The mayor versus the sheriff | Inquirer Opinion

The mayor versus the sheriff

/ 11:06 PM July 07, 2011

It was by accident that I saw the early broadcasts of the incident in Davao City that was replayed the whole day, and the next. It stunned me, of course, when the mayor arrived at a demolition scene, called the sheriff supervising the demolition, and started to hit him. Of course, the mayor being a woman lent much to the drama. I do not know her personally but heard of her from mutual friends who regard her quite highly. Seeing her in apparent anger and losing control shocked me at first, then made me wonder what made her do it.

Sara Duterte is a daughter of a man who has always been controversial. But she never was, she never became the subject of scandal, or inappropriate public behavior all throughout the terms of her father as mayor of a city that was once the equivalent of America’s wild, wild West. Now that she is mayor and has more motivation to be even better behaved than her lifelong unblemished record, she loses control.


What, then, was the environment? I believe that many among us knew that the flash floods that hit Davao caused serious damage. More than that, they caused several deaths and made refugees of thousands. In coping with a disaster, Mayor Sara overworked herself but did not cave in, physically or emotionally. Why, then, would she finally lose her temper over a sheriff?

The media coverage that captured the incident proceeded to what broadcast media is quite good at – squeezing the most out of controversy or scandal. Some of the reporters and commentators were not just reportorial. They tried hard to make their personal opinions influence their audience. Obviously, these reporters or announcers did not like Mayor Sara. They presented her to the viewing public through her moment of weakness without contextualizing the incident, as though there is little to the whole truth except one part of it – the worst part.


The sheriff was portrayed as the opposite, a complete and humble victim. Perhaps, it was his fear of retaliating against the daughter of a man known to all Davaoenos as someone who will have his way that made the sheriff servile and submissive. Or, as what could be seen on video, the lady mayor had others with her and they seemed ready to protect her against any untoward act by the sheriff. Whatever it was, the documentation was perfect for him. It showed only the vulnerable and the humble in him. The fact that he has refused to file a complaint against her makes him look even more deserving of public sympathy.

What is missing so far is the picture of the judge who gave the order for the sheriff to demolish. From what Mayor Sara had mentioned either when she was documented immediately after the incident or in the first interviews of the same day. She did say that she tried to reach him so he could order the sheriff to hold off the demolition until she arrived at the affected area. I am not sure if she herself had talked to the judge, but she related that he did not want to call the sheriff according to her request. The missing scenario of the mayor, or her request to the judge, and the official reaction of the judge, would be interesting to know.

The abuse of authority is a serious issue. It is an even more serious in the socio-political situation of a community. From all visible data, Mayor Sara should be the most unpopular person in Davao City today. But she is not, not by a long mile, not in the city where the residents decided overwhelmingly to elect her. Why does she merit sympathy, even support, from many, if not most, of her constituents?

It is taking one’s imagination too far to conclude that the outpouring of support for her is due to the same constituents being afraid of her or her father. It might be good to remember that her father is credited for taming a wild, wild West. This history is part of the context from which the same Davaoenos will look at the Mayor Sara-and-sheriff incident. The Dutertes have survived all sorts of criticism and political opposition, not because they used arms to fight the Church, the militant activists, the Muslim warlords, or their political opponents who do not seem to run out every election. The Dutertes have survived because Davao residents keep voting them into power.

While the issue of abuse of authority is a major concern, what appears in the Philippine context as even more alarming is corruption. On that issue, Noynoy Aquino ran and won. Perhaps, that issue is a factor that deeply cuts into the perspective of Davaoenos and even many other Filipinos not residing in Davao City. What has not been given enough attention by media is a corruption scenario that plagues the reputation of judges and sheriffs, maybe longer than the reputation of the Dutertes.

Demolition orders come from judges and are carried out by sheriffs. Demolition orders are usually results of formal requests made by landowners. Sometimes, these requests are made by the town or city officials, too, especially when informal settlers live in danger zones. In this case, it would seem reasonable that a landowner or a buyer of the property would be the one asking the court to evict the settlers through a demolition order.

What local residents would pit one against the other is the reputation of the court versus the reputation of city hall, the reputation of the judge and the sheriff versus the reputation of the mayor. Because media had been so focused on the visuals of a dramatic incident, there has been a lack of attention and information on the system of judges and sheriffs cooperating more with property owners than informal settlers, or squatters. But local residents may be more aware of that and may be showing support for Mayor Sara precisely because of what they know.


The question that has been begging for an answer since day one is why the judge and the sheriff would not accommodate a request of the mayor to delay a demolition order for just two hours so she could personally be there to assist in the implementation. What was their motivation, a motivation so strong that they had no fear of the Dutertes?

The issue of erring mayors is bad enough, but the issue of erring keepers of justice is worse.

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TAGS: court sheriff, davao city punching incident, opinion, Sara Duterte
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