Rody 101

FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

I stumbled onto Rodrigo Duterte’s secret army the other night. They were all blind, literally.

They were a band of blind masseurs, unusually excited that evening because their candidate was on his way to become President. They were happy, to be sure, and also quite articulate about government policies relating to persons with disabilities (PWDs).

These masseurs were active on Facebook and were part of a cooperative closely networked with other groups of PWDs. They campaigned hard for Duterte because, by their account, Davao City had the most advanced programs for PWDs.

There are 7.5 million Filipino PWDs.  Multiply that by the number of family members caring for them or dependent on the income they make. Many of them are, by necessity, organized and active in pressing for policies helpful to their kind.

They are a vocal lot, especially on the matter of who the next President should be. This year, they agreed Duterte was the best candidate for their sector. Their extensive networks delivered, apparently.

The usual pundits concentrated so far on Duterte’s tough talk, the cuss words he used and the threats he issued. No one, so far, paid much attention to his other virtues: such as the truly progressive social protection programs he instituted in the city he governed.

A businessman I work with was not at all aggravated by the fact the Duterte is now the hand-down winner of the presidential contest.

Some years ago, he recounts, he met with the Davao mayor to discuss a modern steel rolling mill he wanted to build in the city. Duterte looked at the plans, checked how much local employment it would generate and was satisfied the technology was environmentally neutral. He told the businessman to proceed, report to him directly if any city hall employee was unresponsive or demanded bribes.

In two years, the plant was inaugurated and now runs at full capacity, bringing down the price of steel bars for Southern Mindanao. The plant is now among Davao’s largest taxpayers. Several thousand direct and indirect jobs were created in the locality.

By comparison, two years is the time it took for the DENR secretary to release the environmental clearance certificate for exactly the same mill technology to be built in Plaridel, Bulacan. All the other permits took even more time. To date, the municipal council has not acted on the construction permit. Meanwhile, the investor of the multibillion-peso project is paying for the project’s financing costs.

Little wonder that Davao City has been hailed as an investor-friendly destination. That is another facet of the Davao phenomenon that helped propel its mayor to the presidency.

Davao is the largest city in the country in terms of land area. It is host to a concentration of corporate farms that contribute a large share of our exports. That speaks of a city administration oriented to enabling businesses.

Those demanding an inventory of economic policies from the presumptive incoming presidency should check out the local economy of Davao City. They will like what they see.

When the bigwigs of Philippine business invited Duterte to speak before them, they expected the candidate would attempt to speak their language and perhaps even dress like them. That was what the others did.

They were disappointed this candidate did not do that and instead used their rostrum to address the bigger audience, those dressed pretty much like he was that day. In a campaign, it was the bigger audience that mattered.

If the big businessmen were truly disappointed, then they lacked the imagination winning elections required. They would be no different from the dogmatic and joyless feminists who expressed disgust that a person seeking the presidency would speak like Duterte did on the campaign trail.

The small band running Duterte’s campaign knew better than to make their candidate spew statistics like Mar Roxas did or manufacture platitudes like Grace did. If they altered his wardrobe, this would have made him looked stuffy – or stuffed. If they made him do hard sell of his virtues, he might have been mistaken for the former mayor of Makati. If they made this candidate sound learned, he would have lost to Miriam.

Without the war chest or the electoral machinery of his rivals, the Duterte campaign had only the candidate’s mouth as distinctive campaign asset. They used that to full effect.

By saying what he said during the campaign, in the exact manner he said them, Duterte was able to overcome his deficit in campaign resources. He was able to cut through the thicket of senseless campaign chatter, reach deep into the electoral grassroots and capture the imagination of voters.

In the last four weeks of the campaign, Duterte enjoyed hegemony over the media space. That hegemony was helped unintentionally, by the attacks mounted against him.

With that hegemony, Duterte not only pushed his rivals to the sidelines. He pushed them behind the curtains.

Duterte at his most extreme will either be loved or hated. Those who loved him constitute the large plurality he received at the polls. Those who hated his mouth will be divided into four, the number of his rivals. The arithmetical wisdom here is plain.

In the two days following the elections, the stock market surged strongly. The peso strengthened against the dollar. The market, in its collective wisdom, knew better than to mistake the caricature for the real deal.

There is actual calm in the streets as we move to a transition in leadership. The genius of our electorate is beyond reproach.

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