Love him or hate him, but you certainly can’t ignore him.
Davao’s tough-talking mayor made the headlines again when he openly announced his willingness to kill alleged rice smuggler, Davidson Bangayan a.k.a. David Tan, if he catches him doing the dirty deed in our city. He made the announcement brazenly, in front of the Philippine Senate and every major news outlet in the country.
Social media was abuzz after that pronouncement. I would read comments praising him, calling him their idol, calling him to run for president, and so on. On the other hand I would also read comments calling him unsavory names, cursing him for encouraging a culture of lawlessness, violence and vigilantism. The Commission on Human Rights recently attacked his statement for tolerating and promoting impunity.
As a Davaoeño, I find myself smiling at the idolizers and avid fans. You don’t really know him that well. Your praises are exaggerated and no, I don’t think he would make a good president. That office requires a very different set of skills than our trash-talking mayor possesses.
On the other hand, I am also smiling at those who curse him and say that he’s as bad as say, Kim Jong Un, president of North Korea. Your fear and demonization of him is exaggerated as well.
We can theorize and philosophize over his statements and actions all day, mulling the possible effects and repurcussions, and never come to an agreement. But there is something that is very difficult to argue against: results. Duterte has been the mayor for most of my teenage and adult life. In that span of time, what can I observe about the city I live in?
In Davao, people follow the law (most of the time). I rarely see cars beating the red light (even police cars) or turning brazenly at an intersection where there is a big “No Left Turn” sign. I lived in Metro Manila for 10 years and police cars breaking traffic rules, even when there is clearly no emergency, is a common sight.
Even when the crazy thirty kilometer-per-hour speed limit or the 1AM liquor ban was imposed, people complained but followed nonetheless. Even Duterte’s daughter, former mayor Sara Duterte, did not resort to using her name or status, but gave up her license when she was apprehended for speeding.
I would like to disabuse non-Davaoeñoes of the notion that our mayor is a dictator who blatantly disregards due process. I’m sorry but that is just not an everyday reality in the city. The mayor is brash and talks trash but he does not go wantonly killing people left and right. Davao is not the killing fields in the clutches of a psychopathic tyrant, that so many want to paint. In fact, it was before he was mayor when NPA gunmen ran amok in the city and everyone cowered in fear. Duterte was the one who put a stop to that.
I actually feel safe in Davao. Of course, I don’t get too complacent either. We still have thefts and murders, after all, but I’m not as paranoid as I was when I used to live in Tondo, where I make sure to hide my watch (even if it’s just an inexpensive Timex) in my pocket when traversing the streets.
I do not recall ever seeing the mayor’s name emblazoned on government projects, ambulances, bridges, basketball courts and so on even as far back as 20 years ago when politicians made it a national pasttime to pollute our walls and streets with their faces.
A lot of what makes Davao stand out has been here for so long that locals already take it for granted — we are the first city in the Philippines to have an integrated emergency response team (yes, you can dial ‘911’ in Davao); we are the first city to ban smoking in public places; the first city to ban firecrackers, resulting in zero or near-zero injuries every year; we have won awards for being culture-friendly, child-friendly, clean and green, and of course being among the top most livable cities in Asia.
Do I think the mayor is perfect? Of course not. He has his faults and flaws and he’s getting old, but I cannot argue with his results. Even if I have to constantly watch my speedometer and do thirty for Duterte, he has made Davao safe, peaceful and liveable.
And for this, if nothing else, he has my thanks.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.