MARAWI CITY (MindaNews/26 June) — Around 1,000 feet above the sky and flying towards Marawi City on Friday, Presidential Jesus Dureza pulled out his phone and texted a government official that he would be arriving in 30 minutes.
Between the distinct “whump-whump” of the Philippine Air Force Huey chopper blades, Dureza put the phone back into his pocket and pointed at the thick foliage below: “That will turn into a real forest in a few years. All we have to do is guard it against poachers,” he said.
Dureza, Malacanang’s “Mindanao point man,” is flying back to Marawi again, this time to negotiate the release of Nuraldin Yusoph, son of Comelec Commissioner Elias Yusoph, who was kidnapped last June 20.
As Malacanang’s “point man” in Mindanao under President Fidel Ramos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Dureza knows that the key to effect the release of the young Yusoph is applying “pressure points” to the kidnappers.
This time, Dureza is headed straight to meeting a group of Maranao elders who will serve as his conduit to the kidnappers.
“Kidnappings in Lanao del Sur are totally different from that in Sulu. Here it is wise to seek the help of the elders. They always have a way of solving a problem,” Dureza told MindaNews.
It was this keen appreciation to Mindanao’s volatile scenario that prompted President Arroyo to trust this former Congressman from Davao when she assumed office in 2001.
President Arroyo appointed him Presidential Assistant for Mindanao, then later on, as government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, then as Presdiential Adviser on the Peace Process. He was also named Malacanang’s press secretary and later Presidential Legal Counsel. Dureza became a regular fixture in the Arroyo cabinet.
On March 8, President Arroyo appointed him to head the newly-created Mindanao Development Authority, a government body that would integrate her administration’s peace and development programs in Mindanao.
The position carries a fixed term of six years but Dureza told MindaNews he will tender his courtesy resignation to President-elect Benigno”Noynoy” Aquino on June 30.
“I want to give the new President a free hand to see who will head the government’s thrust in Mindanao,” Dureza said.
Aquino has yet to outline his administration’s plan for Mindanao but MindaNews learned that at least two other Mindanao leaders are jockeying to get the position.
Although viewed as an ally to Arroyo, Dureza has also some heavyweight backers in the new administration. Chito Ayala, Aquino’s powerful ally in Davao, is reportedly backing the retention of Dureza.
The other contenders are Adel Antonino, who is reportedly backed by Paul Dominguez, an Aquino supporter; and Antonieto Gallardo, a former governor of Camiguin, who has the backing of Senator-elect Franklin Drilon and Aquino’s inner circle headed by former Education Secretary Butch Abad.
Dominguez told MindaNews he did not endorse anybody.
Dureza is banking on his intimate experience of Mindanao affairs to shine over his contenders.
In Marawi City, he conducted a series of meetings with former Marawi City mayors Omar Solitario and Abbas Basman. He had lunch at the house of the Adiongs and talked with the
Pangandamans over the phone.
Later, Dureza went on live interview with a local radio station appealing to the kidnappers of the young Yusoph. He even gave his phone number on air, eliciting several responses including one who asked him for a P1,000 phone load.
“I have been here for so long that I can weave in and out and go to various political leaders and parties in Mindanao. That would be not easy for a newcomer,” Dureza said.
A heavy downpour ended Dureza’s stay in Marawi and he boarded a waiting Huey chopper of the Philippine Air Force that whisked him back to Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro.
From there, Dureza motored all the way to his resort, Seagull, in Buda, Kitaotao town, Bukidnon, a four-hour drive.
But before that, Dureza, a former journalist, profusely thanked a group of journalists who went with him to Marawi City. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)
All photos used in this piece by Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews