Why Duterte’s bubble will burst | Inquirer Opinion
Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Why Duterte’s bubble will burst

How did the demagoguery begin? With the morbidity of the killings hitting the poor’s hovels, we begin to ruminate perplexed at how this catastrophe will end.

It will end as how it began.


The campaign canonized him on the impetus of anger with elitist politics, a signal of discontent with the status quo. An outsider to Manila-centric politics was seen as the antidote to the nation’s skewed power dynamics. This proved its greatest irony: In fact, this was a candidate traditionally elitist to the core. What caused the ignorance?

Rodrigo Duterte was invincible in Davao City as local autocrats are in their own turfs. No semblance of public furor, an important democratic institution, has been seen in Davao directly against him in his 20 years of power. Supporters used this as a fundamental reference of his “popularity.”


In 2007, a National Bureau of Investigation report identified Paolo Duterte and a business partner as “members of a big-time syndicate engaged in smuggling high-end cars, used clothing, rice and sugar.” The contraband, said to be concealed in container vans, entered Davao without the necessary import permits, the report said, because the alleged operators “enjoyed the protection of some corrupt Customs officials and members of the Philippine National Police.” A subsequent report by the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group echoed: “These activities were undertaken without any arrest or apprehension by concerned government agencies due to the alleged power and influence of Davao City Mayor Duterte.”

In 2012, a Commission on Audit report said that Davao City Hall hired 11,000 individuals for six months, including 110 consultants, costing P677 million. The sample audit conducted found city hall “could provide only a master list of those hired, their fixed wages, positions and the funding source but not official contracts or accomplishment reports.” Only 59 casuals showed up for the audit. City hall claimed the rest were out on field work “but there were no pass slips as proof, no deployment plan.”

How did these impact the Davao public, accustomed to talk sub rosa? Media sources explain that these reports “get written; whether they are pursued is another matter.” The common answer given was: “Jun Pala’s murder was instructive. The Dutertes take political issues personally. Davao media is monitored.” (Note: Pala, radio commentator highly critical of the Dutertes, was fatally shot by riding tandem gunmen on Sept. 6, 2003.)

The Filipino electorate had also seriously skimmed over what was supposed to be a red flag: the fat Duterte dynasty, four members in power (total of five, counting the President’s brother, who was city councilor). Provincial politics is a replica of Manila, with the same detritus that litters Manila. He was no outsider to the system.

“The nation was so desperate for change that it was seduced by the Pied Piper,” writes Cesar Polvorosa, professor and writer based in Canada. At the outset, the vitriolic rhetoric was a novelty, fun even. It wore out as a broken record (including his jokes on the late Justice Arsenio Solidum). The loquaciousness exposed his flip-flopping common to traditional politicians, an apparent accommodation of interests. The public saw “heightened expectations that are not actualized,” writes Jose Ma. Montelibano. Mr. Duterte was indecisive as his predecessor was who protected his own kith and kin.

So-called “narco lists” remain unverified, having once included a Calbayog city judge long dead. And take note, Fentanyl and his mental condition were not as yet factors of reckoning during the campaign.

The disguise worked in Davao. In the national level, he is stripped of all disguises. The popularity was ampao: puffed
and empty.


Local autocrats cannot be scaled up to the national level. Being First Family is not all pomp and power; there is also fair game under a magnifying glass.

The final arbiter will be how they measure up to accountability and commit to transparency, matters alien to an intimidated public and media in Davao. Signing the waiver is for love of country.

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TAGS: Antonio Montalvan II, Customs shabu shipment, drug killings, extrajudicial killings, Kris-Crossing Mindanao, Paolo Duterte, Rodrigo Duterte, war on drugs
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