The sheriff-A A +A
Wrapped in Grey
Friday, October 25, 2013
THE people of Davao fondly call him Rody or Digong and he is the stuff of legend in the City that he has served for decades. His long tenure as the elected chief executive of the City of Davao is also the envy of other politicians for while their fortunes have risen and fallen based upon the changing political tides in both the local and national arena, Mayor Duterte’s political currency remains formidable and strong.
Seen from various vantage points, Mayor Rody Duterte is the perfect leader for a City like Davao as if he was tailor-made for the job. One can perhaps say that the peculiarities of Davao City, with its sprawling expanse, agricultural economy, and major sea port; and the fact that it is also contiguous to the Muslim-dominated provinces of Maguindanao and Cotabato, had more to do with the creation of a leader like Duterte than the mayor himself.
Like many places in Mindanao, Davao City is a relatively new settlement whose significant population growth in the last fifty years was fueled by local migration. The Tagalog speaking segment of the population alongside the Bisaya and the Maguindanaoan is a testament to this character of the city.
Davao City just like the rest of Mindanao was the new frontier for many Filipinos from the North after the war. And the business of governance for places like this mainly revolves around managing the social frictions that come into play when the natives of the place who are either lumads or Muslims share the space and resources with new migrants from the North. As a melting pot of that region of Mindanao, the cowboy charisma of the mayor is apt for the wild, wild west character of the place. And Mayor Duterte has played the role of sheriff to the hilt.
He is known to ride around the City managing the peace and order situation not on a horse but its modern equivalent - a big motorbike. Wearing shades while on his bike and without the protection of a coterie of bodyguards, he makes himself visible to the residents of the city and proves to them that he is not ensconced in his mansion or his air-conditioned office. He personally accosts erring traffic violators and he has also been reported to moonlight as a taxi driver on evenings just to have a pulse on the going-ons in his city. There is a story of him bringing a mother and his children to their residence on his own vehicle during an evening of heavy downpour getting off on the way to direct the snarled traffic himself after instructing his driver to bring the mother and kids home.
These stories endear Mayor Duterte to the residents of Davao City since he has shown himself as a man of the people and that he has their best interests in mind. Even when he achieved notoriety as the suspected patron of the Davao Death Squad which has been accused as the group behind the extrajudicial killings of criminals and drug pushers in the city, the people tolerated him just as they would a sheriff who personifies the law in the Wild West.
His political savvy in dealing with the armed communist and Muslim rebels who are operating within the city’s rural hinterlands comes not from a cynical standpoint, but as signified in his pronouncements, actually emanates from a deep appreciation of the root causes of the conflict. In his own words, he acknowledges the historical injustice that gave rise to these movements and thus relate to them with respect. In this regard, the mayor proves himself to be more than just a shrewd politician but actually a smart one. He considers it necessary to maintain ties with these rebel groups for the sake of keeping the peace to the chagrin of the national government and the military. But Digong does not mind since he has the popular support of the people of Davao.
What makes him a truly populist leader is the fact that his political support cuts across all social classes. He seems to have the support of big business, the urban poor, and the middle class across ethnic and religious affiliations and his name has never been dragged in a corruption scandal despite his long years of service.
Mayor Duterte’s success actually provides an interesting case study of the kind of political leadership that Filipinos have come to expect from their local chief executive especially in areas of Mindanao. The Filipino does not expect much, just someone that they can trust to handle the reigns of government not for personal gain but for the general interest of the community.
Mayor Duterte responds not just to the myth of an accessible and visible leadership but also of governance that has the people’s interest at heart. His understanding of the root causes of conflict and him playing the role of sheriff or keeper of the peace are just some of the traits that set him apart. In the context of the consistent failures of national governance particularly with the raging pork barrel scandal, it is local leaders like Mayor Duterte, who now offer an alternative model of leadership.
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on October 25, 2013.