Mayor Sara Duterte faces a challenger: Ruy Elias Lopez, son of former mayor

OURVote2022: The Candidates

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 08 November) – If she does not change her mind and go for a national post on or before the last day for substitution of candidates on November 15,  Sara Zimmerman Duterte will be facing Ruy Elias Concepcion Lopez in the electoral contest for mayor in 2022, both of them lawyers, both of them children of former city mayors.

The 43-year old Mayor Sara Duterte, daughter of Rodrigo Roa Duterte, longtime Davao City mayor and now President of the Philippines, is seeking a third term although it will be her fourth if she wins, having served as mayor from 2010 to 2013. She took a break from politics in 2013 when her father ran for his 7th term as mayor, and returned to the political arena in 2016, as a substitute to her father, who opted to run for President as a substitute to partymate Martin Dino of the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban). Sara was reelected in 2019 and is seeking a third term even as supporters have been urging her to run for President.

The 61-year old Lopez, who served as Representative of the city’s 3rd district from 1998 to 2007, is the son of the city’s first, and so far only Bagobo mayor, Elias Baguio Lopez. The Lopez patriarch started his political career as councilor,  served as Vice Mayor and as Mayor from 1967 to 1971 and 1981 to 1986, In post-EDSA politics, he served as the city’s 3rd district Representative from 1992 to 1995, was reelected for the term 1995 to 1998 but passed away in 1997.

ayor Sara Duterte and Ruy Elias Lopez: lawyers, children of former mayors. Photos from their FB pages

The younger Lopez filed his certificate of candidacy for mayor through an authorized representative on Friday, October 8, some 30 minutes before the filing of COCs ended at 5 p.m.

“I want the people of Davao City to have a choice in this coming elections,” Lopez told MindaNews.

He was listed as the fourth candidate for mayor, the third to challenge Sara but the only one who had experienced a city-wide campaign when his father ran for mayor and later when his father supported the mayoralty bid of Sara’s father, Rodrigo.

The two other candidates for mayor are Joseph Hannibal Cervantes Elizalde and Teodoro Pena Mantilla.

Elizalde is a herbalist who is referred to as Dok Joseph. Mantilla, who describes himself as a safety officer, is running for mayor for the third time. The first was in 2013 then in 2016 and now in the 2022 polls.  He told MindaNews that he is running for mayor because “merong eleksyon at para ipatupad ang batas ng panginoon at ng tao” (there is an election and so that the law of God and the people should be implemented). He argues that the Constitution does not allow officials to serve more than three consecutive terms, regardless of position.

Mayor Duterte: 1988 to 1998; 2001 to 2022

Except for one term — 1998 to 2001 — Davao City has known no other mayor but the Dutertes in the past 33 years: Rodrigo from 1988 to 1998, 2001 to 2010 and 2013 to 2016 and Sara from 2010 to 2013, and since 2016. The mayor from 1998 to 2001 was Benjamin de Guzman, who was Duterte’s vice mayor from 1995 to 1998. The Duterte-backed de Guzman sought reelection as mayor in 2001 but lost to Duterte.

Lopez noted that the election for mayor has been practically unopposed in the time of Rodrigo and in the time of Sara.

“The last election where there was a choice for the people to elect as mayor was in 2010,” he said, referring to the mayoralty bid of then House Speaker Prospero Nograles, Duterte’s political nemesis.

Lopez said he convinced Nograles to run for mayor in 2010 “because we are against dynasties. There is no check and balance in the administration of the city,” he said, explaining the dangers of corruption when both the executive and legislative functions are held by leaders belonging to the same family.

Nograles lost to Sara in 2010, to the Duterte-backed Benjamin de Guzman in 1998 and Rodrigo Duterte in 1992.

2007 entrance, exit

Lopez completed his third term in Congress in 2007, the same year Sara entered the political arena as candidate for Vice Mayor, the running mate of her father who was then eyeing his sixth term as mayor.

President Rodrigo Duterte leads the wreath laying ceremony in commemoration of the 123rd Rizal Day in Davao City on 30 December 2019. Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte (left) also graced the event. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

The Duterte patriarch was OIC Vice mayor from 1986 to 1987,  elected mayor in 1988, was reelected in 1992 and 1995 and when he reached the three-term limit in 1998, ran for and won as Representative of the 1st district, along with political ally Ruy Elias Lopez in the third district.

Congress work bored Duterte. He would return to be mayor in 2001 and complete another round of three terms by 2010. Sara was elected mayor in 2010 with her father as running mate. The patriarch returned as mayor in 2013 but by late 2014 started his out of town “listening tours” on federalism, in what would be his preparatory campaign for the Presidency in 2016.

Lopez-Duterte alliance

The Dutertes and Lopezes were political allies. In fact, Mayor Lopez played a key role in the career path of Rodrigo Duterte as a lawyer and later as a politician.

In the book, “Beyond Will & Power: A biography of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte,” author Earl Parreno recalls how Lopez became instrumental in getting the new lawyer, Rodrigo, son of the late Davao Governor Vicente Duterte, his appointment as a Fiscal (now referred to as Prosecutor).

Ruy Elias Concepcion Lopez (L). son of the late Mayor Elias Baguio Lopez, is running for mayor against reelections Sara Duterte. Photo from Ruy Lopez for Mayor FB page

Sometime in 1976, according to the book, Duterte’s mother, Soledad approached Lopez, a member of the Nacionalista Party like her late husband, Vicente, to ask if her son could be accommodated in the City Fiscal’s Office. Lopez told Soledad he will see what he can do.

In 1976, Rodrigo Roa Duterte was father to a year-old son, Paolo, his firstborn with flight stewardess Elizabeth Zimmerman.

The book noted that a few days after Soledad’s visit to Lopez, August Tesoro, grandfather of  Mayor Duterte’s long-time aide, now Senator, Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go,  also asked Lopez to help get Rodrigo into the Fiscal’s Office because “luoy kaayo, nakit-an nako sa Agdao ganotaryo-notaryo lang” (he is so pitiful, I saw him in Agdao just doing notarial work).

The book said a new position had to be created for Duterte to gain entry into the City Fiscal’s Office.

When then Justice Secretary Vicente Abad Santos visited Davao weeks later, Lopez handed him a paper proposing the creation of a Special Counsel for Military and Police Matters in the City Fiscal’s Office for Duterte. During his visit in Manila, Lopez and Abad Santos presented the proposal to President Ferdinand Marcos who approved it. Abad Santos then signed a document appointing Duterte to that post.

In 1987, the Lopez patriarch would be the reason why OIC Vice Mayor Duterte became the candidate for mayor of the Lakas ng Dabaw political party in the 1988 polls. Lopez nominated Duterte to be the candidate even as the other political kingpin, Senator Alejandro Almendras, was reluctant. Duterte ran against OIC Mayor Zafiro Respicio and with the support of Lopez and Almendras, won.

Ruy Elias Lopez recalls how Duterte would frequent their residence during that  campaign and how his father would mentor Duterte on politics, especially during the campaign season.  Lopez himself introduced Duterte to his political leaders and joined him in campaign sorties.

Break-up

The break-up of the Duterte and Lopez alliance would happen in 2007 or 20 years after the Lopez patriarch nominated Duterte to the mayoralty. And it happened when Mayor Duterte chose his daughter Sara to be his running mate.

According to insiders then, Ruy Elias Lopez, who was about to end his third term as 3rd district Representative, told Duterte that it would not look good if he were mayor and his daughter would be vice mayor.

The patriarch reportedly resented that his decision was questioned. That ended the alliance.

MindaNews asked Lopez, now mayoralty candidate for 2022, exactly what happened in 2007.

“I talked to Digong (Duterte’s nickname) to present to him my view that him as Mayor and Sara as Vice Mayor is not good. There is no check and balance in the administration of the city. We parted and broke my alliance with him. He later said that I talked to him to make me vice-mayor candidate. I told him he can choose  anyone … as vice-mayor but not his daughter. He can include me as a choice, but not his daughter.”

Lopez reiterated that a Duterte-Duterte set-up would breed corruption as both executive and legislative functions are exercised by members of the same family.

Duterte did not choose Ruy or other potential vice mayoral candidates. He chose his daughter Sara, a first-timer in politics. Also, instead of supporting Ruy’s brother, Rene, a medical doctor who was supposed to be Duterte’s candidate in the 3rd congressional district, Duterte dropped Rene and supported instead bank official Isidro Ungab.

Ruy Lopez went back to legal practice after his term ended in 2007 and away from the spotlight, he and his wife raised three sons who all went to the Philippine Science High School and in college graduated from Ateneo de Manila University and the University of the Philippines in Diliman.

Lopez himself finished AB Philosophy in UP as his pre-law. His wife is a UP graduate as well. His father Elias, was the first Mindanawon, and thus far the only Bagobo who became UP Student Council president. The Lopez patriarch was also managing editor and later assistant editor in chief of UP’s school paper, the Philippine Collegian.

“My responsibility as parent has been fulfilled. I am on semi-retirement. Looking at the city and what has happened to the Duterte administration, I thought the people of Davao should have a choice in the election for Mayor. that is why I am offering myself to the people as a choice,” he told MindaNews.

Lopez worked as legal counsel at the University of the Philippines, as confidential attorney in the Court of Appeals, as chief of staff of his father in Congress, as lawyer of the National Power Corporation in its private power development department, and as a lawyer in a private firm.

Mayor Duterte’s siblings, Paolo and Sebastian are also seeking reelection, Paolo as 1st district Representative, and Sebastian as Vice Mayor.

Paolo has three opponents, businessman Jamal Ranon Kanan, chief executive officer of a recruitment agency,   Ma. Victoria “Mags” Maglana, a governance, peace and development worker who is among the convenors of Konsyensya Dabaw, and Jovanie Mantawel. The three are running as independent candidates.

Sebastian is assured of a second term. He is running unopposed.

The Duterte siblings are running under Hugpong ng Pagbabago.

The siblings (L-R) Baste, Sara and Paolo Duterte. MindaNews file photos by MANMAN DEJETO and TOTO LOZANO

MindaNews asked then first-term mayor Sara Duterte in 2011 about the Duterte dynasty. Her reply: “Dynasty? They’ve always asked that. Since 2007.  And I always say, well, we have an advantage because of the family name but it is not our fault that my grandfather was a governor and the mayor is my father. But true, we have an advantage because of the name recall. Politics in the Philippines is like that. The name recall has an advantage but on the other side, there is an election so people are free to choose who they want for that post. We put ourselves out there as one of the candidates. There is an election. That is not appointment.”

In Siargao on Saturday, November 6, President Duterte said political dynasties are here to stay as these have become part of the “political practice” but stressed that dynasties “are not bad.” (see other story). (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)