The Rise and Rise of Rodrigo Duterte
To those who fear him, Duterte is “the punisher,” as Time magazine
described him three years ago. To those who respect him, he is the man who
keeps the peace. To his political adversaries, he plays dirty. To others
whose lives he touched through his generosity, he has a heart of gold. To
keen political observers, he is nothing but a shrewd politician who knows
how to play the game.
By Daisy C. Gonzales
Posted by Bulatlat
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte
CITY – He is unorthodox as he is popular. He gained fame (or notoriety) as
a no-nonsense mayor in his fight against criminality. A good source of
sound bite, he is his own effective propaganda machine. He is both loved
To those who fear him, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is “the punisher,” as Time
magazine described him three years ago. To those who respect him, he
is the man who keeps the peace. To his political adversaries, he plays
dirty. To others whose lives he touched through his generosity, he has a
heart of gold. To keen political observers, he's nothing but a shrewd
politician who knows how to play the game.
"He knows the psychology of the masses and knows how to deal" with
different groups like the military, business and the underground left,
said Sister Josephine Bacaltos of the Religious of the Good Shepherd who
is the mayor's consultant for social services.
Each election year, Duterte's popularity always translated into votes. His
political machinery, consolidated through time, is more than enough to
make him win any elective seat he would aspire for. A presidential
aspirant would need his endorsement. Duterte, now 60 years old, never lost
an election bid since he set foot on City Hall almost two decades ago.
"He understands the system. No wonder he's in politics because he
understands politics," said city councilor Emmanuel Galicia, who once was
Duterte's boss when the future mayor worked as a prosecutor during martial
“I grew up in politics because my father was governor. So I have a good
training on how to deal with the problems of people,” Duterte said.
In the 1950s, his father Vicente was governor of Davao which at that time
encompassed Cateel in Davao Oriental down to Abad Santos in Davao del Sur.
His mother Soledad was a teacher for 26 years and a civic leader who once
headed former President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino's “Yellow Friday
Movement” here and the regionalized peace process with the communists in
"I never really dreamed that he will follow the footsteps of the father,"
Mrs. Duterte, known as Nanay Soleng, said.
She described her son as an “ordinary kid” but that he “ventured where
others do not." At age 14, on his own, Duterte piloted a small plane,
buzzing outside their house, to the consternation of his parents.
Nanay Soleng said her son was always out of the house, always looking for
some action elsewhere. He was such a problem child that his father exiled
him to Digos, Davao del Sur, where he finished high school.
Duterte went on to finish law at San Beda College in the early 1970s. He
then had a stint as an instructor in the national police academy before
joining government as a prosecutor.
In 1988, when Duterte was being wooed to run for mayor against Zafiro
Respicio, Nanay Soleng told her son, "One politician in the family is
Duterte was the officer-in-charge (OIC) vice mayor then and had served in
the government as special counsel until he became assistant fiscal before
he was appointed OIC after the 1986 Edsa uprising. As special counsel, he
investigated and prosecuted cases such as those involving police and
military personnel, and subversion and rebellion cases filed against
alleged members of the New People's Army (NPA).
His mother, as well as Galicia , would say the mayor was fearless, and
that time, even though martial law was still in effect, even recommended
the prosecution of an abusive military personnel. "When other prosecutors
did not dare, Duterte was never afraid to do it," Galicia said. He
described the young prosecutor as serious in his work, yet he joked
around. Whenever he skipped office, Duterte could be found at the shooting
range. "He loved guns," Galicia said.
President Aquino's assumption to power did not stop the bloody encounters
between the NPA and the military in the Davao hinterlands. Evacuations
happened and the vigilante group Alsa Masa was formed in the city to
counter the underground movement's popular influence, especially in Agdao,
and the NPA sparrow units that targeted military and police personnel.
Duterte, as the OIC vice mayor, was in the thick of things. His help was
sought by cause-oriented groups, said Sister Josephine, who was with
Duterte in an organization in the 1980s called the Nationalist Alliance
for Justice, Freedom and Democracy (NAJFD), together with other
human-rights advocates and lawyers like Larry Ilagan. He would attend
march rallies, help evacuees from the Davao City hinterlands, and
according to lawyer Carlos Isagani Zarate, worked for the release of
military personnel held captive by the NPA.
In those visits in the NPA-influenced mountains of Davao, in Paquibato and
Mandug, the "people would egg him to run for mayor," said Zarate, who used
to cover Duterte at that time for the now defunct Media Mindanao News
Service. According to Zarate, Duterte would reply, "I don't have any plans
for that, but I''ll do whatever the people want me to do."
The third time he brought up with his mother the matter of running for
mayor, Duterte had already decided. He told her: "My, they said I should
not tell you, and we won't spend a single centavo."
His uncle, Alejandro "Landring" Almendras, who was himself a seasoned
politician and a logging magnate, supported Duterte's first foray into
politics, as well as other politicians identified with the dictator Marcos
such as Manuel Garcia, Elias Lopez and Chinese industrialist Ricardo Limso.
Duterte was up against Respicio, who had the full backing and endorsement
of the Aquino administration and industrialist Jesus V. Ayala.
The mayoralty race in 1988 was a toss-up between Duterte and Respicio but
three others were likewise running, including Alsa Masa cult leader Juan
“Jun” Pala. Respicio and Pala counted on the Alsa Masa votes while Duterte
had been assured of solid votes from the NPA-influenced hinterlands of the
Duterte won. Afterward, he made it a point to shake off the communist tag
that Respicio had used against him during the campaign.
Under his watch as mayor for three terms, and with a fresh mandate after
his three years in Congress, Duterte not only went after criminals. He
tried uniting the different tribes and cultures in the city, as well as
the other political groups.
Duterte designated deputy mayors that represented the Lumads and Moro in
the city government, a first in the country which was later copied in
other areas. While he is open to meeting with revolutionary groups such as
the NPA and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), he has also welcomed
and supported the so-called anti terrorism Task Force Davao into his arms
despite protests from progressive groups.
In the elections since 2001, he endorsed left-leaning groups like Bayan
Muna (People First) and accommodated progressive groups into his ticket.
But Duterte's main political opponent, lawyer Benjamin de Guzman, saw
things differently about his former mentor. "Wasteful, neglectful and
incompetent" was how he assessed Duterte's three-year watch at City Hall
after Duterte made a comeback in the 2001 elections. De Guzman alleged, in
a letter he sent to Mindanao Daily Mirror columnist Bert Tesorero
last year, that Duterte had been absent most of the time and left the
reins of the city to his deputies.
De Guzman once ruled the city for three years after the 1998 elections,
when Duterte ran and won as member of the House of Representatives. Both
de Guzman and Duterte campaigned for each other in the elections. When the
next election came in 2001, Duterte made a comeback as mayor, thinking
that de Guzman would step aside for him. But de Guzman sought reelection,
pitted himself against Duterte, and formed an alliance with Rep. Prospero
If the results of that elections were an indication – Duterte won but only
four city councilors under him were victorious -- Duterte had crawled back
to the once mighty kingdom that he had built for nine years.
Last year's elections provided a glimpse of Duterte's political
shrewdness. He was hell-bent on smashing de Guzman in the polls. The
result: Duterte's votes were more than double that of de Guzman's, and
majority of the council candidates under Duterte's ticket now sit in the
But there were accusations of irregularities. De Guzman accused Duterte's
camp of cheating, calling the election a "farce." He pulled out his poll
watchers even before the counting started, alleging that many voters had
been disenfranchised and the camp of Duterte were into vote-buying and
coerced the people to vote for Duterte.
Duterte knows the "art of systematic cheating," according to a source
close to de Guzman who asked not to be named. Duterte's camp, the source
said, had put up a “parallel Comelec” (Commission on Elections) in one of
the houses of Duterte's biggest allies. Here, the votes were allegedly
“closely monitored.” The allegations, however, remain unproven; no protest
had been filed in the Comelec against Duterte.
Duterte had also formed an alliance with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo,
who herself had been dogged by election fraud charges, and, in effect,
with Nograles, who had been the mayor's foremost nemesis. Nograles is a
stalwart of the president's political coalition.
De Guzman, despite his alliance with Nograles, had then become the
opposition's candidate. He had been endorsed by the camp of Fernando Poe
Jr., Arroyo's main challenger in the polls. But a few months before the
May elections, the opposition in fact had endorsed Duterte. Then, in
March, it endorsed de Guzman, then promptly recalled the endorsement two
De Guzman finally became Poe's official candidate in Davao City. But
reflecting perhaps the ambivalence of the opposition toward de Guzman, or
perhaps because it didn't want to offend Duterte, Poe and fellow actor
Eddie Garcia endorsed de Guzman by raising his hands in Iloilo City.
Poe, despite the fact that Davao is a traditional opposition bailiwick and
despite his immense popularity, lost in the city.
De Guzman, meanwhile, tried his best against Duterte. He challenged
Duterte to a debate on topics related to "effective, efficient and
productive" governance. He also exploited the “personal” issues that had
cropped up against Duterte, who acknowledged during the campaign last year
his relationship with several women. In an interview, Duterte lambasted de
Guzman's camp for the “black propaganda” against him, which he said had
been one of the low points in the campaign.
De Guzman never got his wish for a debate. His staid personality – he
lacked the all-important charisma with the crowd – was no match to
Duterte's colorful, if offensive, rhetoric that the public loved.
But de Guzman managed to coax some answers from Duterte on the question of
summary executions, which de Guzman had used in the campaign against
Duterte (although the killings actually lessened during the campaign). In
one sortie in Marilog, Duterte, according to media reports, replied to the
charge that he was behind the killings: “It's true,” he said, “but who
were these people that I killed? They were fools!”
The crowd loved such one-liners from Duterte, despite the fact that it
could be self-incriminating. Duterte had entertained his public and such
an admission of guilt got lost in the political din.
Back in the 1980s, when Duterte was still a neophyte in politics, he once
told a journalist that he was "frustrated" to see suspected criminals,
despite evidence against, being acquitted of their crimes. He said then
that what he liked about the NPA is their "brand of rendering swift
justice." He has declared to all that he would get rid of criminals
through any means necessary. He takes pride in the fact that, as far as he
is concerned, that is happening.
Almost two decades after first entering politics, Duterte's political
savvy only improved and has grown practically unmatched within the city's
political elite. Today, as he once told his good friend, the evangelist
Apollo Quiboloy, he has “no more mountains to climb.” He is politically
secured and has turned to building his legacy, which to him is a peaceful
and crime-free city. (With a report from Grace Uddin)
Davaotoday.com/Posted by Bulatlat
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