Digong is not the answer (full version)!

Note: The following represents the full version of an earlier blog with the same title.

I am now a Canadian resident but I felt obliged to share a little of piece of my thoughts about the coming elections. I am particularly interested about Digong Duterte whose candidacy is being trumpeted by his supporters as “para sa tunay na pagbabago!”

I am not a Davaoeno, much less a “Bisaya” but I had the chance to live, work, and breathe in Davao for almost 4 years, with Digong Duterte at the helm. Just to validate that “residency” and preclude Digong supporters from attacking me as a fake Davao resident, let me say this. I was there when Davao opened its first Jollibee branch in the early 90s, near U of M. I used to shop at Gaisano Mall and do my groceries at NCCC and Datu Complex. Back then, I lived in the GSIS area but later transferred to El Rio Grande, somewhere in Buhangin district.  I hope this backgrounder stamps my credibility as a former Davao resident.

I used to read in social media the phrase “go to Davao so that you will understand why people there love Duterte.” As a former resident, I am curious what they are trying to project with this – do they mean “how great and mighty the man did for their dear Davao” or they simply lack words or valid reason to justify their support of Duterte. In the latter premise, were they just swayed by the “bandwagon” phenomenon created the man who offers something new, something different, albeit a radical one. Imagine a presidentiable bragging that he “is the death squad” and boldly saying “you can’t be a president if you are not ready to kill.” He is indeed one distinct personality!

Having had the chance to be in Davao for several years, I saw up close the place, the people, the politics, and the man! Here is my own “Duterte story”, not necessarily a personal account but a narrative of what went there when I was there.

The “dynamics” of Davao politics is a unique one.  It is an open secret that Duterte’s assumption to the mayor’s post is largely brought about by the success of the “Alsa Masa,” of which he is a prominent backer, against the hit squads of the Left. As you might recall, there was a time when Davao was deemed as the “laboratory” of the NPA death squads. The “wild and deadly” Davao and the people who were used to indiscriminate killings suddenly woke up to a lesser case of it when Alma Masa jumped in and drove these insurgents out the city. While Digong doesn’t publicly admit his role in this episode, Davao’s “transformation” brought out a myth and created a virtual cult of personality. Digong is credited for bringing peace in Davao but, was there real peace or just semblance of it?

This relative “peace” in Davao has an ugly side to it. While residing there, I regularly read in the local papers or heard news about “disappearances,” “summary killings,” and dug up bodies here and there (mostly in the hinterlands of Calinan and Mintal). These supposed victims later turned out to be petty criminals and drug personalities (as per a DOJ report about the Davao death squad or DDS).  It is not proper to readily point a finger at Digong but his tacit approval by not condemning these crimes is a telltale of a sinister personality. For someone who rose to fame through violence, the same element seemed to be his way of keeping that fame.  For all of these, Davao folks never raised a howl! I never encountered any protest rally or saw any critical commentary in the papers about these “disappearances” and “summary killings.” It appears Davaoenos may have been overcome by the “trauma” of the past. They must have been consumed by the fact that they are now better off under Digong’s rule than the “killing fields” era of the 70s and 80s. They unwittingly bestowed in him the role of a judge, jury, and executioner. Simply put, Davao people submitted to the rule of the wilds – that in order to survive you should be the predator, not the prey!

During my time in Davao under Digong, the place is bland and the economy is stagnant. Weekends then were mostly spent tending to your pots of flowers, gardening, and banter with neighbors over the fence. It’s only in the late 90s, with the initiative of the national government, that economic activity began to bristle. Of course, Digong’s supporters will readily credit him for the big malls, spanky new hotels, and upgraded tourist spots. But does he deserve all the credit for that? I don’t think so, because other cities in Mindanao like CDO, General Santos, and even Tagum progressed as well parallel to that of Davao’s development. If Digong is the sole reason for Davao’s boom, then he must have been in those cities also.

Even Digong’s image as the ‘man for the masses’ that his supporters are trying to project is doubtful. I saw the man up close a few times doing his rounds at Bangkerohan Market and in downtown. Except for the perfunctory greetings, handshakes and hand waving here and there, I didn’t see any excited throng of people hugging and embracing him ala Magsaysay during his time. I could understand why, his fearsome reputation might have something to do with it.

If real peace exists in Davao, then Duterte is not convinced himself. For how can you explain his multiple bodyguards carrying high-powered firearms whenever he goes public? While doing his rounds, he may have just one or two people beside him. But not far away, you will notice a horde of mean-looking men in dark glasses and vests watching his every move. Some were even carrying long firearms in full view of the public. And when he traverses Ecoland highway on his way home using his big bike, you will see at least 2 cars with long firearms sticking out of the window tailing him. Did he bring the supposed peace and calm in Davao only to be scared by his own creation?

Now let’s talk about his main advocacies. Picture the whole Philippines under the same man! His platform of burying crime in “3-6 months” is laudable, but is it doable!? My answer is a screaming NO, because the “dynamics” in Davao is not the same as the entire country and the tame and submissive Davao folks don’t represent the spirited and strong-willed character of many Filipinos. Davao media and Manila-based media are very different as well. While the former turned a blind eye to the atrocities in their midst, the latter will feast on every bit and piece of human rights abuse, let alone killings. This is not to mention the international media and the now the very vigilant social media.  And to amplify my argument, records (DILG) show that in 2014, at least a third of Davao’s 180-plus barangays are still drug infested, already 2 decades under Digong’s watch. How then can we expect him to deliver on his commitment of eradicating crime in 3-6 months?

On the issue of “federalism”, we could readily understand his stand on this as he never hid his distaste for “Imperial Manila.” Federalism is his way to devolve power (and of course wealth) from the central authority to politicos and regions like Mindanao. This may sound so attractive to his followers in Mindanao, especially the MILF who are now counting on him for their BBL, but this doesn’t come so palatable to non-Mindanaoans like me. I dread a “federal government” in Mindanao would just grant autonomy and cede territory to the Muslim rebels in the area on their own volition.

I say again, the dynamics of Davao politics is unique to itself. Where Digong succeeded doesn’t necessarily translate to him succeeding in the entire country. His is a test case of anti-venom. Is he the answer to the stinging bite of national issues and problems or just another radical who will bomb a house just to kill a mouse!? He definitely appears to me as the latter! I would never entrust the Presidency to someone with a “murky” background! A big NO to Duterte!

About icvaldez

Born in Pura, Tarlac, studied in Manila, spent several years in Davao, and now a Canadian resident. This is my own "Duterte Story."