My good friend, Ernie Abella, seems to think so, as he wrote a piece explaining his case. He has given me permission to share his thoughts on the matter:
Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte would make a great President. He would succeed where Marcos failed – create a truly New Society. Marcos seems the apt benchmark because he used a strong hand to stay in power. Duterte exercises a firm grip to stabilize a city where lawlessness would be rampant if there were no clear vision and the political will to enforce it.
Etta Rosales, current chair of the CHR, called up the Marcos bogey when she was featured in Jessica Soho’s special on Duterte. She claimed it might be Marcos all over again if Duterte became Philippine president. Her refined liberal sensibilities caution her assessment of the man Time magazine labelled, “The Punisher.”
Peter Wallace of the Economist Intelligence Unit, Philippines understands why the masses like him. “In a civilized society, such action (referring to the notorious Dirty Harry reputation of Duterte”) is reprehensible. But in a civilized society, the system of law works. In the Philippines, it very probably (sic) does not…”. (Peter Wallace, Like It Is, Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 28, 2015, pA13).
Rosales invokes the great liberal and democratic ideals, which most college educated Filipinos grew up on – especially those who were around during the First Quarter Storm. However, Wallace says, “…in a society where crime goes mostly unpunished, Duterte’s solution is drastic in the extreme and, in the wrong hands, could be massively abused, as we saw during martial law.
But if you rely on an inutile legal system the society remains at risk from ruthless criminals. So what do you do? Do you stick to the democratic ideal, or accept that the reality calls for a different solution? And the reality is that crime flourishes in the Philippines, but doesn’t in Davao…in a letter to the editor, a visiting German rightly says, “You cannot apply Western ideas in the Philippines.”
What makes this discussion difficult is the fact that our arguments are backed up by personal experience. Rosales herself was a victim of Marcos’ human rights abuses, and resists the “strong hand” solution. The ordinary citizens of the Philippines have also been victimized by “unpunished crime” and an “inutile justice system” and therefore favour a “different solution”.
But the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the tasting. After 3 decades and more of Duterte leading Davao, what has it yielded? Aside from the peace and order, it also has one of the country’s most competitive local government units; and topped NCC’s Cities and Municipalities competitiveness survey of infrastructures (health, education, ICT connection, economic dynamism; most transparent LGU, most active in promoting investments, compliance with national LGU directives and efficient tax collection.
So far, all I have done is present two points of view, Ms. Rosales’ and Mr. Wallace’. But as a former resident of Davao City, I can tell you several reasons why Davao City is different: the firecracker ban, smoking ban, no liquor after 12 a.m. ordinance, curfew for minors, speed limits, and so forth and so on. These would seem petty and irritating, but they were never arbitrary. They were necessary because we had not yet become responsible citizens.
In truth, as a people, we have not yet become full and participating citizens. In fact, our perception of ourselves as one nation only began in 1986 – when we were galvanized by the outrage we had against the dictator. And there was dancing in the streets when they left. Even in Davao. But when the thrill of EDSA faded, the small flames of hope were nurtured in Davao by Rodrigo Duterte. And slowly he turned this frontier town into the reality that all the pioneers from Luzon and the Visayas had hoped for.
I was kidnapped in 1996. I was a pastor then. And I had just inherited a small sum from my parents and was looking for a piece of property. And the real estate dealers led me to this secluded place where 5 ethnic men held me for ransom. As fate would have it, my colleagues went to Mayor Rody. And in a classic response, he called for the MNLF commanders in the city warning them, “If anything happens to that pastor, I will capture 3 of your imams.” (as retold to me later). Within 24 hours, I was released.
I tell this story, not because I am an unquestioning supporter but because I understand that in a society in search for itself, we need a firm hand until such a time we can make difficult decisions for ourselves. Duterte is not a Jeffersonian Democrat and neither was Lee Kuan Yew. But both shared a clear vision of the way things could be.
I cannot tell you about the personal morality of Mayor Duterte. I can tell you what he has publicly done – he has turned a backwater city into a global benchmark. And if he had wanted to steal us blind he would have left traces by now. He is not that sophisticated. He is that rarity – a plainspoken man who wants the world to work for everyone. Therein lies his greatness. He is an ordinary man with ordinary dreams – the dream of a better life. What makes him great is his willingness to defend your right to a fair share – your share of a decent life, a happy home and a peaceful nation. I would vote for a man like that. I would persuade others to do so. Ninoy died so we could have that kind of a life. Rody is the kind of a person who will make sure we do.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.