I DARE say that May 9 will turn out to be the ultimate “hugot (love)” fest for Rodrigo Duterte.
Love is a strange partner for the Davao City mayor, whose trademark symbol is a bare-knuckled clenched fist, an image in consonance with his most outstanding campaign promise: to wipe out crime within three to six months if he becomes the country’s next president.
I make this fearless prediction based on what I have seen and heard. Those who will vote for Duterte do so out of great affection for him.
Charisma is unpredictable but palpable in a politician’s relationship with the public, who reserve nicknames for those they have taken to the bosom like “one of them”: Digong, Leni, Miriam.
Even I, who will vote for Mar Roxas out of a pained sense of social obligation, refer to my candidate by his family name, specially when I’m repeating to myself the reasons why I will vote for a contender weighed down by the Yolanda and Mamasapano debacles and the rest of the public’s frustration with the Aquino administration.
So it is not without a sense of envy that I notice how the public dotes on Duterte. At an uptown Cebu mall, I observed how the crowd waited patiently for an hour and 45 minutes to witness the Visayas leg of the presidential debate.
When the wide outdoor screen finally showed the four contenders (Defensor-Santiago had a medical appointment) standing on the stage of the University of the Philippines Cebu, more mall-goers joined the audience. The delay meant there were three or four levels of diners also witnessing the debate from the terraces.
This well-heeled crowd, pacified by smartphones and tablets during the debate delay, erupted into cheering and clapping whenever Duterte argued or joked. In this age, when social media turns everyone into a journalist or an analyst, digital empowerment means the rise of infotainment.
Having never witnessed the eruditeness and eloquence of Lorenzo M. Tañada Sr., Jose W. Diokno and Jovito R. Salonga, we crowned the “most entertaining” as the winner of the past two debates. When neighbors watching Duterte campaign in our village turned our streets into an unscheduled fiesta, I realized again how the man epitomizes the “change” voters want.
Tañada, Diokno and Salonga served the people; their personal and public lives attested to this. Are we bothered that we now confuse spontaneity with authenticity, humor for sincerity, irreverence for depth? There’s little time to reflect, given the energy we devote to posting, sharing, tweeting.
In Dumaguete City, Duterte is already a winner had a survey been conducted on the most visible politician seen on wristbands. The waiter serving us, the boulevard trinket vendors, the pretty coed taking a selfie in an SUV with a gigantic decal of the clenched fist, the beauty parlor with the Sto. Niño shrine, finger-scrawled graffiti on the dusty bumper of a bus.
One evening, our stroll outside the Dumaguete wharf was interrupted when a man with a backpack was chased and collared near a pier checkpoint. Tourists and residents, we stared at the man protesting his innocence in the harsh crossfire of light. Two cops, with drawn guns, dragged the suspect from the middle of the street.
What will it take for Duterte to clean the streets in six months or 180 days? Will we be sweeping bodies or broken promises? Neither appeals.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s March 27, 2016 issue of “Matamata,” the Sunday editorial-page column