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SPECIAL REPORT. The Dutertes of Davao: Destiny to Dynasty (2)

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 16 May)  — A firm believer in repaying debts of gratitude, President Rodrigo Duterte at the ‘miting de avance’ of his youngest son Sebastian on May 6 said he would often tell his children: “ayaw gyud pasagdi ang tawo, sama sa pag-alagad nako nila” (never neglect the people, serve them the way I do). 

“We owe the people a huge debt of gratitude. A debt of gratitude should not be forgotten; a debt of gratitude should be repaid,” he addressed his son in Cebuano. Five days later, Sebastian Duterte would be proclaimed mayor, the third Duterte to occupy that post. 

Duterte will step down as President at noon of June 30, 2022. 

President Rodrigo Duterte addresses supporters in Davao City during the Hugpong ng Pagbabago-Hugpong sa Tawong Lungsod miting de Avance in Davao City on Saturday, 6 May 2022. Screengrab from PTV4

By then, he would have served 36 years in office  – as OIC vice mayor from 1986 to 1987, mayor from 1988 to 1998, 2001 to 2010 and 2013 to 2016;  Representative of the 1st congressional district from 1998 to 2001; vice mayor from 2010 to 2013; and as President from 2016 to 2022. 

Duterte is retiring with his political dynasty well-entrenched, supported by a  majority who has known no other leader but him and a City Council dominated by his party mates. 

In the 2022 elections,  Mayor Sara ran for Vice President and is leading by 21 million votes, Rep. Paolo sought reelection as Representative of the 1st congressional district; and Sebastian ran for mayor, a post held by his father for 22 years and by his sister for nine years.  The Duterte brothers were proclaimed winners on May 11. 

Paolo and Sara joined the electoral arena in 2007, Sebastian in 2019. 

20160630 oath
President Rodrigo Duterte, joined by his children, takes his oath as the 16th President of the Philippines at the Rizal Hall in Malacañan Palace on 30 June 2016. Duterte is the country’s 16th President and the first Mindanawon to lead the nation. Photo: Malacañang News and Information Bureau

Sara was the running mate of her father in 2007 while Paolo was elected barangay captain of Catalunan Grande. In 2008, Paolo joined the City Council that was presided over by his sister Sara, as chair of the Association of Barangay Captains. He would stay there until 2013. From 2013 to 2016, he was vice mayor to his father, and vice mayor to his sister from 2016 supposedly until 2019 but resigned on December 25, 2017 after he was implicated in the 6.4 billion peso shabu smuggling and a public quarrel with his daughter from his first marriage. 

Paolo’s wife, January is the barangay captain of Catalunan Grande, a post Paolo served from 2007 to 2013. She was in the City Council as chair of the ABC, from 2016 to 2019. 

Sara served as mayor from 2010 to 2013 but her father made a comeback as mayor in 2013, a move that reportedly annoyed the daughter. She was expected to file her certificate of candidacy for Representative of the 1st congressional district against Karlo Nograles, son of Duterte’s nemesis, Prospero Nograles, who was seeking reelection.  Sara, however, did not file her COC. 

Sebastian’s entry in politics was a breeze.  He ran for Vice Mayor, unopposed, in 2019. 

“Nag-ilis-ilis na lang gud mi ni Inday”

In the same ‘miting de avance’ on May 6, the Duterte patriarch said that what his father told him, he also told his children.  “Siguraduha lang nga nahigugma gyud mo sa tawong lungsod. Mao nga tan-aw nako inyo man kong gi – pila ka tuig gud kong inyong gihimong mayor, nag-ilis-ilis na lang gud mi ni Inday” (make sure that you truly love your countrymen. That’s why I think that you have – you elected me as your mayor for so many years, Inday and I have been alternating on who would be mayor). 

“Dili tungod kay gusto mi og political dynasty” (It’s not because we like being a dynasty), he said, adding “nahibaw ko og unsa ang sitwasyon nga imong solohon ang gobyerno. Dili na maoy akong tuyo” (I know what the situation would be like if you monopolize the government. That’s not my intention). 

President Rodrigo Duterte leads the wreath laying ceremony in commemoration of the 123rd Rizal Day in Davao City on 30 December 2019. Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte (left) also graced the event. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Since 2007, however, this has been the case, the leadership in the executive and legislative offices of the city held by the Dutertes. 

In 2015, then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte waited for daughter Sara to agree to substitute for him before withdrawing his COC for mayor in favor of substituting for Martin Dino, the PDP-Laban’s place holder for Duterte in the Presidential bid. 

Paolo was Rodrigo Duterte’s Vice Mayor from 2013 to 2016. But he would repeatedly tell reporters that Paolo was “not ready” for the mayoralty. 

When Sara withdrew her candidacy for mayor in November last year, Sebastian, then a sure winner for vice mayor as he was unopposed,  substituted for his sister. 

Checks and balance

Lawyer Ruy Elias Lopez, who was ending his three terms as Representative of the city’s third congressional district in 2007, recalls that a few months before the May 2007 elections,  he went to Duterte’s favorite bar, After Dark, to verify if reports about him fielding his daughter as vice mayor, were true. 

He said he tried to dissuade Duterte. “Sabi ko, masama yan” (I told him that’s bad), citing the need for checks and balance in government. 

He said Duterte replied he wanted Sara to be the candidate for mayor by 2010, when he ends his sixth term as mayor. 

“I told him, lokohin mo lahat ng tao dito sa Davao pero huwag ako. Sinabi ko sa kanya, huwag ako. Masama yang intention mo. Huwag ganyan. Corruption yan” (you can fool everyone in Davao but me. You have bad intentions. Don’t. That’s corruption), he said. 

Lawyer Ruy Elias Lopez, former 3rd district Representative. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO C. BUENO

In 2010, Lopez convinced House Speaker Prospero Nograles, who had lost the mayoralty twice against the Duterte patriarch, to run for mayor to challenge what was then an emerging Duterte dynasty. Lopez also ran for the seat he vacated in 2007. Both lost. But Nograles’ son, Karlo, won. 

Running as an independent candidate for mayor in 2022, Lopez could not reach all of the city’s 182 barangays but claims to have reached a substantial part. He held no rallies. He merely relied on small gatherings – also known as tapok-tapok or pulong-pulong — in a village, a chapel, a house, sometimes in the yard of a supporter. 

Carrying a portable sound system with him, he would explain the evils of dynastic rule, the need for checks and balance. He would talk about ghost employees, explain why employment quotas for barangay captains have ensured they would all be beholden to the Dutertes.

He says talking before a small gathering is better than speaking in rallies because you can spend more time explaining and can feel the pulse of the people better. 

At the end of his talk, he would quiz his listeners. On the issue of checks and balance, he would ask: if you are the mayor and your child is the vice mayor, if you engage in corruption, would your child investigate you? If your child engages in corruption, would you investigate your child? 

The crowd’s reply: “no.” 

“Pare-pareho man ta”

For Sara, the issue of political dynasty has hounded her political career since she started in 2007.

In a sit-down interview with MindaNews in August 2011, she said: “They’ve always asked that. Since 2007.  And I always say, well, we have an advantage because of the family name but it is not our fault that my grandfather was a governor and the mayor is my father. But true, we have an advantage because of the name recall. Politics in the Philippines is like that. The name recall has an advantage but on the other side, there is an election so people are free to choose who they want for that post. We put ourselves out there as one of the candidates. There is an election. That is not appointment.”

On November 6, 2021, at the inauguration of the Siargao Island Sports and Tourism Complex in Dapa, Surigao del Norte, Duterte remarked “puro Matugas na man ni tanan” (There are all Matugas) while acknowledging Governor Francisco “Lalo” Matugas; his wife Sol,  who previously served as Governor and Representative, and his son, Francisco Jose, the incumbent Representative of the 1stdistrict. 

But Duterte said he meant no offense because “pareho-pareho man ta” (we are the same). 

Duterte noted that proposed laws prohibiting political dynasties will never be passed by a Congress dominated by dynasties, adding that political dynasties have become the “political practice” and are here to stay. 

“Unless you change the whole picture, unless you change the Constitution, unless you change the culture, puwede pa siguro. Pero og ani lang gihapon (But if we remain like this), we will have dynasties. And dynasties are not bad,” the President said.

“People’s clamor”

For Duterte, dynasties pose a problem when the family controlling an area monopolizes businesses, kills their rivals and in some cases, engage in the illegal drugs trade.

The 1987 Constitution provides under Section 26 of the Declaration of Principles and State Policies, that the state “shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

The dynasty-dominated Congress, however, has yet to pass a law implementing this provision.

As if to justify the reason behind the Duterte Dynasty, Duterte said it was the people’s clamor for his family to run to continue his programs.

He recalled that after completing three terms as mayor, he summoned the barangay officials and said “mamili na ta og muilis sa ako” (let us choose my replacement).

Davao City
From 2022 to 2025, Sebastian Z. Duterte is mayor, Merlchor Quitan is vice mayor and all the three representatives elected in 2019 have been reelected.

In Cebuano, he said, leaders of the the Hugpong sa Tawong Lungsod were unanimous for Inday (Sara). And for Congressman, many wanted Pulong. And for Vice Mayor,  that was decided upon by his sister, Inday (Sara).”

As  he was term-limited in 2010, Duterte ran for the second highest post with Sara as mayor. The patriarch returned as mayor in 2013 although spent most of his time outside Davao City beginning late 2014 for his “listening tours” on federalism, in preparation for his 2016 Presidential bid.

Duterte said “people’s clamor” pushed Sara to the mayoralty in 2010. But in 2007, he told Lopez  he was fielding Sara for vice mayor to prepare her for the mayoralty in 2010. 

“DDS is real”

Duterte’s reign as mayor of Davao City included a bloody war on drugs that involved what would be referred to as the “Davao Death Squad” (DDS) which killed suspected drug pushers and users. 

Duterte would repeatedly say he had nothing to do with the killings. In late 2001, when his daughter Sara, then a law student,  phoned him after watching a TV feature on his war on drugs, Duterte told MindaNews:  “I was quick to point out to my daughter that if it’s a matter of government abetting the killings or having sponsored the slayings or encouraged or had taken initiatives, it’s absolutely false because the mayorship or I had nothing to do with it. Pero sinasakyan ko… because to be really truthful and honest about it, I would rather see criminals dead than innocent victims die, being killed senselessly.” 

Retired SPO3 Arturo Lascanas testifies before the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs on March 6, 2017 on the Davao Death Squad (DDS). On October 3, 2016, he testified that the Davao Death Squad is only a “media hype” and that self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato who alleged that then mayor Rodrigo Duterte was behind the DDS, was a liar. Photo by Albert Calvelo / Senate of the Philippines

A series of investigations by human rights groups and the Commission on Human Rights would point to alleged police involvement, until then newly-retired Senior Police Officer Arturo Lascañas confessed in February 2017 details on the operation. 

At the Senate Committee hearing on extrajudicial killings on October 3, 2016, Lascañas in his testimony under oath, vehemently denied the existence of the DDS, dismissing it as merely a “media hype.”

In 2017, Lascañas, identified by self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato as the DDS team leader who received direct orders from then Mayor Duterte, was back at the Senate for a press conference, accompanied by the Free Legal Assistance Group, where he spoke about the origins of the DDS and how he participated in several killings, allegedly on instructions of the mayor.

“Patutunayan ko na tototo ang sinabi ni Edgar Matobato” (I will prove that Edgar Matobato told the truth),  said Lascañas, who underwent a kidney transplant before the October testimony and retired on December 16, 2016. 

“Totoo po ang existence ng Davao Death Squad,” Lascañas said.

Vote-richest in Mindanao 

Duterte was mayor for a total of seven terms under five administrations – Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Benigno Simeon Aquino III. 

The tenants in Malacanang were aware of Mayor Duterte’s unconventional ways in dealing with criminals and his bloody war on drugs.  But he represented a command vote of about a million, a classic case, it is said, of “he is a sonnovab–ch but he is our sonnovab—ch.”

Davao City — which has nearly a million voters — is the vote-richest among Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities. In the 2022 polls,  Davao City’s registered voters total 992,538. 

Leila de Lima, then chair of the CHR, conducted a probe on the DDS killings in 2009. A fellow graduate of the San Beda University’s College of Law, de Lima gave Duterte notice about what would be termed as a “consultation/public inquiry” on the extrajudicial or summary killings in the city. 

Mayor Rodrigo Duterte moves towards City Hall for his oath taking on June 29, 1995, for his third term as mayor. The boy in red shirt is Mayor-elect Sebastian Zimmerman Duterte. Holding his hand is mother Elizabeth Zimmerman. File photo by RENE B. LUMAWAG

De Lima would become Justice Secretary when Benigno Simeon Aquino III became President on June 30, 2010. 

Her third attempt at conducting a probe on Duterte’s war on drugs was as Senator, in 2016. 

She has been detained since February 2017 allegedly for taking drug money while she was Justice Secretary. Three key witnesses in the case against her have recently retracted their testimonies. 

Duterte does not think past Presidents did not want to touch him. 

“There were investigations that did not prosper,” he told MindaNews in January 2018, quickly adding, “Because I was very careful in not creating a theory for the other side. Yung theory nila is still theory. But kung yung theory nila, theory ko sinunod nila, yun ang tama. talagang pinatay ko ang mga put_ngina. Sinabi ko wag mo nang..  I told you not to f_ck with my country.”

Part 3: The new DDS: Davao’s Dynasty Slayers 

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