Duterte’s safe city
I visited Davao City last week and I was impressed. We’ve all heard of the “kill them” mayor; well, I met that mayor. A more down-to-earth person would be hard to find, and a more sincere person equally hard. Whether you agree with his ruthless approach to criminality or not, you can only be impressed with what he’s done for the city.
We toured his emergency response station. I couldn’t believe I was in the Philippines. I mentioned how impressed (that word kept cropping up) I am with his new fire trucks. “Not new,” he said, “properly maintained.” Not only were they well-maintained, they were also well-equipped. Even helmets and fireproof clothing were on the seats waiting to be put on instantly for rapid response to a fire call.
There was a pediatric ambulance just for mothers giving birth, which they can do in the ambulance if time runs out. It had an incubator, even cartoon paintings on the wall for a little comfort. It was a maternity hospital on wheels. The other ambulances were similarly well-equipped, and in perfect condition, not like the decrepit vans, inadequately converted and never maintained but emblazoned with the mayor’s name, you see elsewhere. Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s name was nowhere to be seen, just the functions of the ambulance or emergency vehicle.
There were rubber boats, fiberglass boats, even two amphibious vehicles, all carefully stored in working condition, ready for any emergency. Everything stored in a purpose-designed building. And throughout that building, everything was organized, tidily stored, ready for instant use. The only other place I’ve seen like it is my own workshop.
We headed to the CCTV control center next door; it’s a world first jointly developed with IBM. I thought I was in one of those “CSI” series. There were two rooms full of screens depicting scenes on the roads of Davao from 1,300 CCTV cameras. These were cameras able to circle and zoom down to read a car’s plate number, cameras able to pick up an accident or a crime in full detail, even peek through the window into McDonalds to see what people are eating. “Impressive” is not a sufficient word—but be careful what you do in McDonalds.
The emergency call center in the same building, like the CCTV monitoring, runs 24 hours. A call to 911 gets instant response. I tried it: Within three rings a girl answered, inquiring about the emergency. This at 1 a.m.
The mayor says his central theme is “discipline”; everything revolves around that. He stands for no nonsense. Which brings us to the “Dirty Harry” (as this newspaper’s editorial referenced him) image. Certainly he doesn’t hesitate to talk tough. Does he do it, or at the least sanction it? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a scare tactic, but Human Rights Watch accuses him of full complicity.
In a civilized society, such action is reprehensible. But in a civilized society, the system of law works. In the Philippines, it very provably does not—as I’ve argued in many columns, to no effect, although the Chief Justice has promised reform. But she’s up against monumental problems and resistance. Criminals, even if they’re caught in the Philippines, get away with it. According to the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, 171 journalists have been killed since 1986, with only 16 convictions so far.
It’s a difficult one, in a society where crime goes mostly unpunished. Duterte’s solution is drastic in the extreme and, in the wrong hands, could be massively abused, as we saw during martial law. But if you rely on an inutile legal system the society remains at risk from ruthless criminals. So what do you do? Do you stick to the democratic ideal, or accept that the reality calls for a different solution?
And the reality is that crime flourishes in the Philippines, but doesn’t in Davao. It is now listed as the 12th safest city in the world, even outranking Tokyo, Dubai, Ottawa, Copenhagen and Reykjavik. Davao was given a crime index of 20.13. According to the Internet site Numbeo, which compiles crime statistics from more than 400 cities worldwide, “crime levels lower than 20 are very low, crime levels between 20 and 40 are low, crime levels between 40 and 60 are moderate and crime levels between 60 and 80 are considered high.” The next Philippine city is Cebu, ranked 236th, with a crime index of 48.88. Manila is ranked 359th, with a crime index of 67.78.
In a letter to the editor, a visiting German rightly says: “You can’t apply Western ideas in the Philippines.” He adds: “Duterte makes no secret about what he thinks should be done with murderers and rapists. So every criminal knows what will happen if they cross the red line; they have been properly warned, and they have been given a fair chance to think twice before they make their choice.” Could this be the justification? Warning has been given.
Aside from its impressive peace and order situation, Davao is also among the country’s most competitive local government units. The National Competitiveness Council (NCC) ranks Davao as the fourth most competitive city in the country, only behind Makati, Cagayan de Oro and Naga.
Davao topped NCC’s Cities and Municipalities Competitiveness survey in terms of infrastructure (which covers subsectors such as health and education infrastructure and ICT connection); ranked 11th in economic dynamism (which includes jobs generated and the cost of doing business); and placed 13th in terms of government efficiency. The survey noted that Davao is the most transparent LGU in the country and the most active in terms of promoting investments. The NCC also recognized the city for its compliance to national directives to LGUs and efficient tax collection.
I used to run a factory in Davao back in the late 1970s. It’s a different city today, one that works—in safety.
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