Who do we turn to now?

- Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - September 10, 2015 - 10:00am

Duterte announced he is not running for president. The question in the minds of many people tired of the same old type of Philippine politics is: who do we turn to now?

I don’t know Duterte. I have not even met him. But soon after the INC unmasked who the front runners really are, I started to give him more attention. It helps he had been saying a lot of things that seem right… the common sense thing to do. It is rare to find a politician who talks straight.

Actually, I should have given Duterte more thought from the start. Three years ago, Mariels Almeda Winhoffer, who was then the IBM Philippines country manager, told me to go see Davao. She was excited about how IBM is installing their Smart Cities program there at the instance of Duterte’s daughter Sara, who was then the Davao City mayor.

I thought it was a good idea to visit Davao, but it was not on top of my to-do list. Too bad for me, my FEF colleague Peter Wallace beat me to it and wrote about his impressions in his column in another daily. Peter is one person who is not easy to impress. So Duterte’s Davao must be really good to win his enthusiastic review.

On Davao’s Smart Cities installation, Peter wrote “impressive is not a sufficient word.” He thought he was not in the Philippines. Davao is one of a handful of world cities using IBM’s Smart Cities program.

“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…

“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 most important thing about Davao is peace and order. The Smart Cities installation helps them keep on top of everything going on in the city. I know that evokes thoughts of Big Brother, but if it makes me feel secure, so what?

Technology alone cannot be responsible for what is happening there. I suspect Duterte’s imposition of discipline plays a big role. He talks tough and has encouraged his reputation for carrying out his deadly threats to spread far and wide. Whether he does or not is another thing. It is important criminals believe enough in his threats to stay clear of Davao.

Davao is now listed as the 12th safest city in the world, even outranking Tokyo, Dubai, Ottawa, Copenhagen and Reykjavik, Peter reports. 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.”

Peace and order is the first requirement for economic growth. The economy cannot grow significantly if people are worried about their personal security. Investors, entrepreneurs and workers must feel safe before they can weave their magic for the economy.

 In a sense, the problems that confronted Duterte in Davao are similar to the national problems a president would face. The only question is whether he can scale up his solutions to work for the entire country.

Given the quality of the contenders for the presidential election next year, it is safe to say Duterte is most likely the one who can deliver. He has hands-on experience running a big city with very positive results. Duterte is not theoretical, but has a bias for action. He also has the guts to disrupt society and our political environment. He is no friend of the status quo.

There are those who would dismiss him as a provincial mayor with limited exposure to national issues. But that would not be correct. He and his daughter proved to be progressive enough to tap IBM’s Smart Cities program to manage Davao.

I think the only other big city mayor who had something similar but not as extensive, is Tommy Osmeña of Cebu. I heard that when he was still mayor, Tommy installed a computer mapping system of all the barangays under his city so that he knows what is going on there. Tommy was reported to have nipped budding epidemics through that system. None of the Metro Manila mayors are as progressive.

If Duterte is definitely not running, who do we turn to? We need an alternative to the status quo represented by the three leading contenders. Grace initially offered hope, but the overwhelming influence of Chiz is turning her into the trapo we thought she wasn’t. As the campaign progresses, she will be indistinguishable from Binay and Roxas with his band of Liberals.

Maybe Duterte’s moment of truth came after efforts to raise campaign funds turned out to be less than encouraging. Maybe he announced backing out to inspire a stronger groundswell of support before the deadline for filing candidacies. But to make him change his mind, support must translate to funding because it is not cheap to run a presidential campaign.

Efforts to legislate campaign finance reform have not been successful because the ruling political and economic elite don’t want reforms. They want the current system that keeps politicians subservient to the campaign fund contributors.

Of course the public can adopt a financially challenged but promising candidate. Such a campaign had been done before with Rene Saguisag. The Amponin si Saguisag campaign landed Rene second only to Orly Mercado in the first senatorial contest after EDSA. Rene didn’t spend a centavo for his campaign.

Maybe a piso piso para kay Duterte campaign can do the same thing. Taxi drivers, small entrepreneurs, market vendors, OFWs, young BPO workers and disgusted professionals can all afford a peso or so to provide a stark alternative to the status quo candidates. In the US, about four million donated to the Obama campaign, and 91% of contributions were in amounts of $100 or less.

I, for one, am tired of being asked to choose the lesser evil. It is time for a real alternative to the trapo, it is time for us to go beyond our comfort zone and choose a candidate who will disrupt politics in this country as we know it.

What happened last Tuesday evening is one more proof we cannot have leaders who have no idea of how the common man feels or what he goes through. They could have sent out the army trucks to ferry stranded commuters who were still on the streets past midnight. They may not have enough trucks to get the job done, but at least they could have shown people they care.

The kind of downpour we had last night will happen again and again as we had such downpours a number of times in the past. Yet we suffer the same thing all over again. No lessons learned... no action plans put into operation. We need a radically different kind of leader.

Other than Duterte, there is only Serge Osmeña and Dick Gordon. But Duterte has the “it” factor of teleserye stars. Handled properly, he can be a blockbuster who will capture the imagination of the masa. He looks like the underdog from the great unwashed who will kick the asses of the “naghaharing uri”. He looks like the equalizer who will make things right for long suffering citizens.

There is no doubt Duterte is a risk, but a risk I am inclined to take given our condition today. Duterte could be the last drastic remedy available within our democratic system.

Duterte is right about common sense. Teddyboy Locsin said the same thing too. Being president requires nothing more exotic than common sense. And I might add, an honest commitment to serve this country and its people even against class and self interest.

I am sure there are millions of fellow Pinoys who are unexcited about our remaining choices. So, what do we do? Who do we turn to?

Or should we just go on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela or walk on our knees in Baclaran Church on Election Day and pray for a miracle in our country? That may be the only thing we can do if all we are left with to choose from are the traditional three.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address isbchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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