A president from Davao

This is my column today, February 25, 2014.
I was in Davao City over the weekend and saw for myself the much-vaunted changes happening in the city.  The tell-tale signs of high-speed growth were palpable all over the city.  For instance, I visited the residence of a cousin in Ma-a District and was blown away by the massive and speedy transformation that has taken place in a district which used to be largely comprised of rice fields and whose main claim to recognition was being host to the Davao City jail.   Today, there are condominium buildings being erected and a number of commercial establishments have sprouted all over the district.  And as if to further validate the city’s claim of being in the cusp of transformation, traffic jams were also evident during rush hours. 
Yes, Davao City is experiencing rapid growth and development.  But what visitors will probably take note of while in Davao City is the way the city has assumed the distinction of being the poster city insofar as discipline, orderliness, and exercising political will are concerned.  
Davao City is probably the only city in the country that has been able to successfully implement restrictive ordinances.  Smoking in public is strictly prohibited and everyone in the city takes this ordinance to heart.  Davao City has likewise decreed a speed limit and despite the fact that it does seem impractical to limit one’s driving speed to 40kph in areas where there are no other vehicles on the road motorists pretty much obey and drive at a relative snail pace.  Firecrackers are banned in the city and for almost two decades now, the city has enjoyed zero casualties during the New Year revelry.  There’s a ban on the sale of liquor after 1:00 am so bars and restaurants start closing up around then.  Drug use is likewise considered taboo and drug pushing is a serious offense that could cost one’s life.
The city is now considering a ban on the use of videoke machines after 9:00 pm and by the looks of it, this ordinance will also become part of the City’s list of restrictive laws.  I actually wish the same prohibition would be in effect in Manila because in the neighbourhood where I live, people have no compunction about using videoke machines until the wee hours of the morning depriving others of the right to have a restful sleep.
It’s very hard not to be cognizant of the city’s restrictive ordinances because everyone seems to take some degree of pride in reminding visitors that unlike everywhere else in this country, people in Davao City are serious about following city ordinances.  It does seem as if we’re so hungry for showcases of our ability to rise above our many frailties as a people so when we hear about a success story, we tend to flaunt it.  The in-flight announcement of our arrival in the Davao International Airport included reminders of the no smoking ordinance throughout the city.  At the convention which I attended, the speakers from the City invariably talked about how to conduct one’s self in Davao City. The consensus was that Davao City is generally peaceful and orderly and developing and the price one has to pay for it to be so is discipline and obedience.
It is no secret that the key to Davao City’s relative success in implementing ordinances that require people to voluntarily exercise some restraint on their supposed “freedoms” has been the distinct leadership brand of Rodrigo Duterte, mayor of Davao City since 1988.  Duterte is renowned for his no-nonsense approach to dealing with criminals and recalcitrant elements.  Duterte’s political will in weeding out the city of drug pushers, abusive cops and officials, and smugglers is widely acknowledged although there are sectors that insist that his leadership style smacks of repression and potentially violate human rights and due process.  Is Duterte’s leadership style what the country needs given the over emphasis on individual rights and freedoms over collective welfare?  The debate is expected to heat up in the next few months in the run up to the 2016 elections.
There are sectors that are pushing for a Duterte Presidential run in 2016.  It’s still too early to see if the movement will catch fire considering that Duterte himself is playing coy, insisting that he does not have a moist eye on the highest seat of the land.  But then again, the presidency is supposed to be a matter of manifest destiny so a change of heart is not totally unexpected.
What we can conclude from all these are the following: First, we’re desperate for a leader with genuine leadership skills; Second, people are getting impatient with talk and now want real action; and third, people are really willing to sacrifice for the sake of the so-called common good.


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