THE PEN| Under a Duterte presidency

WITH the national elections just a few days away, many are already cringing at the prospect of a Duterte presidency.  Critics of the firebrand mayor from Davao City have taken to mainstream and social media to paint a bleak picture of a country that may soon come under his so-called iron-fisted rule:  nationwide summary executions on a massive scale; a government populated by rebels/communists/socialists; a ramping up of China’s construction of infrastructure facilities in waters within the Philippines’ territorial sovereignty; and a possible breakdown in the country’s moral fabric.

The list of possible scenarios under a Duterte government continues to grow by the day. And if we are take these probable scenarios hook, line and sinker – as the mayor’s detractors would like to believe – there is virtually nothing to look forward to when the man dubbed by Time magazine as the “Punisher” takes over the reins of Malacañang. By and large, the Philippines and its 100 million residents are headed for the abyss, so to speak, a situation which the predominantly Catholic nation never imagined it would ever confront since the declaration of Martial Law in 1972. 

At this point, it is easy to be carried away by the grim prediction of those who foresee a nation that may well be on the throes of a moral, economic and political bankruptcy.  However, this is entirely based on the playbook of those who fervently believe that Duterte, the current frontrunner in the SWS and Pulse Asia presidential surveys,  isn’t a worthy successor of President Aquino, and once elected, will most likely reverse all the economic gains achieved by P-Noy Administration. These so-called experts have in short taken the liberty of branding the Duterte presidency as “Unqualified and unfit to govern.”

But in all honesty, do we, as a nation, truly believe that the Philippines, having secured a reputation of being one of the best performing economies in East Asia and a beacon of democracy in the region, is really headed for the “Dark Ages”? In as much as we respect the opinion of those who have strongly expressed their doubts over Duterte’s ability to lead the nation, I believe that all the scenarios they have painted, however convincing they sound to be, will not come to pass. Why? Because I believe that Duterte will not define the presidency; the presidency will be defined, first and foremost, by the people who will elect him into office.

On the concern that the country’s waterways will be flooded by the lifeless bodies of criminals, the mayor has, time and again, declared that he will wage an all-out war against lawlessness.  By now, many imagine him patrolling the streets of Manila or Cebu in a Harley Davidson with a pistol tucked to his waist, similar to what he has done for many years in Davao City. But we must remember that the mayor is a lawyer and former city prosecutor who primarily used the rule of law to bring law offenders to justice. He will not, as many would like to believe, shoot down suspected criminals sans a strong case against them, or without giving them the benefit of due process.

In his campaign speeches, Duterte has said that he will not hesitate to kill and be killed. But on the other hand, “killing” is not exactly on top of the Philippine president’s list of priorities. Knowing the mayor’s penchant for colorful language, he has used the term “kill” more as a figure of speech than anything else to express his disdain for those who violate the law. But nobody has actually seen him point and shoot a gun at a person, and despite the investigations conducted by the CHR and foreign human rights groups, there is no concrete evidence which directly links the local chief executive to the so-called Davao Death Squad or “DDS” which has allegedly been responsible for the numerous extra-judicial killings in the city.

So how do we think will the tough-talking mayor exactly deal with the problem of criminality, which has been a thorn on the side of the Aquino Government? In the nationally televised debates, Duterte has pledged to double, if not, to significantly increase the salaries of our men in uniform.  This will provide our police force greater incentive to carry out their duties, despite the dangers and difficulties of their profession. Under the mayors’ leadership, we expect that the national government will finally be able to address long-standing issues confronting the PNP,  while promoting the culture of discipline and boosting the morale of the nation’s police force.

There is also strong possibility that the mayor will take a hands-on approach in the nation’s battle against illegal drugs and may even temporarily assume the position of the country’s top crime czar. He has, time and again, threatened to lay to waste those who are involved in the trade of such illegal substances, which have robbed the nation’s youth  and their families of a bright future. We believe that nobody can stand in the way of Duterte, as he goes after these drug syndicates and bring them to justice. We are certain that the mayor’s war against these peddlers of death will not be bloodless, as he has vowed to use any means necessary to eradicate the scourge of illegal drugs.

But most importantly, we see the mayor leading by example, as he gives the the Filipino people a sample of the kind of discipline which the people of Davao have been  used to and have benefited from. The city’s anti-smoking ban, 30-kph speed limit, the firecracker ban, and the curfew imposed on minors are some of the local laws which we feel would be expanded at the national level under Duterte’s leadership.  We expect certain groups or sectors to raise a protest against these laws (if passed by Congress), but they will soon realize that such kind of discipline will redound to their benefit.

Meanwhile, on the issue of Mayor’s Duterte’s perceived closeness with the communist movement and his willingness to let them join his cabinet, he has declared during interviews that the rebels are “welcome” in Malacañang. He even said that he would give the CPP/NPA three Cabinet portfolios, which include the departments agrarian reform, social welfare and development, and environment and natural resources. We can’t imagine the revolutionary movement’s battle-hardened warriors sitting in air-conditioned offices and drafting policy papers, but the mayor’s offer for them to join him is a sign of good will. However, despite the mayor’s perceived closeness  with the communist rebels, he has stood firm on his belief that armed struggle will not resolve the insurgency problem in Mindanao. 

Just recently, the Duterte made an emergency trip to Davao to receive five police officers who were released by the NPA after being held hostage for several days. The mayor said that he even castigated the rebels for the abductions, as he expressed his exasperation over the frequent kidnappings by the rebel group of policemen and soldiers. Over the years, it has been reported that Duterte has facilitated the release of men in uniform who have been captured by the rebels during armed encounters in the countryside.  It is worthy to note no police officer or soldier has lost his life during and after the negotiation of their release.

At this point, it is difficult to predict how Duterte will exactly negotiate peace with the CPP/NPA. The fact that CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison has thrown his support behind the mayor raises the possibility that a peaceful settlement between the Philippine government – under a Duterte presidency – and the revolutionary movement is no longer a pipe dream. However, there are those who remain wary about negotiating peace with the rebel group. But knowing the mayor’s extensive experience in dealing with the rebels, he may be in the best position to determine how the national leadership can finally convince Mr. Sison and his men that their cause can also be fought through non-violent means.

We must remember that today’s Davao City was forged in the fires of a raging insurgency.  And Mayor Duterte was at the center of the turmoil which engulfed Mindanao’s so-called “killing fields,” as he painstakingly built a consensus among the various sectors in the city and obtained their commitment to pursue the path of peace and development. This was a major feat in itself, as the mayor was faced with groups and forces that were diametrically opposed to each other. But in the end, the mayor was able to rally their support because of the kind of leadership he provided during those difficult times, assuring them that Davao City would rise from the ashes  and become a show window of peace and economic prosperity.  

 

In the meantime, fears that Mayor Duterte will handle the threat posed by China to the nation’s sovereignty with kid gloves  is actually not only a question of his sense of patriotism, but also his willingness and determination to stand up to the Asian giant’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea. Although the mayor’s perceived non-combative approach in dealing with China’s leadership has been a major cause of concern among political observers, this strategy may provide another possible avenue to peacefully resolve the long-festering territorial dispute between the Philippines and China.

We don’t believe that the mayor is willing to give up the country’s sovereignty over a mere railway project or several millions of dollars in foreign aid. But perhaps, he recognizes the fact that the Philippines faces an uphill battle, which can eventually have serious repercussions if the country’s row with China further escalates. Duterte’s playful answer that he will ride a jet ski to the disputed islands and stake the country’s claim can be viewed in two ways: First, that the mayor is willing to put his life on the line to preserve our national sovereignty. And second, he isn’t afraid to take a hands-on approach in dealing with the Xi government, which has shown that it will not hesitate to use military force in asserting its nation’s supremacy in the region.

The mayor’s current stand in dealing with China requires that he recruit the best legal and diplomatic minds that will help him formulate a comprehensive foreign policy framework that will ensure the nation’s best interests. Although his strategy is a departure from the Aquino Administration’s outspoken, legalistic approach, holding bilateral talks with China should not be viewed as a sign of weakness on the part of the Philippine government. We must remember that China has, since time immemorial, been one of our country’s biggest trading partners, and therefore, this economic bond could provide the impetus for pursuing a diplomacy-based, dialogue-driven discussions on the sea dispute in the future.

And finally, on the assertion that the nation’s moral fiber will weaken once Mayor Duterte assumes the presidency. Those who espouse this line of thinking are like Cassandras who fill the air with dire warnings aimed to convince the Filipino people that Duterte is the antithesis of a true leader, and will therefore usher another era of gloom and doom for the nation. The mayor’s critics contend that the issues which have hounded the mayor all throughout his nationwide campaign – his use of gutter language, his alleged disrespect for women,  his reported connections with the Davao Death Squad, his BPI bank accounts which supposedly contains millions of pesos that haven’t been accounted for – should be enough reason not to elect him to the highest position in the land.

The mayor’s presidential rivals are now riding the same bandwagon, and have alternately taken swipes at him, as they question whether he indeed possesses the moral wherewithal to lead the nation. But let us turn the tables around and ask each of these candidates these two important questions: First, who among them is free from so-called “political baggage”? And second, if elected into office, can they unite the nation? This, to our mind, is the main qualification of a true leader. Yes, it is the right for the Filipino people to demand that its leaders be incorruptible and measure up to the highest moral standards.  But at this point in our nation’s history, it is, first and foremost, a leader’s ability to rally the support of all sectors of the community and move them to action that will provide a true measure of his leadership. 

To our mind, Duterte fits the bill, as his candidacy has demonstrated that Filipinos from all walks of life – drivers, students, farmers, corporate executives, soldiers, rebels – can come together and unite under one purpose, one dream. The mayor’s platform of governance is anchored on his commitment of a more responsive, people-centered  bureaucracy. Being a populist by heart, the mayor has repeatedly said that he will push for a federal form of government,  which aims to decentralize power from “Imperial Manila” and disperse development to the countryside. If this happens, he will be providing the Filipino people  the chance to play a more significant role in governance, and most importantly, the opportunity to chart their future and equally partake of the benefits of economic growth.

Let us give Mayor Rodrigo Duterte the chance to fulfill his promise. Let us help him make history.

 

 

Posted in Opinion