Duterte speaks on what ails his Presidency

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 16 December) — Critics are expected to come up with a long list of what ails the Duterte Presidency but what is Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s own assessment?

Eighteen months after he took over as the 16th Philippine President and first Mindanawon to lead the country, Duterte says what ails his Presidency is that he still thinks and acts like a mayor.

President Rodrigo Duterte tells Davao City media during a Christmas party on December 15, 2017 that what ails his Presidency is that he still acts and talks like a mayor. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Waxing nostalgic at the Christmas party with Davao media late Friday night until the early hours of Saturday outside the Presidential Guest House in Panacan, Duterte, who served for 22 years as mayor here, recalled his early days when he dealt with a city that was still trying to recover from the daily killings in the last days of the Marcos dictatorship.

Before Marcos was ousted in February 1986, Davao City was dubbed the country’s “Killing Fields,” the military referring to it as the laboratory of urban guerilla warfare of the New People’s Army through the Sparrow Units, its urban liquidation squads.

The Sparrow Units were as active as government forces in the city and residents  could easily tell if the victim or victims of the day were killed by the Sparrows or the military and police.  A lone bullet meant the victim was killed by the Sparrow Unit as the target had to be precise to save on bullets. Victims with multiple gunshot wounds or hogtied and bearing signs of torture were presumed to have been perpetrated by government forces.

Duterte said he dealt with the NPA first by coming up with a modus vivendi with them to spare the city, then dealt with criminals whom he warned should leave the city or he would kill them.

“My resolve was not really to play it safe. My resolve was to just equalize the terror that was being perpetrated upon people. Yan talaga. Alam na ninyo yan. (You know that), I am just trying to explain to you what ails my Presidency is that hanggang ngayon mayor ako magsalita (until now I talk like a mayor) and my response is always basic and elementary. It goes down to the fundamentals.”

“Wala akong high falutin language. I do not talk about rigmarole, seldom.. all of a sudden ‘ay putang ina, hindi ko gusto yan.’ Hindi gusto ng taga-Maynila yan. Lalo na yang mga elite, mga Espanol, mga mestizo.. Ayaw nila, nanibago sila…(Those in Manila do not like that. Especially the elite, the Spanish and the mestizo) kaya the Left for a time became really very popular,” Duterte said.

“That’s me” 

He said he has been criticized “for being bastos” but “that’s me.” He noted that during the election campaign, he always laid the predicate of his talk with  ‘putangina hintuan nyo ito, pag hindi papatayin ko kayo’ (stop it or I will kill you).

He said the elite cannot also accept “na sabihin ko at gawin ko at nakaupo pa rin ako dyan sa Malacanang (that I will say it and do it and I am still sitting there in Malacanang).  They want me ousted,” he said, repeating previous statements that if his stay in office will only be one year and six months, that’s “fine” and he’ll thank the Lord for giving him the opportunity to serve his fellowmen.

In the company of familiar faces who covered him in various stages of his political career — since he was appointed OIC Vice Mayor in 1986, as Mayor from 1988 to 1998, 2001 to 2010 and 2013 to 2016, Congressman from 1998 to 2001 and Vice Mayor from 2010 to 2013 — Duterte said, “you guys, whether you were really for or against me, made me the President. It was in that crucible of being a public official and under scrutiny that I learned how to deal with you.”

“My advice to everybody is just let the truth come out,” he said.

He spoke of how he is not understood by “the Manila guys” but quickly added he cannot blame them.

He said there are issues where “you know when it is going to explode in the face” and “the rule is always you steal one’s thunder …. unahan mo na but apparently the Manila guys are not, you know, I don’t blame them because they don’t know me.  they are not attuned to my ways of dealing with anything — it could be crisis or crime, serious business of governance. Dinala ko kasi yung pagka-mayor ko eh. Yan ang problema ko … its’ really my fault because I could not detach myself from being just a small town official. Hindi ko matanggal-tanggal yung pagka-mayor ko, including my mouth. Yun ang problema dun.”

He said in all his years as politician, “hindi ko makuha yung just how to behave properly and to control my ways of just saying outright in public be it good one or it may sound vulgar and to me, if you do not like my style, then so be it,” Duterte said.

At the refurbished Presidential Guest House which he visited after the party, Duterte, who is turning 73 in March, told visitors, “I did not have a transition,” adding that from city mayor, he moved up to becoming President.

The Philippines has a population of 100.98 million as of 1 August 2015, according to the 2015 Census of Population while Davao City has 1.63 million.

“The Punisher”

Duterte, who graced the pages of Time Magazine in 2002 as “The Punisher,” won 16 million votes, with a six-million margin over Mar Roxas of the Liberal Party.

During the Presidential campaign, Duterte’s human rights record was a major issue hurled against him for the wave of killings that hounded the city starting in the mid-1990s, with suspected drug pushers and users and petty criminals as victims. The killings were blamed on the Davao Death Squad (DDS with Duterte

as alleged “godfather,” an allegation he repeatedly denied as he also repeatedly claimed there were no state-sponsored killings in his city.

In 2009, the Commission on Human Rights then under Leila de Lima, conducted a probe on extrajudicial killings following reports that at least 800 persons had been summarily executed in the city from the late 1990s by a band referred to as “Davao Death Squad” and their later copycats.

On April 7 that same year, the New York-based Human Rights Watch in its 103-page report on the death squad killings in Davao City and neighboring areas said it “found evidence of complicity and at times direct involvement of government officials and members of the police in killings by the so-called Davao Death Squad.”

In September 2016, barely three months into his Presidency, De Lima, already a senator who chaired the Committee on Justice and Human Rights, conducted a probe on the alleged extrajudicial killings of suspected drug pushers and users, since Duterte took over as President, alleging that the pattern of killings in Davao City may have been used by Duterte on a nationwide scale.

Self-confessed DDS hitman Edgar Matobato testified that Duterte founded the DDS and ordered the killings.

Two weeks later, SPO3 Arturo Lascanas, whom Matobato named as the DDS team leader who received orders from Duterte, denied the existence of the DDS, dismissing it as a “media hype.” But in February 2017, Lascanas, who had by then retired from government service, confessed in a press conference and later at a Senate investigation, that the DDS was real and that he participated in several killings, allegedly on instructions of the mayor.

Duterte denied the allegations of Matobato and Lascanas.

The Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs chaired by Senator Panfilo Lacson in its report released on May 17 said the testimonies of both Matobato and Lascañas were weak. “The lack of credibility of both witnesses results in the lack of evidentiary value of their testimonies,” it said.

“Aside from the extrajudicial confession, no other piece of evidence was presented to prove the alleged conspiracy. Therefore, their confession has no probative value,” it added (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)