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Editorial

A Duterte resigns

/ 05:11 AM December 27, 2017

The resignation of Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, which he himself announced on Christmas Day during a special session of the city council, came as a shock to the members of the council and to the public. He is, after all, the President’s eldest son, a two-term vice mayor who ran unopposed campaigns, a scion with a city-wide tough-guy reputation, a person accused by his father’s former aides of ordering extrajudicial killings, a local official who, summoned to the Senate on allegations of drug smuggling, received deferential treatment from some senators belonging to the administration coalition.

He cited largely personal reasons for resigning, including “the maligning of my reputation in the recent name-dropping incident in the Bureau of Customs’ smuggling case and the very public squabble with my daughter.” The Senate blue ribbon committee had seen fit to declare that it found no evidence linking him (or his brother-in-law) to the “shabu” (crystal meth) smuggling; it is only fair to state, however, that this clearing of his name seems premature, because the circumstances behind the smuggling have not been fully explained or investigated.

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But it is the “squabble” with his daughter
Isabelle that has hurt the vice mayor’s reputation the most, partly because he responded to her damaging social media posts with an ill-advised, ill-tempered social media post of his own, and partly because his own daughter suggested, through her posts, that he had caused physical harm to a young person.

She had written in Cebuano: “It’s not that if you have power, you can already hurt people. The one you’re touching is also human!!!! Not only human but a child!!!!”

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No one can reasonably argue that resignation given these personal circumstances is not a sensible option. In the younger Duterte’s case, however, there are other considerations.

In terms of what the city itself needs, the resignation was ill-timed. President Duterte’s hometown is reeling from the shock of the fire that struck the NCCC Mall and claimed 37 lives, and from the devastation wrought by Tropical Storm “Vinta.” At a time when city government offices should follow an “all hands on deck” policy, the vice mayor’s resignation can only complicate the aftermath of the fire and the poststorm recovery efforts.

This is not to say that the younger Duterte, or indeed any public official, is indispensable, only that personnel changes in a time of crisis are highly inconvenient, and sometimes distract the attention of both the government and the public from the ongoing emergency. That is partly what happened when news of the resignation spread. The grim news about the call center agents trapped, unaccountably, in the mall and the continuing misery inflicted by the storm faded temporarily into the background. In a personality-oriented society like ours, the zooming in of the focus on Paolo Duterte rather than on the needs of the city or the names of the fire victims was
inevitable.

In terms of the issues already raised in public, the resignation is ill-conceived. The usual controversy chasers like the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption will not follow up on Isabelle’s lead, because they are agents of partisanship rather than of justice, but other citizens’ groups might. If the harm caused to a child is a fabrication of his daughter’s imagination, then the vice mayor is owed that clarification. If it’s true, his resignation cannot be a bar to an investigation.

The same principle applies to the accusations, made under oath, by Edgar Matobato and former police officer Arturo Lascañas, about the younger Duterte ordering killings. His resignation cannot be considered as putting closure to the subject.

Under the law, the resignation of the vice mayor of a city like Davao needs the President’s green light. Until his father accepts his resignation, Paolo Duterte will be considered to have gone on leave.

But his resignation letter, which he had read aloud at the special session of the city council called to address the calamity that had struck the city, hinted that his departure from politics was only temporary: “I look forward to the day that I will be able to serve our country again.”

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TAGS: Christmas Day, Paolo Duterte
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