COMMENTARY: Digong Landslide in the Mountains of Malita

MALITA, Davao Occidental (MindaNews / 28 May) — Stories abound in the Tagakolu communities in the mountains of Malita, Davao Occidental of the failure of the concerted effort of the big powers-that-be of the province to make Rodrigo Duterte lose the presidential race here during the recent May elections. According to the stories, barangay officials were instructed to “convince” their constituents not to vote for Duterte but for either Grace Poe or Mar Roxas instead. Their tactics ranged from sweet talk and bribes in the form of money or rice to downright harassment of voters and even teachers during the day of election itself. Duterte, however, won by a landslide in these very same barangays!

There is a plethora of eyewitness stories about this. According to the people I have talked to, meetings had been called for by officials in several barangays before the elections where the people had been instructed not to vote for Duterte. In some barangays, they were told to vote only for Poe and in other barangays only for Roxas. They were told that these were the recommended candidates of the “bosses”.

In one barangay, it is alleged that their barangay chair had sworn that he would resign his post if Poe lost in his barangay. Toward the end of election day, the said chair allegedly even harassed a teacher to force her to fill-up the remaining ballots. The teacher refused and bravely stood her ground despite the chair’s harassment. When Duterte won by a landslide, the chair berated his constituents at a meeting he called for a day after the elections. He, however, did not keep his word: he did not resign as barangay chair.

In other barangays, local government unit officials and their cohorts were seen going in and out of precincts to “check” the ballots being filled by voters. They would “remind” voters in the precincts to vote for Poe or Roxas. In many instances, the voters were no longer required to use secrecy folders to make “monitoring” easier.

The stories are legion and far too many to write.  However, the plot of these stories are the same: force the Tagakolu not to vote for Duterte. The villains are also the same: the big powers-that-be of the province, their goons and barangay officials. The victims are, of course, the Tagakolu people. The outcome is also the same: Rodrigo Duterte wins by a landslide!

One elder approached me after the elections and expressed his amazement. He said Duterte had not given out rice and money like the other candidates. Not one of their barangay officials, he said, had campaigned for him and yet, surprisingly, he won by a landslide in their barangay! His next comment left me in deep thought after our conversation: “The big powers-that-be in Davao Occidental could not do anything about our choice for president,” the elder said. “We defied their wishes and we won!”

I do not know what made the Tagakaulo communities choose Duterte over the other candidates. I also do not know if Duterte will make a difference in their lives now that he is President. One thing is clear, though: on 9 May 2016, the Tagakolu communities in the mountains of Malita defied the will of the self-proclaimed masters of these mountains and were proven right! (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Fr. Joey Gánio Evangelista, MJ, is head of the Malita Tagakaulo Mission in Demoloc, Malita, Davao Occidental, under the Diocese of Digos. He has been serving the Tagakaulo community for five years).