All roads lead to Davao

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star

Parties seeing exodus to PDP-Laban

MANILA, Philippines – Business tycoons, politicians, celebrities and rebel leaders are descending on Davao City, hoping to gain favor with the nation’s shock new powerbroker, incoming president Rodrigo Duterte.

The city of Davao has suddenly become the country’s new seat of power after Duterte, the hometown hero, won last week’s presidential election in a landslide.

The mayor has refused to travel to Manila, forcing VIPs to head to Davao for the traditional political ritual of jumping on the bandwagon of the new president.

Duterte’s partymate, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III of PDP-Laban, yesterday said he expected politicians would be jumping to their party following last week’s victory.

According to Pimentel, politicians from different parties have expressed interest to join PDP-Laban.

“We have yet to accept applications. The PDP-Laban hierarchy will meet on what to do with the sudden increase in applications for party membership,” Pimentel said.

When asked if he expected an exodus from the ruling Liberal Party, Pimentel said, “The pending applications did not just come from LP members. There are also applicants from other parties. Let us not say that I see an exodus from a (particular) party, but I see an influx into our party coming from different parties.”

Pimentel said PDP-Laban does not need to become the majority in Congress as long as there is enough support for the Duterte administration’s legislative agenda.

“I go for quality rather than quantity. We don’t have to be the majority but we should be able to form a majority coalition not on the basis of personalities but on program of government,” he said.

“What is important is they should believe in the president’s program, not because they believe that we are right for now because the president belongs to our party. We hope it will be a lasting relationship.”

Pimentel, for his part, said he and Duterte’s defeated runningmate Sen. Alan Cayetano are not raring to become Senate president in the new administration.

“Senator Cayetano and I will remain as senators and the position of Senate president will just be a bonus. What is important is we form a majority in the Senate that will help the Duterte administration on the basis of program for government. We want to form a coalition for change,” he said.

Fully booked

Among those who trooped to Davao to see Duterte was movie star-turned-politician ER Ejercito. He shifted effortlessly from his campaign support for Vice President Jejomar Binay – an early frontrunner in pre-election presidential surveys, who finished a distant fourth.

“My loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my country begins,” said Ejercito, the former governor of Laguna.

Speaking in the lobby of one of Davao’s top hotels that has suddenly become fully booked, Ejercito said he hoped to be appointed to head a national tourism agency.

“I have to move forward. I cannot live in darkness. With my experience in local government and tourism, I can help the incoming administration,” he said.

Ejercito said he waited nine hours at a private function center which Duterte had turned into his reception venue.

Ejercito finally secured a 40-minute meeting that began just after midnight on Tuesday, but emerged without a firm commitment.

Others were more lucky.

“I’m at a loss for words,” veteran politician and former sportswriter Manny Piñol said yesterday after Duterte named him agriculture secretary in the new administration.

Piñol, however, is a longtime friend of Duterte and also hails from Mindanao.

Marathon meeting

Duterte converted a suite at the Matina Enclaves Residences in Davao to receive a queue of well wishers. It took him some 20 hours of marathon meetings with various people, from 4 p.m. Monday until almost 11 a.m. yesterday.

He emerged tired and droopy after excusing himself from the constant flurry of visitors trooping to the hotel.

And the only thing he could do for a group of Muslim leaders that was supposed to be the last in his appointments for May 16, was to pose for a photo before he was whisked by his bodyguards to a waiting vehicle.

One of his supporters, a certain Saharin Alvarez, a member of the Hugpong Federal Tawi-Tawi, had to be rushed to hospital after she fainted because of lack of sleep and travel fatigue.

Alvarez and her group arrived at the Matina Enclaves Residences at 4 a.m. of Monday and by 10 a.m. yesterday her group had not seen Duterte.

“He (Duterte) does not want that he could not see all of those who have made prior appointments on that day (May 16) but it turned out that the meetings extended up to the following day,” a close aide said.

He said each appointment was supposed to last only 15 minutes but actually went on from 30 to 40 minutes.

And since the series of meetings with well-wishers ended rather late, all appointments yesterday were cancelled.

Duterte is set to resume meeting his well-wishers this afternoon.

Among those Duterte met last Monday were Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua, Isaeli Ambassador Effie Ben Matityau and Japanese Ambassador Kazuhide Ishikawa.

Several local officials also met with Duterte as well as his supporters during the campaign from various parts of the country.

Political outsider

Duterte’s aides have said that the incoming president is looking to fill top posts with people who have proved their loyalty to him in the past and whom he can trust.

Until his stunning surge in the pre-election polls, Duterte was regarded as a hell-raising outsider without the national political network required to win the presidency.

Outgoing President Aquino branded him a dictator, while other critics raged at his incendiary campaigning that focused on threats to kill thousands of criminals.

Duterte was mostly known for ruthless law-and-order policies in Davao, a city of less than two million people that he had ruled for most of the past two decades.

Rights groups accuse him of running vigilante death squads in Davao that killed more than 1,000 suspected criminals, charges he has variously accepted and denied.

Duterte’s political party, PDP-Laban, has just one member – Pimentel – in the current Congress, which will remain in office until the new administration takes power on June 30.

The PDP-Laban does not even have a lawmaker in the House of Representatives.

But with victory comes powerful new allies.

Former senator Manny Villar, head of the country’s oldest political party Nacionalista, on Monday appeared at a media event alongside Duterte to sign an alliance with PDP-Laban.

Others seen in Davao since the election include billionaire Lucio Tan, the nation’s fourth richest man.

Ghadzali Jaafar, a senior leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that has waged a decades-long separatist rebellion, waited in line at the reception center on Monday.

Boxing champion Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao, a Binay supporter who won a seat in the Senate, also planned to visit Duterte, an aide said.


Switching allegiances is endemic in the Philippines, where politicians are often driven by self-interest rather than ideology, according to analyst Richard Javad Heydarian.

“The Constitution is extremely lax on the ability of candidates to switch parties at a snap of a finger,” said Heydarian, an assistant professor of political science at Manila’s De La Salle University.

“(The) bandwagoning or ‘butterfly effect’ happens on a massive scale as soon as a new president is elected.”

Meanwhile, Duterte and his allies are enjoying having the spotlight finally on Davao and the southern Philippines for positive reasons.

The region typically makes international headlines because of violence related to Muslim and communist insurgencies, or kidnappings-for-ransom by Islamic militants.

Duterte, who will be the first president from the southern Philippines, pledged during the campaign to spread economic development outside of “imperial Manila.”

“We’re happy that at long last they recognize Mindanao,” Piñol said. – With Edith Regalado




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