Candidate Duterte

It looks to me that Davao City Mayor Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte can give leading presidential aspirants a run for their money should he decide to go after Malacañang. I am not being scientific about this. Rather, this reading is based on people’s reactions and opinions juxtaposed against the country’s present state of affairs.

Let me clearly state: This is not an endorsement of the mayor but simply an attempt to analyze people’s fascination with, and in not a few, support for a possible Duterte candidacy.

I have written about who I thought would be the top contenders—Senator Grace Poe, Vice President Jejomar Binay, and Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas. Admittedly, I did not consider Digong Duterte as a major “candidate” until I took a closer look at people’s take on him.

“Candidate” Duterte has a few things going for him.

One, he is seen as a strong leader, someone with real political will who will go after crooks who break the law. No one would want to mess with him.

This was again demonstrated by recent reports about how he handled a tourist in Davao City who, after being told that smoking is prohibited, refused to stop. The mayor arrived, sat down, pointed a gun at the man’s crotch, and told him to choose among his balls being shot at, going to prison, or swallowing his cigarette butt. The tourist was reported to have chosen the last “option”.

Duterte is said to have no qualms about killing criminals OR suspected criminals. A friend once said that he particularly hated rapists and drug dealers.

Stories about Duterte’s “unconventional” ways of implementing the law are many making it hard to determine true ones from tall tales. These stories turn him into some sort of a “legend”, or a character from a wild, wild, west movie. But yes, Duterte is quite tough, scary, even.

Not everyone is happy, of course. Human rights groups question the mayor’s manner of doing things as these may be considered as human right violations. After all, criminals have rights as well.

So why would people want someone like Duterte to be president? Why even consider a potential human rights violator for the highest office?

The answer is simple.  This is a direct reaction to the weak, almost absent leadership we presently have. After government’s failure to address the devastation brought by super Typhoon Yolanda, the death of SAF44 in Mamasapano, and most recently, the Iglesia ni Cristo protests that paralyzed traffic in Edsa, the people are simply fed up.

Filipinos’ frustration has peaked and they want the situation to radically change. People want a leader who will be at the top of the situation when problems arise. People want to see a leader who will be in control.

Those supportive of Duterte think that unlike the indecisive and weak Mar Roxas, Duterte  is the strong leader they are looking for.

Two, Duterte is from the South and this appeals to voters from outside of “imperial Manila”. I have heard not a few say that for a change, it is time to have a president from Visayas or Mindanao. They say that previous presidents from Luzon neglected our people from these two areas.

It will not hurt Duterte that he is from Mindanao, the “dangerous” land in the eyes of other countries  even if Mindanao is composed of many provinces most of which are relatively peaceful. A Duterte presidency they say will bring better governance and development to the south.

Three, Duterte can boast of his track record as Davao City Mayor.  While VP Binay claims Makati as his model for what he wants to do for the country, Digong can very well make the prosperous, highly urbanized, peaceful, orderly, and clean Davao City his showcase. And his city is the biggest in the country, making it harder to govern than Makati. Anyone who goes there will instantly notice the absence of garbage on the streets, the prosperity of the place, and the orderliness of things.

The mayor from the South has an advantage over the VP here. He is seen as “clean.”  He is not implicated in any graft and corruption-related controversy unlike Binay.

His achievements and long experience as mayor show his capability as an executive, something that is ideal for someone who wants to be president. Thus, unlike Senator Grace Poe, nobody can say that he is incapable or unprepared for the post.

Four, people can identify with Mayor Digong. Unlike Roxas who is seen as too elitist, Duterte exudes a kind of personality that ordinary people seem to like. He is a different kind of Binay in this regard. The latter obviously courts the “masa” votes by playing the “poor versus rich” card to the hilt. Duterte does not.  Yet, he does not alienate ordinary folk.

Perhaps it is his “cowboy”,  denim-clad look, and his easily understood, straightforward manner of speaking that give people that “he-is-one-of-us” impression.  Think Robin Padilla, or even Erap Estrada minus the movie star looks.  Duterte has that goon-but-gentle “charm” that people like and identify with.

Thus, it is no wonder why Digong Duterte’s support base is growing.

Having said these, however, I do not think that it will be an easy campaign for Duterte should he decide to run.

One, like Poe, he has yet to build his machinery and this takes time and a lot of resources. Here, Roxas and Binay have the advantage. The first will surely rely on administration machinery while the second  has been establishing his for years.  Digong will need to fast-track his organizing if he wants to run a national campaign and his votes guarded.

Because he comes from the South, does not come from a big known political family, Duterte will need to be introduced in a strong way to the electorate. Name recall needs to be established.

Finances is another matter. He is certainly not poor but it will be interesting if groups will invest in him given his “reputation”. It is no secret that running for national office here requires lots and lots of money.

Lastly, Duterte should be prepared for the attacks coming his way. Now that he is in the radar, he will surely be hit for his highhandedness and colorful human rights record.

If he finally decides to run, Duterte may be the dark horse in 2016. His journey would be interesting to follow.

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