The reluctant candidate

FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - December 11, 2015 - 9:00am

It is a funny way to campaign. But Davao City Mayor Digong Duterte starts his speeches with a condition: “If you do not like me or what I do, do not vote for me. I have no ambition to become president.”

Last Tuesday night when he spoke at a dinner in Endurun, Bonifacio Global City he said it again. He had formally filed his COC that morning. I wanted to understand what he means when he says “Do not vote for me” and yet goes through the acts that would put him in the contest. The various surveys show he is so popular he is pulling ahead of the other presidential candidates in all regions of the country.

I met him for the first time at a meeting called by former President Fidel V. Ramos recently. I was surprised that the reality was not the image of what I had read from newspapers and the chattering classes. I stood next to him in the elevator on our way out and told him so. He was not what I thought he would be. Far from being tough-looking and loud-mouth he was gentle and subdued.

I went to that meeting as guarded as I could before the man who was known for his toughness – a human rights violator, the organizer of vigilantes. At the same time I was also being told that Davao today had become a peaceful and probably the best governed city of the country.

The story of Rody Duterte’s complexity reminds me of one of my favorite American cowboy films John Ford’s – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

The film was released in 1962. I will excerpt from an exceptional review of the film.

“There’s much to say about it; the simplest is that it’s both the most romantic of Westerns and the greatest American political movie.”

 “The Western is intrinsically the most political movie genre, because, like Plato’s “Republic,” it is concerned with the founding of cities, and because it depicts the various abstract functions of government as direct, physical actions. It’s also an inherently romantic genre, because of its connection with the nation’s founding mythology. (One of the strengths of Ford’s movie is its depiction of the actual grassroots practical politicking in the Western territories.) The movie’s most famous line, of course, is that of a newspaperman: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

 Ford prints it – and prints the facts behind it – and makes a movie about the moral burden of a life lived in the name of a myth and the ethical implications of direct action. Implicitly, the subject of the film is also that of a nation founded in this way.“

In 2007, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

*      *      *

The plot begins when in the late 19th century, a US  Senator and his wife come back to the small town of Shinbone, in an unnamed Western state, in order to attend the funeral of a friend. The senator is prevailed upon by a newspaper editor to explain why he has come to bury an apparent nobody. The senator explains and the film unfolds in flashback, to a time before the railroad came to Shinbone, to when the region was a western territory and statehood was the pressing issue.

The senator is played by James Stewart named Ransom “Rance” Stoddard He is an attorney who believes in law and order, but refuses to carry a gun. After graduating from law school, he heads out west to set up a practice in the town of Shinbone. A group of outlaws hold up the stagecoach and Stoddard is brutally beaten and left for dead when he dares to stand up to them. He is later found and taken to town by rancher Tom Doniphon played by John Wayne. He is cared for by Hallie (Vera Miles), a woman widely regarded to be the love of Doniphon’s life.

It is an open secret that the outlaws are led by Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) who uses a silver-handled whip as part of his intimidation tactics. Valance and his men often come to town in order to cause disturbances in saloons and restaurants.

Doniphon is one of the few people around to stand up to Valance and his men. However, he himself believes that there is no law and that one “needs a gun in these parts.” Doniphon feels that Stoddard is a hopeless tenderfoot who is unable to handle himself in the kind of fights that are common in the West. Stoddard in return cannot understand Doniphon’s thinking, which is exactly like Liberty Valance’s: might makes right.

Stoddard lectures them on the benefits of democracy and the Constitution. Doniphon is disdainful of the lectures and tells Stoddard how Valance and his men have killed two homesteaders.

Valance works for cattle land barons who wish to keep the territory as it is and prevent it from becoming a state that will introduce laws that could undermine their businesses.

As it happens, Valance challenges Stoddard to a gunfight. The meek lawyer is completely unskilled with a gun and no match for the infamous gunfighter. But, when the shootout occurs, Stoddard miraculously kills Valance and shocks everyone in the town.

Stoddard becomes legendary as “the man who shot Liberty Valance,” a hero. At a convention to pick the delegate to Washington, D.C. to lobby for statehood, Stoddard is nominated but he has guilt pangs about being a killer and capitalizing on an act of violence.

It is only then that Doniphon, who has also turned up for the convention, tells him the “true” story: He had stood in a nearby side-street and shot Valance with a rifle. It happened that his shot coincided with Stoddard’s and Valance’s.

 However, the fact that he shot the man from a discreet distance without warning makes Doniphon’s motives more complex: did he keep his silence to protect Stoddard’s reputation or to avoid murder charges, however unlikely such charges would have been?

Years later, Tom Doniphon has died, having led a lonely, secluded life. Stoddard and Hallie return for the funeral. Much has changed with the town now having shops and actual schools, irrigation projects etc. Stoddard confesses the whole story for the first time, but the newspaper editor refuses to publish it and burns the notes his reporter took, stating: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”


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