THE push for Mayor Sara Duterte to run for the 2022 national and presidential elections is gaining attraction and support. Whether she is the best candidate is, apparently, another issue to tackle. What is interesting for analysis and discussion as of now is the sustained “Duterte” phenomenon. Should Sara win and serve the country for six years, then it would be another significant data in political history for social scientists and commentators to scrutinize.
But a more significant question to ask is: where does the support come from? Just as Tatay Digong emerged from an unexpected corner in 2016, it can be said similarly that there is something “not so common” with what is now going on. It may be easier to just conclude that this is another form of dynastic development. But, the issue, for me, is much more than the reality of political dynasties in the Philippines. If read against the political histories of the families of Gloria Arroyo and Noynoy Aquino, Sara Duterte’s emergence is neither new nor unfamiliar.
What is more interesting and thus the not so familiar phenomenon for me is the growing intensity of Mindanao’s fight for the center stage. Faithful to the basics of political analysis, I would not make any moral or ethical statement on this issue. It is not a question of right or wrong – but of simply asking why the Southern part of the country is exerting so much effort in order to move the “center of gravity” of Philippine politics from Manila to Mindanao.
By now, other contenders or wannabes of the presidency should realize that unless they will get Mindanao, they will have difficulty winning in the national elections. It must be understood however that Mindanao does not just refer to the literal geographic location of the island. It also means the connection and bond which people have to it. So, where there are people from Mindanao working in Luzon, so there is Mindanao.
That the regions of the third largest cluster of islands in the country – have long been forgotten and disregarded – are reasons why the narrative of Duterte has been solidified. For many if not most Duterte is the Simon Bolivar of Mindanao. And just as Ninoy Aquino was a hero of the 80s so is Tatay Digong viewed by many under our contemporary set up. Again, I am not saying that this is correct, but this is how things are “perceived.”
It will then help the opposition if they change their strategy. They should be able to say some things about Mindanao. Where the politicians in the North are busy talking about the West Philippine Sea, the politicians in the South are still preoccupied with issues related to insurgency, terrorism, and the still unsettled place of Lumads and Muslims in the country’s national development. And we know that when people do not see their place in what we would call a “nation” they would start questioning if in the first place such a nation exists.
Poverty in the Capital Region is pictured out in terms of slums; it is an issue of housing and joblessness. But in the South, poverty is understood in terms of illiteracy, vulnerability to culture wars, and the unending displacement due to clashes between government forces and resistant movements. In the North especially in NCR, traffic jam is a daily problem, but that is not an issue in Mindanao where in the first place decent transportation is non-existent in certain areas.
So long as these issues and contrasts exist, people will always look for their hero and their champion. Unfortunately, many of us end up idolatrous with the wrong heroes. We must be circumspect in our reading that the concerns in the North are as valid as those in the South. The problems in the NCR are real but so are the problems in Mindanao. If Sara Duterte will run, will she be the best candidate and eventually president – who can represent not just a certain segment of the country but the whole country with all its problems and challenges?
By the way, I have not said much if any about the Visayas in my foregoing discussion. This second cluster of islands is another interesting unit for analysis in the country’s political life. That can be reserved for another column.