Bask in name recall, spend a mite: Or how Duterte’s kids win elections

CANDIDATES IN Philippine elections usually complain about what many of them say are outdated, low campaign-spending caps. But the Dutertes of Davao City apparently have no problem with spending limits – at least when they’re running in their family’s political turf.

As a mayoralty candidate of Davao City in the 2016 elections, Sara Duterte-Carpio spent only P138,800 for her campaign or a mere 5.29 percent of the P2,621,010 cap per bet (with a party) for the post. Older brother Paolo Duterte meanwhile spent just P77,270.50 on his second run as vice mayor, which translates to some three percent of the maximum spending limit (calculated to be P3 multiplied by Davao’s 873,670 registered voters).

The Duterte siblings’ formula to keep well under the cap is simple: have a recognizable name that is also heavily associated with the area in which they are seeking a post. Indeed, brother and sister seemed to have been so confident of clinching the vice mayor and mayor seats respectively that they hardly campaigned for themselves. Instead, Sara, 38, joined the 30-day Visayas and Mindanao campaign caravan of their father Rodrigo, who was then running for President. Paolo, 41, took to Luzon to help Rodrigo with his campaign there.

The country’s queen of cities down south, Davao is a 244,400-hectare, first-class metropolis. It has a population of about 1.63 million people, most of whom are now used to having a Duterte at the municipio.

Rodrigo Duterte became Davao City’s acting vice mayor in May 1986. He would later become its mayor from 1988 to 1998, and then from 2001 to 2010, and finally from 2013 to 2016. He was the city’s 1st District representative from 1998 to 2001. When his daughter Sara was mayor from 2010 to 2013, Rodrigo was the vice mayor.

Sara has also had her turn as vice mayor of Davao City, from 2007 to 2010. When Rodrigo decided to run for mayor once more in 2013, though, it was Paolo who stepped up to vie for the vice mayoralty seat, running unopposed.

Paolo again had no rivals in the 2016 elections. Sara, however, was challenged by independent candidates such as Teodoro Mantilla and Kilat Tocante. She ended up winning, like her brother.

Paolo and Sara submitted their respective Statements of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE) along with official receipts stating the particulars of their expenditures.

Paolo also indicated in his SOCE that he spent P45,580.50 on the printing and distribution of materials relative to his candidacy, and another P31,690 for sample ballots.

As for Sara, her SOCE indicated that the entire amount that she said she spent went to campaign materials. She would later say in an interview that her expenses were “for tarps, posters, and stickers.”

Neither she nor Paolo included in their SOCEs compensation for campaigners, clerks, stenographers, messengers, and other people they might have employed in the campaign. They also did not hire poll watchers.

Jefry Tupas, who was a Duterte campaign volunteer and now Davao City’s Information Officer, says that the Duterte siblings did not need to employ anyone because people volunteered to help them.

Paolo himself said in an interview, “We did not pay for people to campaign for us. We did not even campaign for ourselves. I did not campaign for myself. We campaigned for my father. And everyone who joined us in the campaign were our friends and volunteers.”

He clarified, however, that the bulk of his expenses went to the printing of tarpaulins for his party.  Both Paolo and Sara ran under Hugpong sa Tawong Lungsod, a local political party established by Rodrigo in the early 2000s.

According to its own SOCE, the party spent a total of P1,117,943.05 or about 26 percent of the maximum amount allowed it. Hugpong also said that it received contributions that reached a total of P1,150,000.

Based on its SOCE, Hugpong spent most of its campaign funds on the hiring of poll watchers (P768,000), followed by the printing of campaign materials (P132,000), employment of counsel (P105,000), communications (P40,650), and finally travel expenses (P25,848.05).

Notably, however, Hugpong’s SOCE did not include any expenditure for a political rally, even though it had at least one that was held on April 4, 2016 at 6 p.m. at the J. Cruz Elementary School Covered Court in Panacan. Paolo Duterte was apparently at that rally, along with the then councilors of the city’s 2nd District.

Lawyer Marlon Casquejo, Comelec officer for the city’s 1st Congressional District says that if Hugpong were proven to have committed a violation of election-campaign rules, its “secretary general could face imprisonment and should pay the appropriate fine.” But he says that for any investigation to take place, Comelec must first receive a complaint. He also says that the complaint must include evidence that a political rally was indeed conducted, even though nothing of the sort is in the party’s SOCE.

Political analyst Ramon Baleno meantime comments that Davao City residents may tend to accept whatever the Dutertes say in their SOCEs, regardless of whether or not these are accurate. He also says that one negative impact of a place turning into a politician or a clan’s bailiwick is that voters there tend not to mature electorally and politically and become dependent on one person or family.

But he allows, “The Dutertes have massive support because of the programs that the people love.” Thus, even though poverty incidence in Davao City has increased (the latest available statistics show it has risen from 13.2 percent in 2009 to 25 percent in 2012), Davaoeños still believe in the Dutertes because they feel secure and happy with the basic services provided by the local government.

In truth, the Duterte name is so resonant among Davaoeños that other politicians use it in their own quests for local posts. For instance, SOCEs of the candidates for councilors in the 2016 elections show that the top campaign spenders among them had used the Dutertes in their tarpaulins, sample ballots, and campaign jingles – and later received the most number of votes. These candidates for councilor – Maria Belen Acosta, Melchor Qutain, Bonifacio Militar, Danilo Dayanghirang, and Cherry Ann Bonguyan – each spent at least P400,000, far more than the campaign bills of Sara and Paolo Duterte.

But then Baleno says that in fact, the Dutertes had been spending – during the “pre-election campaign period,” which is not covered by SOCEs. The Ateneo de Davao political science department head explains that “in political science, pre-election is the period after they won and took oath.” This would be when local officials embark on populist projects like basketball courts.

“Since they (the Dutertes) are already established, they do not need to campaign extensively in the election period,” says Baleno. He adds, though, that this is worrying since it only means the matter of who will take office has already been settled even way before the polling centers open.

Says Baleno: “It is a sign that there is no choice and in elections choices are really needed.” — PCIJ, August 2017

* Ma. Cecilia Badian is a justice reporter for the Davao City-based Mindanao Times.

Posted in under_HEADLINES3