Mindanao sees son Duterte as silver bullet vs conflict, poverty

Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News

DAVAO CITY – A dank public market bustled with optimism on Sunday that presidential front runner Rodrigo Duterte's tough brand of leadership would lift the Philippines' main southern island from decades of war and poverty.

The 71-year-old maverick mayor will enter Monday's balloting with a comfortable lead over his rivals, poised to be elected the first president from Mindanao, home to a quarter of the impoverished nation's 100 million people and its Muslim minority.

“We've been neglected for too long. We want him to be president because he will be the voice of Mindanao,” said 52-year-old Sipauntil Para, who left his war-torn hometown in North Cotabato province in the 1980s to start a new life in Davao.

“The leadership he displayed in Davao? He can do it in the entire country,” Para told ABS-CBN News as he folded denim shorts at his thrift shop in Bankerohan market.

Duterte's vow to wage a “bloody war” against crime has resonated with an electorate that is bombarded with daily reports of robbery, murder, and rape in the country's urban centers. He also pledged a “socialist” and decisive leadership, in a direct attack against the shortcomings of incumbent Benigno Aquino III's administration.

PEACE PACT FAILURE

A peace deal with the country's main Muslim rebel group, the 10,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), hangs in the balance after Aquino failed to secure congressional approval.

Another refugee from strife in Central Mindanao, Musur Maanta, said he believed Duterte could end four decades of fighting that has forced thousands to flee their homes.

“Even the rebels are his friends. He does not discriminate against us Muslims. He can stop the war,” the 43-year-old told ABS-CBN News as an “I Love Duterte” shirt hung in his market stall.

Every year, at the end of Ramadan, Duterte would bring food to the Muslim community in Bankerohan and has sponsored several pilgrimages to the Hajj, he said.

During the campaign, Duterte has also reached out to exiled Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison. Peace talks with the leftists have been stalled for over a decade.

“The more there is peace, the more my business will grow,” Maanta said.

SLICK METROPOLIS

While home to pockets of slums, Davao's streets are free from vagrants that have become a common fixture in Metro Manila and other urban centers. Residents claim to walk the streets freely at night without fear of getting mugged.

Human rights groups attribute this relative order to vigilante “death squads” that Duterte allegedly tolerates.

Market vendor Clarita Alia, whose four sons were killed by death squads according to rights groups, warned the public against voting for Duterte.

“He can't be president. He doesn't have good morals,” the 62-year-old told ABS-CBN News.

“Everyday, I remind my grandchildren not to walk the streets at night. I don't want them to die like their fathers,” she said.

But Para, the flea market vendor, said he was not afraid of the rumored vigilante group.

“You have reason to fear only if you're doing something wrong, the thieves, the drug pushers,” he said.

“All the Mayor is saying is for us to behave,” he said.

KNOW THE WHOLE STORY