In Davao City’s history of resistance, motorcade for Robredo-Pangilinan was an act of courage

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 13 February) – Supporters of Presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his running mate, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, rushed out of their UniTeam headquarters along Ponciano Reyes St. on Wednesday when the “Ronda ng Pag-asa” (Motorcade of Hope) of supporters of Leni Robredo and Francis Pangilinan passed by at around 8:20 a.m. 

Clad in the UniTeam’s red and dark green shirts, they raised their fists and flashed the “V” sign as the motorcade passed, one of the lead vehicles carrying standees of Robredo and Pangilinan. There was some heckling in that brief encounter outside the headquarters whose façade has huge tarpaulins of Marcos-Duterte and reelectionist 1st district Rep. Paolo Duterte whose congressional district office is just one store away. 

Supporters of Presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his running mate, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, rushed out of their UniTeam headquarters along Ponciano St. on Wednesday when the “Ronda ng Pag-asa” (Motorcade of Hope) of supporters of Leni Robredo and Francis Pangilinan passed by at around 8:20 a.m. 

As the motorcade moved around the city’s main streets, passing by City Hall, all the way to neighboring Panabo City in Davao del Norte, those inside their vehicles could see fellow Dabawenyos giving them the thumbs down or looking surprised that they dared express their choices in a city of predominantly Duterte supporters. 

“There were thumbs down, money symbol, and victory symbols that greeted us but to me, witnessing even just a few people making the L sign (for Laban or Fight), that’s okay,” said Memen Lauzon-Gatmaytan, peace advocate and NGO worker and one of the organizers of the Davao For Leni Movement. 

“Ronda ng Pag-asa” at CM Recto St. in Davao City on February 2022. MIndaNews photo by GREGORIO C. BUENO

Gatmaytan was in that first motorcade for Robredo-Pangilinan on October 23 last year. Wednesday’s motorcade was more than double the number of vehicles and participants. This, despite City Hall’s denial of a permit for the activity saying it is “not allowed” under Ordinance 0581-21 (“regulating gatherings in the city of Davao and providing penalties thereof”) which the City Council passed on May 11, 2021 and was signed by Mayor Duterte on May 27 following yet another surge in COVID-19 cases in the city. 

During  the campaign period that started on February 8 for national officials and party-list representatives, it is the City Comelec Campaign Committee (CCCC) headed by the election officer that is to decide on campaign-related matters such as political rallies and motorcades. 

Organizers led by the Robredo People’s Council Volunteers, however, decided to push through with the motorcade despite the denial of the permit which came in the form of a phone call to RPCV’s Serge Catotal, followed by a text message from the city’s business bureau mid-afternoon of Tuesday. 

When traffic enforcers arrived at the assembly point outside the Ateneo de Davao University along Roxas Avenue on Wednesday morning, “akala namin magkakaproblema. Yun pala, tutulungan daw kami to manage the traffic,” said Gatmaytan. 

The motorcade started with at least 90 vehicles. At Lasang, at the boundary with Panabo City in Davao del Norte, MindaNews counted around 80 vehicles. 

“Motorcades are acts of courage in Davao City,”  the Davao for Leni said in a statement. 

Historic 

Wednesday’s motorcade was historic as it was the biggest gathering of opposition forces in Davao City since the Konsyensya Dabaw protests in 2016 against the burial of the remains of the dictator Ferdinand Edralin Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, a promise made during the election campaign by President Rodrigo Duterte, a fellow Dabawenyo. Duterte fulfilled that promise. 

When Konsyensya Dabaw (Conscience of Davao) dared mount protest actions starting mid-August of 2016, the group could hardly complete the words “Never Again” or “Marcos Ilubong sa Batac” or “Martial Law Never 4get” spelled out one letter for every white umbrella they used to deliver their message. At one point, there were more umbrellas than protesters. 

Konsyensya Dabaw members gather at the Centennial Park in Davao City on August 14, 2016 to protest the burial of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB). The group urges President Rodrigo Duterte, Davao CIty mayor for 22 years, to reconsider his decision and allow instead the burial at the LNMBatac (Libingan Ng mga Marcos sa Batac) in Ilocos Norte. MindaNews photo by Antonio L. Colina IV

Albeit still a tiny minority, the protest actions in the succeeding months until Marcos’ burial at the Heroes’ Cemetery in November 2016, drew more participants. 

As early as the first few months of the Duterte administration, Konsyensya Dabaw had shown that even as the President hails from Davao City and the city is ruled by his children, not everyone agrees with his policies and would openly say so, no matter how few. 

Resistance

“Dili tanang Dabawenyo DDS” (Not all Dabawenyos are DDS), the Davao for Leni Movement asserts on its Facebook page that has now at least 32,000 followers. DDS refers to “Diehard Duterte Supporters,” the name appropriated by supporters of Duterte during the election campaign for the Presidential elections in 2016, to change the meaning of the initials associated with the Davao Death Squad which was blamed for the killing of suspected drug users and pushers during Duterte’s bloody war against illegal drugs in the city. 

In the afternoon after the motorcade, about 15 youth volunteers would be harassed by an intruder who managed to get inside their volunteers’ center and who berated them for allegedly being misguided and paid and should not be tolerated in the city. “In response to his verbal attacks we asserted and responded that Davao is not owned by any one group or family and that Davaoeños are respectful and are law-abiding people. We believe that Davaoeños welcome ideas which may not be always aligned with those of others. Davao is home to diverse people with diverse beliefs. It is a place for radical love,” the Davao Youth for Leni said in a statement. 

Wednesday’s motorcade brought together individuals and organizations from various sectors and generations – women, students, martial law survivors, entrepreneurs, laborers, professionals, religious, members of party list groups including Akbayan and the Makabayan bloc, the youth – still a tiny minority in a city of 1.78 million – but significant in the city’s long history of resistance. 

Youth for Leni member suppose for a souvenir photo on 9 February 2022 before boarding the vehicles for the “Ronda ng Pag-asa” (Motorcade of Hope) on 9 February 2022. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO C. BUENO

Only a few dared, too, to protest the summary executions by the Davao Death Squad in the city when Rodrigo Duterte was mayor, like the multisectoral Coalition Against Summary Executions (CASE) which took to the streets and recorded the cases and filed complaints that eventually led to investigations by the Commission on Human Rights and international human rights monitors. The Davao killings would eventually become part of the investigation of the International Criminal Court. 

In 2005, streamers proclaiming “Thou shall not kill; Respect life”  were displayed prominently on the facade or fences of all Catholic churches here, in protest of the spate of summary executions in the city.

Resistance has always been a part of the city’s history. 

“The reign of terror in the countryside” 

Like their counterparts in Manila and Cebu, student activists here took to the streets in protest of the policies laid down by Marcos, even before he declared martial law in September 1972. 

The First Quarter Storm in 1970 swept across the land and in Davao City, student activists took the lead. 

Martial law changed the city’s political landscape, at least in the first years of the dictatorship. But as the arrests and detentions, tortures and disappearances, “salvaging” (summary executions) and other forms of human rights violations continued, as Marcos issued more repressive orders while exercising both executive and legislative powers, Dabawenyos dared return to the streets despite martial law, initially in lightning rallies and as they grew in number, into organized mass actions. The military dubbed them “CTs” and “STs” for “communist terrorists” and “subversive terrorists.” They were unfazed. 

The first pastoral letter against human rights violations in the Marcos regime came from this city in 1978. “The Reign of Terror in the Countryside” was written by Archbishop Antonio Mabutas, an Ilocano himself like Marcos. Marcos sent his Deputy Minister of Defense, Carmelo Barbero to investigate the massacre of church workers in Catalunan, the relatives of the victims represented by Prospero Nograles and Jesus Dureza, then President and Secretary of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines. They would be the first Dabawenyos to be called “human rights lawyers.” 

A number of Dabawenyos by then had also joined the underground movement. 

“Killing Fields”

Under Marcos’ rule, Davao City became known nationwide as the country’s “Killing Fields” and what the military described as the “laboratory of the urban guerrilla warfare” of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples Army-National Democratic Front – as the city hosted the “Sparrow Unit.”

The year 1985 was even bloodier in Davao City. One killing a day was no longer news. There was one day in March when 12 persons were reported killed. 

In 1985, when one saw a  crowd gather at Bankerohan Bridge (now Generoso),  their arms on the railings and looking down at the river below (it was just one bridge then), the jeepney or taxi driver would stop to ask only one question: “pila ka bala, ‘bay?’ (how many bullets, buddy?)

When the answer was “isang bala lang” or the index finger, the Sparrow Unit, the urban liquidation squad of the New People’s Army, did it. It was not because the Sparrows, as they were known then, were all sharpshooters. It was simply a matter of economics: save a bullet for stormier days ahead under the Marcos dictatorship.

When the answer was more than one bullet, the military or police did it. They had no need to save on bullets. There were more in Marcos’ arsenal.

When the body was hogtied, tortured or stabbed several times, the military or police did it. Sparrows operated swiftly. They had no time to tie or torture a victim.

Like in other parts of the nation, the assassination of former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino on August 21, 1983 emboldened more residents in the city to join the Parliament of the Streets, openly defying the Marcos dictatorship.

Yellow Friday Movement

Fr. Rudy Malasmas of the Society of Jesus, then in charge of the Ateneo de Davao University’s grade school and high school, recalled in an essay published in the book “Turning Rage into Courage: Mindanao under Martial Law,” that what became the Yellow Friday Movement in the city started as a motorcade of only six vehicles. 

“Under the leadership of Atty. Jesus Ayala, a few of us organized a mini-motorcade of six vehicles sporting yellow banners and ribbons, the color of Ninoy. Three to start at Bankerohan – three at Magsaysay Park. At the stroke of 5 p.m. when people were pouring out of offices to go home – our vehicles moved slowly across Davao, honking our noisy horns, calling the attention of one and all as our silent message: ‘We are not communists. We are angry, too. Come join us.’ To our joyful surprise, our vehicles honking horns were joined by the jeepneys along the route and the noise barrage was music to our ears. Thus was born the Yellow Friday Movement of Davao.”

“After that initial motorcade which ended at Rizal Park, dozens of vehicles converged and people were asking us: ‘When is the next motorcade. We’ll join.’ The following Friday, vehicles swelled in numbers – the mood became festive Friday after Friday, with buildings along Claveria and San Pedro raining torrents of confetti. The Silent Majority had broken its silence,” Malasmas wrote. 

The Parliament of the Streets is alive in Davao City as thousands of residents, raising clenched fists, gather downtown on August 21, 1984 to commemorate the 1st anniversary of the assassination of former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino. Aquino was gunned down upon arrival at the Manila International Airport (now renamed after him) on August 21, 1983 after a three-year exile. The killing triggered more protests nationwide against the Marcos dictatorship, including Davao City where Yellow Friday marches and Welgang Bayans were mounted by an enraged citizenry. Photo by ARNEL VILLEGAS

In the last two years of the Marcos dictatorship, more protest actions would be mounted by Dabawenyos identified with the reds and the yellows. The combination of colors during protest actions and Welgang Bayans that paralyzed transport and other economic activities terrified Marcos’ allies in the city. 

Among the leaders of the Yellow Friday Movement was Soledad Roa Duterte, mother of President Duterte and grandmother of Mayor Sara, now Vice Presidential candidate to Marcos, the son and namesake of the dictator ousted by People Power in February 1986.  Soledad would later be offered the position of OIC Vice Mayor, an offer she turned down in favor of son Rodrigo. The rest is history. 

A new chapter in Davao City is unfolding with the Duterte patriarch stepping down from the Presidency at noon on June 30, 2022. 

For the first time in their political lives, Duterte’s children, who had never been defeated in an election, are facing serious challenge in the posts they are running for: Vice Mayor Sebastian Duterte is running for Mayor against former three-term 3rd district Representative Ruy Elias Lopez, son of the late mayor Elias Lopez; reelectionist Paolo Duterte is being challenged by development worker Maria Victoria “Mags” Maglana for Representative of the first congressional district; and Mayor Sara Duterte is facing eight other opponents in the Vice Presidential race. 

President Rodrigo Duterte, joined by his children, takes his oath as the 16th President of the Philippines at the Rizal Hall in Malacañan Palace on 30 June 2016. Duterte is the country’s 16th President and the first Mindanawon to lead the nation. Photo: Malacañang News and Information Bureau

Sara is the running mate of Presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.

But several women leaders allied with the Dutertes told MindaNews they are voting Sara for Vice President but will vote Robredo for President.  

A group describing itself as “working class millennials” is rooting for “RoSa (Robredo-Sara) tandem and has coined a new meaning for BBM: BaBae Muna (Women First).  

They handed out pink roses at random to residents crossing the streets or stepping out of Sunday masses, as well as street and market vendors on Sunday afternoon. 

(Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)