By Perry Diaz
Not only can a presidential candidate with a shoestring budget win but when he also promises to stamp out corruption, he would be the butt of jokes. He’d be called a nuisance candidate or a quixotic wannabe, someone who dreams big and accomplishes nothing. And in today’s big-bucks presidential campaigns, it’s like racing the “Indianapolis 500” with a go-kart against the fastest cars ever made. Yes, you can laugh off anyone who’d try to do that. But there’s one candidate who’s doing just that. He goes by the moniker “Digong.” Okay, laugh if you may, but this guy might just pull off the biggest upset in Philippine elections.
Digong, as most voters probably know by now, is Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. He was famous for cleaning his city of crime and drugs. Once the country’s – or Asia’s — murder capital, Davao City is now one of the safest – if not the safest – and cleanest cities in the country. How can anyone do that? Yes, nobody can do that unless you are Digong, feared by criminals and loved by his constituents.
And now Digong Duterte wants to be president of the Philippines? “Hahaha…” That was the reaction of some of the country’s big-time politicos. But that was last October when Digong decided to run for president. Today, these same politicians — some of whom are the most corrupt elected officials — cringe in fear at the thought of what Digong is going to do to them if he wins the presidency. Unthinkable… but the increasing probability of it happening is causing his opponents to worry. And this brings to mind the question: What makes Digong tick?
Gangster or gang-buster
Digong earned his reputation during the two decades that he was Davao City undisputed political leader. Some people call him a “gangster” for his gangster-style method of fighting the gangsters. But to others, he’s a “gang-buster,” a testament to his “don’t mess with me” way of dealing with criminals.
An urban legend that has been going around the city – and beyond – is the purported existence of a group of vigilantes called the “Davao Death Squad” or “DDS” for short. And this led some people, particularly those who hate and fear him, to claim that DDS stands for “Duterte Death Squad.” He didn’t deny the existence of the DDS; however, he didn’t say it existed either. But one thing for sure, nobody has questioned him about it… ever.
But what is apparent is what differs Digong from the rest of the pack. While one can say that several presidential candidates belong to groups controlled by “traditional politicians” – known pejoratively as “trapos” – and their rich patrons, Duterte has so far shunned any association with rich political donors who presumably expect a return of their “investments” in political campaigns. There are quite a few of them who’d give campaign donations to several – if not all – of the candidates as an insurance against a “loss.” In other words, whoever wins, they too win. Yes, they can’t lose unless Digong wins.
Recently, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) reported that the Roxas-Robredo, Binay-Honasan, Llamanzares-Escudero campaigns have already spent more than P1 billion in TV, radio, and print ads from March 2015 to January 2016.
The data on “pre-campaign ads” were compiled by Nielsen Philippines, an independent research firm. It showed Binay as the biggest spender with P1.05 billion followed closely by Llamanzares with P1.02 billion. Roxas spent P969.2 million while Duterte only spent P146.4 million.
The question is: Where did these tons of money come from? Reaction to Binay is typical: “Well, he’s corrupt so he has all the money to spend.” In the case of Roxas, the Liberal Party raises his campaign funds, and also he comes from a rich family. But Llamanzares — who is running as an independent with no party affiliation, and isn’t in the same league with Binay or Roxas when it comes to finances – seems to have a bottomless well overflowing with money going into her campaign war chest.
Who are her financiers? Speculation ran rife that she’s getting donations from billionaire Danding Cojuangco. It was fueled further when Cojuangco’s Nationalist People’s Coalition endorsed the Llamanzares-Escudero tandem for the upcoming elections. But the rumor ignited a firestorm when Llamanzares took the cudgels for Danding — who was known as the “King of Cronies” during the Marcos regime – when she said that settling the coco levy fund issue is no longer the responsibility of Danding. “The money is now with the government,” she pointed out. Wrong!
It’s interesting to note that Llamanzares recently revealed that her campaign is being lent private aircraft from San Miguel Corporation of which Cojuangco is the chairman.
A recent news report from The Daily Tribune said that Llamanzares’ camp has accepted a total of P150 million in “political donations” from Sun City Holiday Resort owned by gambling mogul Alvin Chau. These donations were reportedly recorded with three cash vouchers issued last year. The Sun City Holiday Resort has been trying to establish a strong foothold in the local gaming industry. The company said it plans to expand its VIP room presence in Solaire and City of Dreams. If the report is true, then Llamanzares might have violated the law.
Duterte is up against two powerful and moneyed campaigns – Binay and Llamanzares. But he has taken two relatively inexpensive routes to the presidency. First is his grassroots campaign. Not having enough moolah to pay for expensive TV ads, Digong is taking his campaign to the provinces where TV ads don’t count much. Secondly, he is using social media to reach out to the tens of millions of Filipinos who are connected through the Internet. This “fever” that is rapidly spreading in the social media is unstoppable. And people love to “like” or “share “ it with their friends. It has gone viral and there is no antidote… and it’s free!
Digong is also doing Filipino-style “crowd sourcing.” He’d go alone on stage and attract the people to join him. And the crowds love it. It did not then come as a surprise when a recent Pulse Asia survey commissioned by ABS-CBN showed that Duterte and Llamanzares are at a statistical dead heat for first place! And Binay who had been the top choice for a long time is now down to third place.
With six weeks left in the campaign period, the next three weeks would be critical because after that the leading candidate’s bandwagon will swell as voters around the country jump in. And this begs the question: Can Digong pull off an upset?