)