The Mayor as President (1): “Make Davao City the country’s seat of power”

1st of a series

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/27 January) — On March 16, 2004, Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte ended his “’Araw ng Dabaw” speech by thanking guest of honor, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, for coming and celebrating with Dabawenyos, assuring her she was “most welcome to stay in Davao City and make it the country’s seat of power.”

On June 30, 2016, Duterte took his oath as President and while Malacanan Palace in Manila remains the official residence and office of the country’s head of state, Davao City has become a de facto seat of power with the President returning home every weekend in this, his “comfort zone.”  

When Duterte proposed to Arroyo in 2004 to make Davao City “the country’s seat of power,” the two-floor Presidential Guest House, also known as “Malacanang of the South” and since Duterte’s election, “Panacanang” (it is located in Panacan district), had not been built by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

It was two months before the 2004 Presidential elections and Arroyo was then seeking her own mandate for the Presidency, having assumed the post when President Joseph Estrada was ousted in January 2001. Duterte was running for his fifth term as mayor.

Construction of the Presidential Guest House was completed around 2007 but Arroyo reportedly spent only a night there until her term ended in June 2010. Arroyo’s successor, Benigno Simeon Aquino III, did not use the facility but some Cabinet members did, particularly in the aftermath of super typhoon Pablo in 2012, when the DPWH compound became the staging point for distribution of relief goods to residents in affected areas.

It was recently refurbished, with Duterte given a tour of the place in the early hours of December 16 last year.  

“Comfort zone”

Duterte comes home every week to his modest house in his “comfort zone,” the city he governed for 22 years as mayor, one year as OIC Vice Mayor, three years as representative to Congress and another three years as Vice Mayor.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told a press briefing in Valencia, Bukidnon  on January 12 that his “prediction is coming true – the President appears to be spending more time in Davao than in Malacañang.”

“In fact,” Roque said, the President met with the Indonesian Foreign Minister in Panacan and not in Malacañang on January 3.  “He also had the command conference with the PNP (Philippine National Police) on 911 also in Panacan ‘no… So it appears that the President is intent on spending more time in Mindanao governing rather than in Malacañang.”

But Duterte told MindaNews at the Presidential Guest House on January 12 that he has “always been spending more time in Malacanang.”

“I only come here one, two days, were it not for the birthday of (Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez)  but… actually, going by the rule of thumb, a man has to rest and I have to recover sleep and I cannot get the stress out of me if I’m there in Malacanang. I’m just a phone call away from trouble everywhere, anywhere. Dito, hindi ako tumatanggap ng unless there’s an explosion there’s a..,” Duterte told MindaNews on January 12.

The Kabayan party-list, formerly represented by Roque, filed on January 17 a bill seeking to relocate the seat of government to Davao City and maintain Metro Manila as the country’s economic center.

The proposed Philippine Capital Relocation Act of 2018 wants a National Government Center to be built in Davao City to house the Presidential Palace, Vice Presidential Palace, Senate, House of Representatives, Supreme Court, constitutional offices and national agencies.

“Transferring the seat of government and separating it from the financial centers will address the destructive effects of traffic,”Kabayan Representatives Ron Salo and Ciriaco Calalang said in a statement. Calalang took over Roque’s seat as party-list representative.

The Presidential Guest House has served as Duterte’s Davao office since May 31, 2016, a day after his proclamation as winner in the May 9 polls.

It is here where the President receives visitors, including diplomats, where he sometimes holds conferences with members of the Cabinet or the police and military, and, in the early part of his Presidency, spent long hours of conversations with rebel leaders.

Duterte also receives visitors in a clubhouse near his residence.

The Philippines’ chairmanship of the ASEAN was launched in January last year, not in the national capital, but in Davao City.

Duterte has also made several policy pronouncements while in Davao City.
In most of his official travels to other countries in 2016 and 2017,  Duterte took off from and landed in Davao City.

He left for India from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City on January 24 but returned to Davao City in the early hours of January 27.

Republic of Davao

In his 2004 Araw ng Dabaw speech, Duterte credited the city’s “amazing success to the pioneering spirit of the Dabawenyos” who “always seem to be blazing new trails, setting new standards, and creating new things.”
He shared the city’s many firsts, the 911 Emergency Response Center, among them.

“We are proud to be one of only three places in the world where there is a true 911 state-of-the-art quick response team- the United States, Canada, and the Republic of Davao,” he said.

The “Republic of Davao” produced the first Mindanawon President, a controversial one who breaks protocols, curses at every turn, delivers long-winded speeches peppered with expletives and unfinished sentences, issues “I will kill you” warnings, berates human rights groups, the church, the judiciary, the media, etc..

From governing 1.1 million residents in his “Republic of Davao,” Duterte now governs over 101.8 million residents in the Republic of the Philippines.

While he earlier referred to a “Davao template” in his style of governance, Duterte told MindaNews on January 12 that it is “not the experience of Davao that I brought to Manila”

“The problem if at all, the problem with me is that I never went beyond psychologically, of the mindset or paradigm, never beyond the mayorship mindset. Nadala ko yung pagka mayor ko and I was behaving as if i was a mayor and I realized that I was also cursing, throwing epithets, bullshitting and I found that it was about too late to mend ways.”

Having completed 18 months in the Presidency as of yearend 2017, is he in the process of “mending” his ways?

“No, I tried to be, let me find the right word, to … get in on the air of finesse. I could not, because I … maya’t maya nag puputangina ako especially which was exactly my behavior when I was mayor. I never got beyond my mayorship days. So I said I do not care, I was elected by the people and if you saw the crowd doon sa Nazarene, tatlong milyon at another two groups another size, that was my majority.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

TOMORROW: Waking up Sunday to Duterte’s list, read while the nation was fast asleep

SIDEBAR: Duterte on weekly travels home: no gov’t funds used