President Rodrigo Duterte
The best way to take control over a people and control them utterly is to take a little of their freedom at a time, to erode rights by a thousand tiny and almost imperceptible reductions. In this way, the people will not see those rights and freedoms being removed until past the point at which these changes cannot be reversed.
— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
IN the last presidential elections in 2016, my wife and I campaigned for then Davao City mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte—believing in his promises and pronouncements that he would address the country’s biggest problems, that of poverty, criminality and corruption in government. His promises then had rung true and we realized that the problems besetting our country had to be resolved this time and who would be better to do this than the swashbuckling local chief executive of Davao, the ‘Punisher’ Rody ‘Digong’ Duterte.
I actually met the president for the first time way back in 1994 when he was city mayor and I was covering the Miss Universe pageant for the Journal Group of Publications.
On my arrival in Davao, I immediately took a taxi to visit the local press office to meet some colleagues that would surely help me find my way around the city. I checked in a small hotel near the media office and then proceeded to then Davao Insular hotel, where the international beauty queens competing in the pageant were billeted during their visit in what has been named as the country’s safest city.
Based on the Crime Index 2019 Mid-Year list of crowd-sourced global database group and survey site Numbeo, Davao City ranked second as the top safest urban center in Southeast Asia with a safety index rate of 72.5 percent. Actually, the city’s rank rose from the previous year of 71.21 and other years preceding that.
Davao City has time and again logged in with one of the lowest crime index rates in the country and this I witnessed during my sojourn there in 1994.
The following day after my arrival, I was lucky to have breakfast with some of the Miss U candidates, including our very own beauty queen bet Charlene Gonzalez—courtesy of the Davao mayor, of course. This is where I met the president face-to-face.
He immediately asked me where I was staying and I retorted “in a small downtown hotel,” where I wouldn’t be charged so much in view of the small stipend given to me to cover the event—the Miss U candidates were being feted at the posh Pearl Farm beach resort in the quiet side of Samal island to celebrate Miss Philippines’ natal day.
On finding out that I was staying in some ‘honky-tonk’ hotel of lesser popularity, Duterte quickly blurted out that I should immediately transfer to Davao Insular under his sponsorship that same day we met. He ordered one of his men to facilitate my transfer and then invited me to dinner that evening in one of his favorite Chinese restaurants in the center of the city.
One thing I noticed in Davao City was the fact that it was orderly, peaceful and tightly secure—thanks to Digong’s vaunted iron-fisted rule of the city that protected the public and visitors alike from any form of criminality. I heard, criminals caught doing their misdeeds were thrown out of a helicopter to punish them permanently!
This is why Davao then was peaceful, orderly and secure—making it the safest city in the archipelago. Criminals were afraid of the mayor because he had this ‘no-nonsense’ policy of eliminating crime in the city’s streets, nooks and crannies. And there were no corrupt policemen either and no city officials involving themselves in anomalous transactions that would be detrimental to the citizens of Davao.
Now fast forward to 2020. We see Davao City’s local chief executive as the highest official of the country. He sits in Malacañang Palace where he tries to manage the Philippines the way he did in his beloved city in Mindanao.
But there are big differences now. Apparently, there are many officials in government that are no longer afraid of Duterte’s wrath when they do wrong.
We have witnessed several military officers and police officials who have failed in the mandate given to them by the president as administrators of government agencies, such as the Bureau of Customs (BoC), Bureau of Immigration (BI) and Bureau of Corrections (BuCor). Despite Digong’s expressed order to eliminate delays in government transactions, ‘red tape’ still exists and we discount the fact that even in the country’s premier health insurance firm, moneys have been lost due to graft and corruption. Even in sports, during the conduct of the hosting of the recent Southeast Asian Games, there are reports of ‘missing’ funds and unpaid debts to suppliers in the staging of the Games.
So, we ask—what happened to Duterte’s iron-fisted policy of running after ‘crooks’?
I guess the helicopter, where criminals and the like are thrown out to their deaths, no longer fly that’s why corrupt government officials are no longer afraid of the former Davao City mayor.
We can see this even on the streets and public transport like the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system on which we ride everyday on the way to work. We see our fellow citizens flouting the quarantine protocols and health safety measures being imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19. The public, too, is not afraid of the president and they will do what they want despite the existing laws.