THE PEN| Leap of faith

IT HAS actually been several months since I planned to write this piece. Let me state for the record that I am not apolitical; I believe that I am – like the majority of Filipinos are – deeply rooted in my own political beliefs and personal musings. This has actually put this writer in a tight spot because it is difficult to remain objective, most especially if one has already formed his own set of opinions on the particular person, issue or topic he or she intends to dissect.

For instance, writing about Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s alleged – or undeclared – presidential ambitions has presented a dilemma because the mayor commands this writer’s highest respect and remains on the top tier of his list of outstanding public servants. Therefore, if I write about the man who has been referred to by residents as the Father of Davao City and the “Dirty Harry” of the south by his admirers, I would end up extolling his virtues as a politician: uncompromising, forward-minded and fearless.

So, how does one write about a man who has already been virtually proclaimed as a living legend not only by the people of Davao, but also by millions of Filipinos across the country and not laud him for his outstanding accomplishments as a local chief executive, crime buster, legislator, and peace negotiator?

I believe that you simply cannot.

By and large, the mayor has become synonymous to Davao and the impressive economic gains the city has achieved over the years. From an area that was once declared as Southern Mindanao’s “killing fields,” Davao has blossomed to become one of Mindanao premier cities, which boasts, among others, of a highly-skilled workforce, modern infrastructure and telecommunications facilities and abundant natural resources.

Throughout the politically-turbulent, coup-ridden 80s, to the boom years of the 90s, to the economically-challenging period of the 21st century, Mayor Duterte has kept Davao’s City sail and rudder aligned with the winds of change. While a handful of cities and municipalities in Mindanao – Davao included – were able to ride the bandwagon of economic growth, there were others that were unfortunately left by the wayside, and have remained at the periphery of economic development.

Although it should not only be the mayor who should receive credit for Davao’s dramatic transformation, many observers have noted that it is mainly due to the chief executives “iron-clad” leadership that the city has continued its march towards progress. Between the carrot and the stick, the mayor has opted to use the latter more often, which to him may be a more effective instrument in enforcing the rule of law, while the city’s development planners laid down the crucial groundwork for trade and investment to flourish in the area.

Much has been said and written about Mayor’s Duterte’s preferred brand of justice and the manner in which he dispenses it. Some have attested to the veracity of allegations linking the mayor to the infamous group which has been said to be responsible for the hundreds of extra-judicial killings in the city, mostly involving individuals who have been linked to criminal activities. On the other hand, there are those who say that the chief executive’s rumored links with the shadowy organization is only part of his growing legend as a folk hero and protector of the masses.

But the mayor himself has made no qualms in acknowledging his involvement in the said killings, which have targeted suspected pickpockets, holdapers, and drug peddlers. In fact, during a recent interview with Rappler’s Maria Ressa, the mayor admitted that he has “killed” in order to protect his people. It is difficult to ascertain if this was just said in jest, or was a direct admission that he has indeed put the law in his own hands and will not hesitate to do so if the circumstances call for it.

The mayor has in fact had several run-ins with the Commission on Human rights over his questionable human rights records. But he has remained adamant and unfazed, challenging the agency to file cases against him in court and prove their allegations against him. In the meantime, the mayor has continued to issue warnings to law violators in his weekly TV program, telling them to pack up and ship out, or be ready to face repercussions of their acts. Those who do not heed his warnings have either landed behind bars, disappeared or have been found – lifeless.

Another major issue that has been leveled against the mayor is his close association with the hard left, even having gained the distinction of being a rebel sympathizer. Again, he was upfront in admitting that he supported the cause being espoused by the insurgents, although he pointed out that positive change could not be achieved through armed struggle. Numerous times, the chief executive has been called on to act as a negotiator and facilitate the release of police officers and soldiers who had been abducted by the New People’s Army.

It is worthy to note that the mayor has had a fairly high success rate in securing the hostages’ freedom, a feat that has been praised by the families of the victims, while questioned by those who are uncomfortable with the chief executive’s perceived closeness with the rebel group. But it has been difficult to prove the chief executive’s formal ties with guerillas, a relationship which he describes as based on courtesy and mutual respect. This mindset may not score big with members of the AFP but has gained the support of the people, particularly those residing in the countryside and have been witness to the ravages of war.

Most of Mayor Duterte’s avid upporters were therefore disheartened when he called for a press conference this month and announced with finality that he wasn’t throwing his hat into the 2016 presidential race, and then, subsequently filing his candidacy for mayor. People saw Inday Sarah Duterte’s act of shaving her head as a strong signal that her father had finally been convinced to gun for the presidency, regardless of his standing in the latest SWS and Pulse Asia Surveys. However, this would not be the case, as the mayor seemed to have made up his mind to ride into the sunset once his term ends next year.

But the people who have been behind the Mayor Duterte’s listening tours, Federalism symposiums and media sorties across the country would have nothing of this. To their mind, this is only the mayor’s way of bidding his time, and a strategy to throw off kilter his opponents for the highest office in the land, who have all filed their certificates of candidacy. They say that the mayor actually has until December to finally make up his mind.

Knowing the mayor’s unpredictability and political savvy, he just might take the leap of faith and may even become, just by a stroke of luck, the next occupant of Malacañang.

Posted in Opinion