By Chito Fuentes
If Muslim traders in Metro Manila will have their way, they want no one else to lead the country but Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
Members and supporters of the Muslims for Duterte left little doubt about that during a dinner gathering at Gloria Maris Restaurant in Greenhills, San Juan Tuesday evening.
The venue which was reserved for 500 people was overflowing with supporters which included stalwarts of the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte National Executive Committee led by ex-Gov. Ismael Sueno of South Cotabato and former Iligan Mayor Franklin Quijano.
Also present during the early stage was former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and wife Bing, and retired Generals Hermogenes Esperon and Roberto Esperon and Cong. Dante Liban.
As early as the opening prayer, however, there was little doubt Duterte was the man on the hour long before he arrived.
“Bigyan mo po kami ng isang presidente na marunong makitungo sa ibat-ibang relihiyon sa Pilipinas,” the prayer went.
Among other initiatives in Davao, Duterte introduced a system of governance that recognized the different Moslem tribes in the city.
When Duterte walked into the hall, every seat was empty as everybody jostled for a selfie.
With chants of “Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!” and “Mabuhay si Mayor Duterte!”, Duterte gamely obliged the photograph seekers until organizers intervened when the crowd followed him up to the stage.
“If there is somebody in this planet who do not want trouble as far as Mindanao is concerned, ako,” Duterte thundered, triggering deafening applause.
This is a message the mayor has been preaching in different venues in various parts of the country.
Among the current presidentiables, only Duterte has aggressively campaigned for peace in Mindanao including the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law which he supports “to buy time and to bide time.”
The warm welcome belied the tension over Duterte’s formal declaration Monday afternoon that he is not a candidate in next year’s election.
Like the welcome he received in Navotas and Malabon earlier in the day, his Muslim supporters in Greenhills showed they are not giving up in their clamor for Duterte to change his mind and bid for the presidency which has eluded Mindanao ever since.
Toward the end of his speech, Duterte confessed that his daughter, former Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, has consistently opposed any presidential aspiration.
“Ang problema ko, itong federalism,” the mayor revealed.
With the deadline in the filing of certificates of candidacy, there is still hope that the man who refuses to be a candidate would finally give in and be more than just a face to federalism.
Duterte himself acknowledges the importance federalism plays in Mindanao in the coming years.
“Nothing less than federalism can bring peace in Mindanao,” Duterte stressed.
To both federalism and peace advocates, if Duterte won’t run, they will have to kiss their hopes goodbye to see peace in their lifetime.
If it was any consolation, Duterte gave an assurance to his audience at the end of his speech.
“Hindi ko kayo iiwanan,” he said, enough send the audience into frenzied shouting and applause.
To most of them there is enough reason to remain hopeful.