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Know the President (4)

12:27 AM April 24, 2017

Not a few opine that in order to have a well-oiled government machinery humming with efficiency, what a leader needs apart from vision and dedication is political will. I define political will as the willingness and determination to pursue what is good for the people and do what one believes is right regardless of what others think or say.

There is no question that political will is only one of the many glowing leadership qualities with which President Duterte is endowed. He proved that during his incumbency as mayor of Davao City when he enforced, to the letter and spirit, the provisions of its antismoking and firecracker ban ordinances despite the strong opposition put up by his most vociferous critics.


Hotel owners and operators, as well as those engaged in the tourism and nighttime businesses, said that, income-wise, Davao’s twin landmark ordinances were burdens too heavy for them to carry. Ultimately, they said, it is the city that will suffer the most. Unemployment, a dip in local income, and loss of investors and tourists will pass the realm of possibilities into probabilities.

“Don’t kill the geese that lay the golden eggs,” they said. Drinking and smoking go together like rice and fish, like tea and ice, like ribbons and roses. They also claimed that their customers and clients—who usually while away the time in the comfort of their lounges and entertainment areas instinctively doing what the antismoking ordinance disallows—would be discouraged from patronizing their establishments. Davao is growing and enforcement of the twin ordinances would do more harm than good because these tend to impede the city’s growth.

Many asked: What would the Christmas season and New Year’s Eve be like without the pop-pop and boom-boom of exploding firecrackers of various makes, ranging from the ordinary ones to the
“Judas Belt” to the “Super Lolo” and the “Lolo Thunder,” not to mention the smell of used gunpowder hanging in the air?

Members of the Chinese community said they needed the din of exploding firecrackers as the Chinese New Year makes its entrance in order to drive away demons and evil spirits; otherwise, their businesses would be bedeviled no end. Making noise to scare away demons is a practice handed down from generation to generation over centuries. It is a tradition that they said they could not do without. In short, the firecracker ban ordinance was bad for business.

But the political will of then Mayor Duterte was steadfast and could not be budged. He countered: Smoking is bad for the health not only of smokers but also of nonsmokers who are exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke. Experience tells us that firecrackers kill and maim and could even cause a conflagration. The rest is, of course, Davao City’s history. The voices of the local Cassandras were swept away by the winds of progress and development.

The success of both the antismoking and firecracker ban campaigns caught the attention of many local government units as well as the international community. When I was administrator of Davao City, I welcomed several foreign delegations who came to learn a lesson or two from the way the city authorities conducted the campaigns. These delegations expressed their desire to replicate the Davao City experience in their own jurisdictions.

It was political will that carried the city’s campaigns against smoking and the use of firecrackers. There is no doubt about that. However, the exercise of political will is not entirely risk-free. On occasions, what one perceives to be political will may actually be something else. For there are times when we cannot distinguish our political will from our stubbornness, in the same manner that at times, we cannot distinguish our need from our greed and our principles from our prejudices.

President Duterte is adept at recognizing and distinguishing one from the other. That is why during his incumbency as city mayor, Dabawenyos listened to him. That explains why Dabawenyos are always receptive to, and supportive of, his programs and projects.

Political will? The President has it.


He has proven that.

Jesus Melchor V. Quitain is undersecretary, Office of the President.

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