Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 3 June 2015


Much is heard about Rodrigo Duterte these days in the national political scene. Mayor of Davao City for almost 24 years, his leadership has been substantially credited with the quiet progress of the Davao region’s economy.

Davao City covers a very large geographic area, with a population of 1.5 million people. The total Davao region itself comprises the four Davao provinces (Del Sur, Del Norte, Occidental, Oriental, and the province of Compostela Valley).

An interview. During my Mindanao travel by road, my appointments with business groups included talks with regional government officials as I moved along major regional centers. Mayor Duterte asked that ours be on one-on-one basis.

He arranged the meeting in Sarung Banggi, a local restaurant two weeks ago. We talked from 9:30 p.m. and parted company minutes before midnight. I took extensive notes but no tape recording.

The last half hour of our meeting was a trip to the operations room for public safety and emergency assistance. There, he demonstrated and explained to me his projects even as these operations were taking place in real time. The city’s police and health institutions are kept busy 24/7.

Public safety and emergency operations.  The discussion of public safety and emergency assistance came into light only later in our talk. It is instructive, however, to begin on that subject.

To enable a quick response public emergency system that served ordinary citizens, he sought a three-digit number similar to “911” from the telecommunications provided. At first, Globe would not consider such a request as it was not compatible with their telephone numbering system.

Mayor Duterte, who would not accept “No” for an answer, gave Globe a deadline. Afraid not to accede to a mayor’s insistent demand, Globe gave in and yielded.

Today, ordinary citizens in Davao City can call 911 for help during emergencies. Emergencies come in many guises –police assistance, fire, theft, health emergencies, natural calamities, and so on.

The city now has a quick response system that is available at any hour. It is available for the immediate vicinity where the city’s emergency assistance equipment can render assistance. Now and then, one would meet an ambulance on the road ready on call for assistance.

The 911 calls are directed to an operations center that is housed in a modest looking multi-story concrete building. There, the sensitive telecommunications and computer systems are set up.

Adjacent to the building is also another modest building where the city’s fire equipment, ambulances, and other support  are parked awaiting emergency calls on them.

The mayor took me to the 911 call receiving room. There, a team of young women and men faced computer monitors. This is a call center where all the calls are answered and assistance defined.

Mayor Duterte suggested that I dial ‘911’ on my cell phone, which I did. Instantly someone gave a “911’ response. The operator who received my call was surprised to find out that I was the visitor who was being briefed by the mayor.

Next, Mayor Duterte took me up, one floor higher. We went to a bigger room that was filled with young men and women working on computers. The room also has the wide white wall serving a multiple video screen. Different images of the city are shown from many CCTVs that are installed in specific locations of the city.

The images shown on the screens can be manipulated to maximize or to minimize them, depending on need and significance. Active TV screens showing different moving images in all parts of the city. It almost reminded me of a fast Hollywood thriller-movie in which simultaneous computer action images of people and places are flashed on the wall.

Mayor Duterte then asked one of the technicians to zoom in on one of the TV screens. At a Jollibee restaurant, a family of three was eating by a window table. Upon closer zooming, I could, if I knew these persons, recognize them. This is state of the art technology at work.

(In the wake of the Boston marathon bombing, it should be recalled that it was the CCTV videos that exposed suspicion of investigators to the two brothers who had plotted and bombed the marathon event.)

After this, Mayor Duterte asked a technician to play archival materials of traffic accidents that had been caught on video. At the flash of the screen which was enlarged, we could see a series of accidents take place in slow motion. There was a speeding truck at a corner colliding with another truck; another speeding motor-cyclist smashing into a car; a woman walking in the middle of the road run over by a big vehicle and miraculously standing again in shock afterward, etc.

The mayor told me that these road accidents made him require that speed limits within the city be adopted and enforced religiously. At the city center, it is 30 km per hour. Where the traffic is lighter, the speed limit is 40 km. At the periphery of the city’s boundaries, an absolute 60 km per hour is enforced.

A newcomer to Davao driving from northern Mindanao (originating in Surigao City and Butuan) immediately notices the strict enforcement of security and traffic regulations in Davao City. At the border of the city, all vehicles pass through checkpoint channels.

I arrived at around five p.m. – the rush hour. The traffic is heavy, but 60 km per hour is the speed limit. Almost every one moves in synch at that speed limit.

As one moves toward the city away from this inside border area, the speed limit goes down to 40. At the city central area, the speed limit is 30. The traffic moves. Traffic moved well and there is no driver who would flaunt the speed limits. I could not see any drivers trying to play outside the rules of speed and reason.

This is Davao City. A place where rules and regulations appear to be in place and where no one would dare flaunt them. It is not only traffic rules, but many others on smoking in public, on infractions against criminal and civil law against ordinary people.

Mayor Duterte is not yet a candidate, and he is being commented upon in many ways, some very negative, others very favorable. He refuses to be cornered into admission. Even though he is not a declared candidate, he comments on issues that are of national significance.

(To be continued)