To run or not to run? That is the question. The signs are everywhere that Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is going to. He has been consistently quoted in various interviews saying that he isn’t running. “I don’t want to run,” he says. “Why? Because I’m old already and don’t have the money. And when I close my eyes, I see no difference between being a Mayor Duterte and a President Duterte; it’s all the same to me. I’ve been telling people that I have accumulated enough accolades to last a lifetime and I don’t need to add the presidency.” He also considers how the presidency is perceived, with people easily accusing one of corruption as a result of the negative image brought about by botched government deals like the MRT, for instance. “I don’t need it,” he says emphatically.

So why won’t people leave him alone? Why do they keep convincing him to run, even financing his political ads despite his reluctance?

For one, he has a great track record. Ask any man on the street in Davao, and he will tell you that Mayor Duterte was the only one who brought peace and order as well as prosperity to their city. On June 13, 2015, the global database Numbeo released its list of top 10 safest cities in Southeast Asia and ranked Davao second, with an 18.65 crime index after Singapore’s 16.76. Not bad at all. They even have a 9-11 call center patterned after that of the US, which has helped not only solve but also prevent a lot of crimes. They have cameras in all major thoroughfares with 24/7 surveillance, so police action is almost instantaneous. Even if the riding public find the speed limit of 40 kph a bit conservative, traffic obedience is amazing because everyone is aware of the pitfalls of wanton disregard for traffic rules. And because of these, there is investor confidence. Hotels have mushroomed; with five-star hotels like Ayala’s Seda, in addition to Marco Polo, they now have enough rooms to make it a favorite regional and even national convention hub.

Duterte says that after 22 years as Davao Mayor, it’s only now that he has gained national recognition. “Actually, I have never gotten involved in national issues in the past. I’ve been a very private person ever since.” Pivotal was the visit of former governor Lito Osmeña, former senator Aquilino Pimentel, Jr., and Reuben Canoy, owner of Radio Mindanao Network, the original proponents of federalism. “Several times they asked me to again carry the torch of federalism,” he says, after the original group’s efforts failed to come to fruition.

“I agreed to advocate federalism, considering the red lights in Mindanao. If the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is not passed, there is that threat of war by Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chair Murad Ebrahim. President Aquino and Sec. Teresita Deles, presidential adviser on the peace process, have validated these threats of Murad and have painted a very grim picture of what will happen if there is no BBL,” says Duterte.

Duterte house

As a local government official, he isn’t your typical politician. He lives in a simple medium-sized abode in a middle-class subdivision. He has a taxi that helped augment his income while he was vice mayor. He doesn’t like putting his picture on the banners of his various projects. Epal, which now refers to a politician’s shameless self-promotion, is something you won’t see in Davao. “It’s important to have a sense of delicadeza,” he says.

He is also a firm believer in walking the talk. When he imposed the maximum speed limit policy in Davao, his daughter Inday Sara was one of the first to get caught. “There are no exceptions. There’s no drama there. We are a family with no pretensions.”

“My father would remind us of our humble beginnings. He told us, you should bear in mind, it is not easy to be a politician. To win, you have to earn the trust and love of the people. Once you are in power, be humble and stay only until you are in a position to help. Sometimes, you need to be humble to the point of losing your dignity.” And that is exactly how Rodrigo Duterte has lived his life as a politician.

Know more about Mayor Duterte, his life, and his thoughts on running the country, inside Asian Dragon Magazine’s July-August 2015 issue. Contact Asian Dragon Magazine for orders or purchase the issue from the Asian Dragon Magazine App, free to download on Google Play Store, iTunes, and Amazon.

[Photographs: Edwin Tuyay]

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