Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 10 June 2015


There’s no doubt that Rodrigo Duterte wants to be president. But he flatly denies all claims to candidacy if asked. He is spritely and does not act his 70 years.

His people are distributing a wide Philippine tri-coloured rubber band of red-white-and blue with the motto, Atin to pre! This is local slang for his old campaign slogan, Atin ito, ‘pare! (He is ours, friend!) In today’s doublespeak, it could be He is our president!

On law and order. On simple maintenance of law and order in running the city, he demands stern obedience.

The ordinance against smoking is an example. It is now prohibited to smoke in public places in Davao – in buildings, hotels, restaurants and public areas.

Duterte told me of an incident in a restaurant where a client refused to obey the anti-smoking ordinance. This customer smoked while complaining: “Why does the mayor control our lives by telling us where we cannot smoke?”

A call from the restaurant was directed to mayor Duterte while the man continued smoking. Speedily, the mayor went to the restaurant and asked the man why he was smoking in a prohibited area.

When the offender did not reply, Duterte asked him if the words that were reported to him were truly what the offender had said. Cornered thus, the man admitted: yes. At that, the mayor ordered him to eat his own cigarette butt!

Leadership mentors. This prompted me to ask him whether he had taken lessons from Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. To this, he said “yes.”

But then, he further added, “also from Adolf Hitler”. A man who could command great obedience from citizens deserves study, he said.

Criminals, rebels, drug syndicates and overlords. Duterte said he began his career as government prosecutor. In that position, he claimed success in pressing for speedy conclusion of cases against erring police offenders and accused criminals alike.

When he became mayor, he pursued this campaign against criminality. The city was the haven of criminal elements and of NPA assassination squads. Residents give him high marks for success in this area.

The way he dealt with criminal elements was heavy handed. He told them they were not welcome in Davao. Criminal elements and bad policemen were thus handled equally quickly and summarily.

He cited a recent example in the case of a drug syndicate. The police had advance intelligence and suggested that they launch a pre-emptive strike. The mayor told the police to wait and catch them in the act.

When the police struck – with the mayor in charge – the drug syndicates were caught red-handed. The next day, all six members of the drug syndicate were found dead in their own lair, a fact given wide publicity.

He was hated, but respected both by bad elements and NPAs. He said his sympathies were with the left – mga anak ng mahirap. He said he was going to do what was right, but he was not killed by these elements.

He said he is not afraid to die doing his work. He lives by the biblical quote: There is a time to live and a time to die….

Mayor Duterte has a bigger job in peace and order outside of his immediate Davao City area. He was presidential assistant on criminality for Mindanao under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He continues as the chairman of the Regional Peace and Order Council for the Davao provinces today.

He says his sympathies are with the grievances of the NPA, for he is always with the poor. But he draws the line on the issue of armed conflict.

The NPA incursions have moved to the other Davao provinces. Mayor Duterte says he can move freely, is respected and feels he is safe when he encounters with them and their demands. The NPAs seek him and want to deal with him directly. He continues to believe the NPAs represent an organized group that should be dealt with in full through negotiation.

BBL and the nation. With respect to the Muslim rebellion and the BBL (BangsaMoro Basic Law), Mayor Duterte starts with the statement of President Aquino that if the BBL is not approved, we might as well count body bags. He insists there is an open and peaceful option for all.

The BBL, he says, will fail the test of constitutionality. The nation cannot confer privileges to one group of Filipinos (the Bangsa Moro) without giving the same to the rest of the nation.

The “federal” option will give equal privileges to other sub-states in the nation. They will have greater autonomy and responsibility and inherit potentials for growth.

Development issues. When it comes to national development issues, mayor Duterte takes a practical approach, but is less grounded on their full rationale.

When he was newly elected as mayor, he told Chito (Jesus V.) Ayala, one of the leading businessmen of Davao then, the latter should take care of his business but as mayor, he (Duterte) would take care of the criminals.

On national economic issues, he is much less knowledgeable. But he keeps a pragmatic approach to the problem at hand.

For instance, he requires permits to do businesses be approved as quickly as possible, within 72 hours. Any delays were to be explained to the mayor’s office. This led to expeditious processing and approval of most business permits and reduced discretion among bureaucrats.

He over-rode the environmental objections against coal-powered electricity generating plants and approved the request of Aboitiz Power to build one such plant. That is just recently an added generating capacity for Mindanao which is short of energy.

He said he favors large scale mining, not like that in Diwalwal (in Compostela Valley province) where small-scale mining led to high social costs, pollution of the environment and corruption by policemen who allowed miners. He believes the Australians have found a way to minimize costs through large-scale mining.

I asked him about his views on restrictions to foreign capital in the constitution. Not seeming to be fully informed on this, I tried to explain the reasons behind the proposals.

He said: “This is a changing world, with changing needs for the people. We will get nowhere if we do not reform.” I do not know whether he agreed or understood me. But he added. “That was why I embraced the efforts of President Fidel Ramos to encourage family planning