Duterte and the vox populi: Will he or won’t he?

THERE is a question that has been running in the minds of Rodrigo R. Duterte supporters from all over the world, especially in these critical next days: Is he running?

The mayor has been at the fringe of the choices among three other presidentiables: current Interior and Local Government secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, vice-president Jejomar Binay, and Senator Grace Poe.

Photos by Bing Gonzales

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Friday night, vehicles gridlocked the city streets as supporters from different parts of the country rallied together at the Rizal Park, the area already filled to the brim with supporters crying for Duterte’s candidacy. Estimates range from 2,000 according to those who witnessed the event to 15,000 according to the organizers.

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In hundreds of appearances to different groups, as well as countless media interviews, Duterte has repeatedly, repeatedly nth-timed any question regarding his candidacy, his answers ranging from a change in topic to a threat of human rights violations if elected.

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Friday was progress. After months of denial, this was the first time Duterte was close to a declaration. The popular mayor said he would need to ask permission from his family first, a family that includes former Mayor Sara Z. Duterte and current vice-mayor Paolo Z. Duterte.

Sara, in a previous interview, has said that if it were up to her, she would not want her 70-year-old father to subject himself to the pressures of a presidency. The mayor, she said, is already sick, and running a country could take a toll.

In more recent days, however, Sara has also hinted on wanting to become first lady in case his father does decide to run and win the highest elected post in the country.

After more than two decades of him being a mayor of the city, what’s not to like? While he curses more than a sailor does, and is publicly a ladies’ man, Duterte in the public’s eye has always been the model for public service. He swears a lot, but also swears to uphold justice the way he sees fit.

In 2014, a University of Mindanao Institute for Popular opinion showed that 6 out of 10 Dabawenyos will vote for Duterte if he runs for president, this from a survey of 1,200 residents from all three congressional districts.

The respondents believe that Duterte is brave, can implement peace and order and rule of law, can address corruption in the country, can lead it to development, and can inspire government officials to function well.

Two in 100 Dabawenyos also believe that he has the skills, experience and wisdom to do functions of a good president, with one percent citing the mayor’s support for the poor, sick and elderly (1%); poverty and hunger (1%); and that he will never be budged by bribe money of unscrupulous businessmen (1%).

From the survey sample, those who said they would not vote for Duterte did not say they would not support, but that Duterte would not win. Of course, there were others who just prefered him in the city. Others believe that he was too old and sick, and that he might not be able to survive the politics of Manila.

Almost a year later, the poll results from the UM IPO would increase. As of July this year, 8 out of 10 Dabawenyos would now support him.

Duterte’s possible candidacy for the presidency is obviously an internal conflict for him. On one hand, you have the masses having lost hope in their own democracy that they would prefer someone with an infamy such as the tough-talking mayor. On the other hand, Duterte’s supporters have worshipped his no-nonsense approach to governance they would want him to a greater responsibility.

Two journalists from different news outfits could be quoted for this week’s Duterte chronicle. Edge Davao’s Charles Maxey said an old woman who met Duterte during his visit to a hotel kneeled down to beg for his candidacy. Duterte promptly asked that the woman stand up. MindaNews’ Antonio Colina, in a Facebook post, captures a photo of Duterte supporters. In the middle is another woman he believes is crying as she waves towards the leader. Jose Maria Sison, exiled leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines, was also shown last Friday endorsing his support through a video.

If anything, it is not Duterte that the people want to endorse. It is change in the midst of a loss of hope, and Duterte’s brand of governance is what people seem to desire.

In the next days, we will know if the old man will decide if he is ready to lead the charge for change.