By Manny Piñol
Davao City Mayor Rody Duterte may have been adamant in rejecting the idea of the running for President but destiny has a way of putting things in the right places.
Consider these confluence of events:
Last week, a group of armed men believed to be members of the dreaded Abu Sayyaf abducted three foreign tourists and a Filipina from a beach front resort in the Island Garden City of Samal.
While Samal is not part of Davao City, Duterte, who is the regional peace and order council chairman, personally handled the problem and stayed in Zamboanga City over the weekend in what was believed to be an effort to link up with leaders of armed groups in the Sulu and Tawi-tawi areas to work out on the release of the hostages.
Duterte offered himself in exchange for the freedom of the hostages, a dare which he has done many times in the past in dealing with abductions perpetrated by Communist guerrillas of soldiers and policemen.
In contrast, the three other Presidential aspirants – Vice President Jejomar Binay, Senator Grace Poe and former Secretary Manuel Roxas III – were totally silent on the incident and were busy throwing mud at each other over issues of corruption, citizenship and incompetence.
Whether Duterte succeeds in gaining the release of the victims or not, the incident and his personal involvement emphasise the fact that the situation in the Southern Philippines is volatile and that the country needs a leader in the mold of the Davao City Mayor who understands the problems and has the courage to confront these.
On Saturday, in spite of the late afternoon rain, tens of thousands of ordinary people gathered at the Burnham Greens of the Rizal Park to literally beg Duterte to run for President.
It was a phenomenal event because it marked only the second time in the history of Philippine politics when Filipinos gathered in huge numbers to urge a person to lead the country, the first was when Cory Aquino was catapulted to the Presidency by the People’s Power in 1986.
The “People’s Call for a People’s President,” spearheaded by the group MRRD-NECC and other people’s organisations including representatives of the Overseas Workers and transport associations, apparently moved Duterte.
Towards the end of the 4-hour People’s Call, Duterte sent in a text message read by former armed forces Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon where he asked his supporters to give him more time for a “final soul searching” and made the promise that he would not “abandon” his supporters.
Over the weekend, Pulse Asia, a polling firm, released statistics from its recent survey showing that Duterte numbers were steadily improving even in Luzon and Metro Manila and was a statistical tie for second, behind Poe, with Binay and Roxas, both of whom have splurged tens of millions in TV ads and media campaigns.
“You know what’s new here? Duterte has a chance. He is in a three-way tie with Binay and Roxas for number 2,” Pulse Asia research director Ana Tabunda said in an interview with ABS-CBN.
Tabunda said there could be a surge in Duterte’s numbers when he finally declares his intention to run for President.
”He came over. Duterte is now to be considered a serious contender, a really close fight in a possible four-way fight,” Tabunda said.
To cap the dramatic weekend for Duterte’s Presidential destiny, his most bitter political rival in Davao City, former Speaker Prospero Nograles, said he was supporting the decision of his son, Congressman Karlo Nograles, to openly endorse Duterte for the Presidency.
The younger Nograles, whose mother is a cousin of Duterte and who shows a lot of respect for the Davao City Mayor, said he does not have anybody in mind for the Presidency but his uncle.
The Nograleses open support for a Duterte Presidency virtually seals Davao City and the Davao Region for the Mayor.
Previous surveys conducted in Davao City, with a voting population of about 1-million, showed Duterte soaring high with a 90% approval.
In the whole Davao Region, composed of the provinces of Davao del Sur, Davao Occidental, Davao del Norte, Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley, Duterte’s approval rating in the last survey was 82% in a voting population of almost 3-million.
No other Presidential aspirant – Poe, Binay or Roxas – could point to a political bailiwick with an estimated 4-million voters where they enjoy a 90% approval rating.
Added to these figures are the estimated 9-million more voters elsewhere in the Southern Philippines where Duterte in the last survey registered a 47% approval rating.
These series of events over a short period of about one week are expected to be the game changers.
It will not come as a surprise if Duterte would finally announce that he would yield to the wishes of the people.
Nobody escapes from his destiny.