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Duterte should abandon Davao

BY that, I mean President Duterte, for the good of the country, should both stop making Davao City his main world—the comfort zone he hasn’t really moved out of—and, more importantly perhaps, to jettison his city-mayor mindset.

In fact, much of his failings in his nearly six months in office are most probably because his world hasn’t become the entire Philippines, but still Davao City. But he is not just President of Davao City, nor just of Mindanao. He is President of the entire country.

I had initially cheered the assumption to the presidency of a political leader whose world had been outside Manila, as this could jar our political and economic leadership’s Manila-centric worldview since the birth of our nation. This resulted in resources being focused mainly on the metropolis, with the poorest of the country, mostly outside the country, trapped in poverty.

But that is appearing to be more and more just wishful thinking, involving theory that doesn’t jibe with reality. Duterte’s “Davao-centrism” could even be his big handicap.

Take Duterte’s war against drugs, the images of which have horrified the world, what with vivid photos of corpses in streets and in morgues in the New York Times and the UK-based Daily Mail.

When he ordered the police, “Slaughter them all,” referring to those involved in the drug trade, I suspect that his mindset was that of his days in Davao City, ordering the 500-strong police force of the city, whose integrity and character—and limits—he would have known. With such a relatively small force, it was easy for him to monitor his order’s implementation, so that it doesn’t get out of control and end up in a bloodbath.

But as President of the Republic, his slaughter-them-all directive was issued to the 160,000 personnel of the entire Philippine National Police in 2,000 regional, provincial, city and municipal commands. To illustrate arithmetically, if only 10 percent of the Davao police were sadist killers, only 50 policemen would have gone on a spree of extra-judicial executions. In fact, Duterte had undertaken such a war against illegal drugs in the 1980s and 1990s, and it hardly merited reportage from the big foreign news outfits

The President commuting from office to home.

The President commuting from office to home.

But if 10 percent of the entire police force were such cold-blooded killers, you’d have a huge number of 16,000 policemen in the country on a killing spree. No wonder not a day has passed since July when tabloids and TV news do not have pictures and videos of poor people in slippers killed in some drug bust, and who apparently had such a surge of audacity to fight policemen that they had to be killed.

Davao Cabinet
About half of Duterte’s Cabinet members, and in crucial posts, are people from Davao or adjacent areas, which would reinforce his Davao-centric view. Other than Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, among them are: Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez II; Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III; Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, another childhood friend; Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismael Sueno; DILG for Police Matters, Catalino Uy; Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial; Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon Tulfo-Teo; Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza; Immigration and Deportation chief Jaime Hermo Morente, a former Davao City chief of police; National Bureau of Investigation Director Dane Gierran, for a long time NBI Davao head; Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency head Isidro Lapeña; Philippine National Police Director-General Ronaldo de la Rosa, a former Davao City police chief; Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol; Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella; Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco, Duterte’s city administrator; and of course, Duterte’s constant companion, Christopher Go, since 1998 the president’s aide who now heads the Presidential Management Staff .

(The next biggest bloc in Duterte’s Cabinet–the other four are the nominees of the National Democratic Front—are his classmates or room-mates in the dormitories where he lived when he took up law at San Beda in the 1970s. Among those in this group are Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr., Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade, and information and communications technology chief Rodolfo Salalima.)

Take his style of leadership.

Mayors ever hardly have a real second-in-command, as it has often happened that such subordinates in the short span of the mayor’s term manage to get enough support in the relatively small political arena that they become the main challenger to the post in the next elections.

But because of the huge size of the national bureaucracy that needs to be managed, presidents have no choice but to have their second-in-command, or the “Little President,” i.e., the Executive Secretary whom every other official looks up to as the Cabinet’s primus inter pares. I certainly don’t think that Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Duterte’s childhood buddy, has been a “Little President.”

Sources claim that Duterte always seems bored during Cabinet meetings when issues other than the war vs illegal drugs are discussed, that he fights off sleep by cracking jokes. Other than building new roads, most mayors’ concerns really have been almost solely with peace and order. Can this mayor of what was once a Wild West frontier town be really interested in trade and investment issues?

Duterte had justified the hiring of his Davao and San Beda officials by claiming that he had such a “small world” that these are the only people he really knows, whose integrity he can vouch for. But of the 11 presidents of the postwar Republic, it is only Duterte who is relying so much on people from one city.

Is there something in that city–its famous durian?—that produces the most intelligent and most honest Filipinos, the only ones worthy to serve in Duterte’s Cabinet?

Public pronouncements
Take his public pronouncements.

I don’t think any nationwide press would have ever reported on Duterte’s off-color jokes and shocking statements. As Davao mayor, he would have been covered only by a handful or so broadcasters or print journalists covering Davao City. As most mayors do, he would have made these journalists his friends, whom he even socializes with in restaurants and bars in the relatively small city, and most of whom would be extremely supportive of him, even translating his statements into more palatable ones for the public’s sensibilities.

After six months in office though, I don’t think he realizes that his statements are reported verbatim not only in the national press but by foreign news outfits, with even the Filipino correspondents having imbibed (or aped) their superiors’ tight-assed mindsets that cannot distinguish jokes from official policy statements.

And lastly, which may seem a minor matter but really isn’t. We can’t really monitor the President’s schedule, like where he is, because the Presidential Communications Operations Office, headed by Martin Andanar, the former newsreader that former senator Manuel Villar lobbied for him to be given the position, has been so incompetent in its job.

The government’s official website run by an undersecretary, Manuel Quezon, in the past administration, contained so much useful information about the presidency, and regularly had a section “President’s Day”. Now the website contains only the most minimum required of it as the Official Gazette, such as official copies of administrative orders and executive orders.

There’ s no “President’s Day” section now. So we don’t have information on where the President has been spending his time, which we citizens deserve to know.

But based on newspaper reports, Duterte it seems has been spending a lot of his days in Davao City, his comfort zone. Or is he one of those people who really can’t sleep anywhere else but in their own beds?

This of course would eat up a lot of the President’s valuable time, which he could be using to study the huge problems of the country or to consult with his officials. No wonder he often seems sleepy or has had dizzy episodes. To commute to Davao from Manila requires at least three hours, including the rest periods before and after a flight.

That would mean a President not really working full time, but spending hours commuting. From a President spending a lot of his time playing X-Box computer games to a President spending hours on a plane to and from Davao. What a country.

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