No, I’m not talking about the war against crime and drugs that killed over a thousand in the city, waged by Rodrigo when he was still the mayor. I’m talking about the kind of model Davao has become to the rest of the Philippines — a community largely silent on extrajudicial killings and open corruption, who helped a tyrant reach the highest position of power in the country.
Of course, it must be said that not everyone in Davao is a fan. There are actually a good number of people who don’t like him, who don’t agree with him, and who don’t tolerate him. Some were, and are still, vocal. But the majority was, and still is, not. If I had to pick our greatest sin as a community, I’d have to say it was our silence and our tolerance of the atrocities he and his men committed as soon as he was elected. For some, it was fear that made them keep their own counsel. For others, like me, it was the desire to go unnoticed. I had other plans and goals to keep me busy, and I didn’t want to take the time and put in the effort to make any kind of noise about something I thought I couldn’t change anyway. Selfish? Absolutely. We’re all selfish, in our own ways. I would never begrudge anyone the choice to prioritize themselves, their lives, and their peace of mind. It’s how we have to survive sometimes, in this often harsh world.
But looking at what’s happening now, and what’s been happening for the past three years, I’m struck by the gravity of the consequences of my choice, and the choice made by others who thought like I did. Thousands upon thousands of dead bodies. A culture of impunity among the people tasked to serve and protect. Shameless and open corruption (see: the Teo-Tulfo debacle, the Calida security company government contracts, the PCIJ report on Bong Go’s family business, the PCIJ report on the rise in the Duterte family wealth, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera). The willingness of the government to hand over resources to China for a fee. The outrageous rise of disinformation from government communication agencies. The persecution of political rivals and enemies. The attack on a free press and free speech. The subversion of democratic institutions. And the government itself perverting the law.
We as a people, as a community, dear Davao, have failed. We knew what he was, who he was, and what he was capable of, whether we acknowledge it out loud or not. We were not blind. We knew. And yet, whether it was by campaigning and voting for him, or whether it was by keeping silent about what we knew, we unleashed him onto the rest of the country. We justified it by saying our city improved and became safer, by saying that our economy flourished, and by saying that his no-nonsense, shortcut methods were effective. We justified it by saying it was too risky to speak up, by saying we didn’t want to get involved anymore because it was just too much of a hassle, and by saying all politicians are the same anyway so what difference would it really make if he won. And yes, all of these justifications have kernels of truth in them.
But we cannot deny, no matter how much we plug our ears or close our eyes, that what we did and didn’t do led to so much death and tragedy for so many, regardless of whether they deserved it or not (they didn’t). We cannot deny that his rise to power led to the proliferation of corrupt officials back in business (see: Marcos, Enrile, Estrada, Revilla, and many more). We cannot deny that our seas and our lands are being given away in exchange for quick cash and profit, with little regard to sustainability and the long term effects of debt. We cannot deny that violence and violent rhetoric is on the rise among the citizens, and respect for others is at an all time low. We cannot deny that lies and disinformation are spreading like wildfire, some of which are even being instigated by the president himself (see: those poorly conceived matrices). These things are happening, and avoiding ‘biased’ mainstream media stories because they don’t fit our personal convictions and narratives won’t change that.
Because of what we did and what we didn’t do, the phrase ‘Davao template’ can no longer just be about Rodrigo’s crusade against crime and drugs, which isn’t even the success story many would like to believe, given the statistics. The ‘Davao template’ is actually the example we, as a community, have set for others. The enthusiastic supporters teach the world that benefiting from the patronage of someone like Rodrigo is tantamount to unswerving loyalty — whether the gain came from a booming business whose permit was fast-tracked with kickbacks, the guarantee of personal safety from kidnapping because any kidnappers would be automatically killed, the aesthetic and practical improvement of roads leading to private properties, the provision of free medications to those who can little afford them, the cleaned up streets at the expense of the riffraff we didn’t want to see running around because we considered them a blight to society, and the special treatment we received just because we were closely associated with him. While the cowed silence of the rest sends the message that submission and apathy are the easiest and safest ways to survive a tyrannical and oppressive environment intact. Not exactly the best template to brag about, and definitely not an ideal one for the country to follow, is it?
There are those who would disagree, I’m sure. There are those who continue to be proud of Rodrigo’s achievements, real and imagined. There are those who still swear undying loyalty, despite knowing the truth of his crimes and misdeeds. There are those who will quietly resist the downpour of facts, because to do otherwise would mean looking inside themselves and reflecting on their choices. And to them I would say, it’s okay. You’re free to think and feel however you wish. But it’s important to remember that regardless of how you feel and what you think, and despite Rodrigo assuring you that he’s willing to be held accountable (yeah, right) for all his crimes, you still hold some responsibility for the affliction he is heaping upon the country right now. Because you and I had a part in his rise to power. We played a role in the making of him. Therefore, we will also have to, one way or another, pay for his sins.
How that payment will be exacted remains to be seen. But there will be a reckoning, for him and for us. Your vote on Monday is going to be essential in determining what the outcome of that reckoning will be. So, choose wisely.