LETTERS FROM DAVAO

By Jun Ledesma

THE euphoria spawned by the oath-taking of Davao City Mayor Inday Sara Z. Duterte as the 15th Vice President of the Philippines took a while to ebb. While everybody who is somebody was invited to a reception later, Inday was busy and was and is still busy literally rubbing elbows with the hoi pollois

During the momentous event,  the incoming VP spent the rest of the evening that spilled over to the wee hours of the morning hob-nobbing with the ordinary man on the street for photo ops.  This,  while the guests had left and were in slumber. The lady in an elegant green gown untiringly stood through the night and when everyone had their souvenir pictures she then finally repaired to a joint nearby to have a cup of hot ramen. 

Like her father and siblings, they are all children of destiny. The incumbent President Rodrigo Roa Duterte never dreamt of becoming a politician like his lawyer father,  Vicente Duterte who served as governor of the undivided Davao province. His sole aspiration when he took up law was to become someday an assistant city fiscal, prosecutor in today’s term. The be-spectacled and lanky city fiscal hardly made it to the news except in a few instances when he conducted investigation and exhumation of skeletal remains of victims of NPA atrocities in the early 1980s.  

In the mid-1980 Davao started the Yellow Friday Movement to protest the assassination. The mother of Rodrigo, the late Soledad Duterte,  a respected civic leader in the City was among the pillars of the movement led by the late business leader Jesus V. Ayala. In the aftermath of the Edsa People Power revolution, all the incumbent local political leaders were replaced. Appointed as Mayor was Zafiro Respicio a political activist. Soledad received an appointment paper to serve as Vice Mayor but was declined. JVA however insisted thus the appointment of Fiscal Rodrigo Duterte as Vice Mayor. In 1988 in the first regular elections after the revolutionary government of Cory Aquino, Duterte won the mayoral elections against Cory’s anointed bet Respicio. 

Sara was barely in her teens when her father took his oath at the portal of the City Hall of Davao. Standing close to Mayor Duterte was his wife, Elizabeth who carried in her arms their infant  Sebastian “Baste”.  Paolo the eldest son milled around with the political leaders, the late Sen. Alejandro Almendras and erstwhile Mayor Elias B. Lopez.

Duterte served as mayor of Davao for nearly 23 years punctuated with a congressional and vice mayoral term. Inday Sara’s initial foray into politics was a successful bid as Vice Mayor. Paolo “Polong” Duterte on his own was elected as Barangay Captain of Catalunan and became the Chairman of the Barangay Captain association which in turn made him a member of the  City Council. 

In the 2010 elections, Sara defeated then-House Speaker Prospero Nograles in a mayoral race by a huge majority recorded in an electoral derby in the city. Her vice mayoral teammate was her father,  who like Sara, handily won the race.  

After her first term as mayor, her father made known his desire to run again for Mayor in 2013. Sara had her plans and programs which she had wish to accomplish within a possible three terms that allowed her. I personally felt There was an air of resentment in this although  I can be wrong. Inday Sara gave way and ran anew as Vice Mayor. 

The 2016 regular elections, was an entirely different ball game. Both father and daughter had filed their certificates of candidacy for mayor and vice mayor respectively. Unlike in the pasts elections, however, there was a loud clamor nationwide for Mayor Duterte to run for president. While the Human Rights Commission chaired by Leila De Lima was importuning Duterte over what she claimed were thousands of victims of extra-judicial killing carried out by the Davao Death Squads which she claimed was organized by the mayor, the popularity of the mayor never diminished. In fact, in many speaking engagements he had in Metro Manila Duterte was being looked up to like a folk hero who could save the country from organized crime and the menacing drug syndicates that were peddling their wares with impunity.

Duterte is an accomplished politician however this time he refused to take the plunge even as the surveys showed he had scored better than those who had made known their decision to run for president. 

I remembered distinctly what prompted the mayor to run. Marco Polo is a favorite hangout for businessmen, politicians, and journalists hunting for what’s the latest in the political arena. Heavy rains that eventful night caught up with some guests in the lobby coffee shop. I was with Duterte in one corner talking about…what else but politics. I had been egging him to run even as weeks before he made an announcement on SMNI TV that he will shoot Mon Tulfo, Jess Dureza, and me for our public insistence for him to go for the presidency.  Our bantering was cut short when one of the men of Mayor Duterte approached our table and handed him a piece of paper. 

I was watching the mayor as he was pouring over the note that he held close to his face. When finally he put the paper in his pocket, he nudge me and whispered: “We will run, we have just conquered NCR”. I was shocked to hear the message but more curious about what was on that piece of paper. So I asked him what was in that note. Turned out it was a survey result of the national capital region. He then revealed the clincher: “we won in all and lost only in one - Makati - but the margin is small. We won in the rest with a wide margin”, he said still in a whisper but with a smile. 

That he had decided to run was kept secret. At the proper time on the day of substitution,  tension was high. There were rumors that a private jet had landed in Davao to fetch Duterte who will be filing his certificate of candidacy at the main office of the Commission on Elections.  But nothing happened. In Manila, the street that leads to the COMELEC was festooned with placard-bearing DU30 mob. In Davao, someone close to the mayor told me that he is resting in a hut in a shooting range in Maa. 

Later, the media was advised to proceed to the Task Force Davao headquarters adjacent to Sta. Ana wharf. I rushed to the venue and found out the big TV networks were already there. Nearly an hour elapsed but there was no Duterte. But I received some advice from Atty. Salvador Medialdea that he is already at the COMELEC national office pretending to listen to a lecture in the law department. He bared that he has with him a special power of attorney from Duterte, the nomination document, and the COC for president. He explained that the moment they get the final advice that Mayor Duterte and Inday had officially withdrawn their COCs for Mayor and Vice Mayor respectively they will then immediately file the COC of Duterte for President (substituting for Martin Dino) and for Inday to substitute for her father as mayor. 

In the meantime, we were waiting for an eternity for the father and daughter to arrive at the TFD headquarters. But having been informed of the strategy by Medialdea, I felt relaxed.  

True enough a moment later the media were told to proceed to the city COMELEC office at Magsaysay Park compound which was just less than a five-minute walk from TFD. Just as we got there, the black DMax arrived with the mayor on board followed by another SUV where Inday Sara disembarked. The duo went straight to the COMELEC Office and the next moment faced the media, the father displaying his withdrawn COC and Inday Sara showing her COC for mayor. 

Up at the central office, the COC of Rodrigo Duterte for President had been promptly filed. 

The transitions brought Sebastian “Baste” into the political limelight. The infant was in the arms of her mom when his father took oath as mayor and won as vice mayor. On July 30, 2022, it will be his turn to take his oath as Mayor of Davao City.   

Inday Sara, had just taken her oath as the 15th Vice President of the Philippines. She has made it on the political annals of the country as the youngest ever elected to the 2nd most powerful position in the country and voted by an unprecedented 32 million-plus people. 

On June 30 too, the son of the venerable governor Vicente Duterte will fly home to Davao having served the nation for six years. He had been called “the best president the country ever had”.  Up to the last minute of his presidency the Trust and Approval rating of the man his adversaries called “the man from the boondocks of Mindanao” never wained. 

We who have not seen and talked to him personally for almost six years since he assumed office as President could only wish to have coffee with him again once Hotel Marco Polo will reopen open its doors anew hopefully on February 2023. 

About the Columnist

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Mr. Jun Ledesma is a community journalist who writes from Davao City and comments from the perspective of a Mindanaoan.