Tough-talking Ruy Lopez comes out of retirement in bid to wrest Davao from 'Duterte kings'

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com

Part 1 of a three-part feature on stories of resistance in Davao City

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Three-term congressman Ruy Elias Lopez waited until the last minute of Oct. 8, 2021 to decide on ending a decade-long of retirement from politics to try to wrest his beloved Davao City from the Duterte clan, which has held City Hall since the 2000s.

"The filing, because for several years, several elections, no one challenges here in Davao and so the Dutertes were like kings… so I said, ‘okay, since no one dares challenge. I waited until the last minute," the lawyer-politician told Philstar.com in an interview on March 29.

"Weighing my chances, it’s far because this is my first time to run for mayor and then at that time, the one who was a candidate for mayor was Sara Duterte. And if I go back to politics, I’m not returning as congressman. I have to run for mayor to stop this anomalous situation here in Davao," the mayor aspirant said while waiving his lit cigarette.

After a flurry of withdrawals and substitutions, the Davao mayor is now gunning for the second highest seat in the land. She hopes to hand the reins of the city government over to her brother, Sebastian, Davao City's vice mayor.

Lopez was representative of the city’s 3rd district from 1998 to 2007, and, nearly 15 years later, he returns to politics not to be a lawmaker, but to run for the same seat at City Hall that his father once held.

Lopez had just come from a two-day campaign in the Marilog district of Davao and was at his home turned headquarters in the Matina district. He said he has a lean staff supporting his run. That includes a nephew, who was busy printing campaign materials for them to give away.

Posters? Lopez said his campaign doesn't have them. "I don’t have money. If you go around Davao City, if you look for my posters or anything, there’s nothing," he pointed out.

The ties that bind and the year 2007

Four candidates are vying to be mayor of Davao City, the commercial and political center of the region, if not all of Mindanao island: Vice Mayor Sebatian Duterte, Teddy Mantilla, Joseph Hannibal Elizalde and Lopez.

On the eve of the last day of filing of Certificates of Candidacy, Lopez said he thought of what his father, Elias Lopez, would have told him.

"My father would have advised me, he would tell me, if you win or lose, what’s important is you fought for Davaoeños. So that’s why I decided, 'Okay, I’ll run.' If no one else will… I will fight and let the people have a choice because they did not have a choice during the elections ever since," Lopez said.

"That’s why I filed. Unprepared, with all [the] odds, it’s all right,” he continued.

According to MindaNews, Ruy's father Elias Baguio Lopez started his political career as a city councilor, then moved up to vice mayor and then served as mayor from 1981 to 1986. After the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, the elder Lopez was the city’s 3rd District representative for two terms — but died in 1997.

That period also saw a game of musical chairs at City Hall, where, except for a period from 1998 to 2001, a Duterte was mayor. Patriarch Rodrigo held the post for eight terms while his daughter Sara is on her second term.

Until 2007, the Dutertes and Lopezes were allies. After serving three terms at the House, Ruy Lopez began questioning the Dutertes.

"I opposed him [Rodrigo] in 2007 when he selected Sara to be his vice-mayor candidate, without any experience, without anything at all," he said. The younger Duterte was a lawyer before joinign politics.

In other reports, Lopez was quoted as saying it gives bad optics to have a father and daughter tandem running the city.

'Discontent vs Dutertes'

Like Baste Duterte, Ruy is a son of a former mayor. Another similarity between them is that they are both tough-talking.

But Lopez, who consented to being recorded while smoking, said he does not care if his way of talking turns away voters. "Maybe, who cares anyway [if] Davao City voters get turned off, they were given all the chance all these years to go against them, why didn’t they make a stand?"

Asked about his platform soon after he filed his COC through a representative, he said: "I just want to give people a choice."

"If I win, I work. Help. Serve. Think," Lopez said, adding that he has since convened his advisory group of experts for his platform of government.

But his father’s influence on his first foray into politics at the executive branch remains strong. Asked for his campaign strategy to beat the Duterte with much more formidable machinery, Lopez said he would do what his father did.

"We go to the barangays. We establish our own campaign organizations, and structure," he said.

Behind him at his desk at his office are portraits of his parents.

Davao city mayoral candidate Ruy Elias Lopez poses with portraits of his parents

Lopez said he is also banking on what he learned, while visiting communities, is a seeming discontent towards the Dutertes.

"Usually, [people say] they are tired of Dutertes. So, people just keep quiet throughout these years because no one rose to challenge them, so their anger remained. Now that there is an opponent, it’s coming out… I didn't realize it. But there are many discontented with the Dutertes," he continued. 

He did not give details, and, going by surveys, both President Duterte and the presidential daughter remain popular.

Buoying the opposition

Lopez presents himself as the "only one left as an opposition" in the Duterte bailiwick of Davao, and his mere filing of COC to challenge them is already a success.

"Since I filed, they said they salute me for being brave, you know, courageous," he said, chuckling. And now that he is up against the youngest Duterte, Baste, he claims his chances have much improved.

As he opposes the Dutertes in the local arena, Lopez campaigns for the de-facto opposition national candidate Vice President Leni Robredo.

He said that, in Davao, only small private groups campaign for Robredo, but in his visits to communities he made good with his promise to endorse her come March 25—the start of campaign season for local politicians.

He said that there was really only one choice for which ticket to support.

“They wonder, why I do not want Sara. Eh, I’m up against the sibling. I mean, I’ll look foolish. No one will believe me,” he pointed out.

Who else has a chance of winning? Robredo, who is in the second spot in the latest pre-elections survey although Marcos enjoys a double-digit lead over her.

In his campaign pamphlet, Lopez makes his pitch to be elected as Davao City mayor. On the flip side is a call to vote for opposition candidates led by Robredo.

Campaign materials of Davao city mayoral candidate Ruy Elias Lopez often surprises supporters when they flip it over to see that he is supporting the presidency of VP Leni Robredo

Lopez said he needs to explain that as a mayoral aspirant, who vows to serve the city if he wins, he would need the help from the national government.

Although Davaoeños have the right to vote who they want, he is also asking them to "support me [and] the candidate that I choose so that if I win and my candidate wins, she can help us."

In the face of gargantuan politicians who have held the city for more than a generation, Lopez said he is not afraid to run against them and to campaign for the national opposition slate.

"The thing is, the thing is... of course not. Why should I be afraid? Why? I don't know. Why should I be scared when I am already opposing the Dutertes? I will just campaign for Leni, should I be afraid? Right?" Lopez said.


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