BY ROGER M. BALANZA
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has barged into the Who-is-Who list in the Philippine scene, landing in the elite roster of the 2014 Top Newsmakers of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI).
The Inquirer ranked Duterte as the third top newsmaker of the year, following Senator Grace Poe at the top and second placer Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago.
Duterte, Davao City’s mayor for more than 20 years and acknowledged as one of Mindanao’s most influential politicians, is being pushed to run for President in 2016.
He has repeatedly denied he is eyeing Malacanang, but a movement attempting to convince him to run has gone nation-wide in a signature campaign that has netted more than 10 million signatures.
A regular figure in news reports in national papers, radio and television, Duterte is also the talk-of-the-web in social media for his strongman governance, and his fight against bureaucratic corruption and criminality.
His city is notably known for its peace and order, credited to his iron-fist anti-criminality campaign that has put on edge human rights groups and the Commission on Human Rights.
Extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals in Davao City suspected as carried out by the allegedly state-backed Davao Death Squad (DDS) continues despite Duterte having been probed by the CHR for his links to the hundreds of summary executions by the death squad.
Long before the Riding-In-Tandem (RIT) gunmen emerged in other parts of the country as a headache to police, the DDS, cal. 45-armed motorcycle-riding gnmen, since the mid-90s, already a deadly symbol of what awaits criminals in Duterte country.
Duterte as a graft and corruption fighter came into national focus when he attended a Senate hearing looking into massive illegal rice importation where he accused several government agencies like the Bureau of Customs and the National Food Authority as linked to the smuggling.
In the Senate hearing, Duterte, in front of Senators covered live by national television, told a suspected rice smuggler that he would shoot him if he steps foot again in Davao City ports to unload smuggled rice.
Davao City today is Mindanao’s most progressive city and one of the country’s fastest growing metropolis, an economic scenario that Duterte believers said could be replicated throughout the country if the Davao City mayor becomes the President.
Davao City was until 1988 a city under grips of a violent urban communist insurgency and rampant criminality with an annual budget of P400 million.
When he stepped into City Hall after his first mayoral election, Duterte unleashed his iron-fist anti-criminality campaign, made peace with the New People’s Army (NPA) to spare Dabawenyos from violence and lured back businessmen who fled to safer grounds.
Today, Davao City is among the highest revenue earning local government units in the country with annual budget of P2.8 billion this year. Business is booming, investments are pouring and the city has been tagged as among the safest cities in the world.
In the midst of economic stagnation, massive corruption and wayward crime index, it is no wonder that Filipinos find Duterte as the best choice to be the next President of the country.
2014 TOP NEWSMAKERS
If the Philippine Daily Inquirer Top Newsmakers for 2014 is a credential to be a candidate for President in 2016, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has pushed to the sidelines two other major contenders to the top post.
Vice President Jejomar Binay, the ‘anointed’ presidential bet of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) of former President Joseph Estrada is on fourth place after Duterte. Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, groomed as the presidential bet by the administration Liberal Party of President Benigno Aquino is nowhere in sight in the seven-man list of top newsmakers.
This could leave Duterte two other potential lady aspirants.
But Poe, the 2013 Senate topnotcher and daughter of movie icon Fernando Poe, Jr., who made waves in her Senate job in 2014, is, like Duterte, a reluctant candidate.
On the other hand, Santiago said she is running for President if she is cured of cancer. The feisty Senator also wants Duterte as her running mate if she pursues her bid to take a crack at Malacanang.
Binay landed in the Inquirer list as a newsmaker not because he is the leading presidential prospect for 2016. Binay and his wife, former Makati City mayor Elenita Binay, and son, Makati City mayor Junjun Binay, were perennial headline figures last year for their alleged role in massive graft and corruption in Makati City which is being investigated by the Senate Blue Ribbon committee.
The other top newsmakers in the Inquirer had filmmaker Lav Diaz in No.5.
In No. 6 are Senators Juan Ponce-Enrile, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada made famous and now in jail for their involvement in the PDAF scam of scam queen Janet Napoles.
At No. 7 is Pope Francis who will be visiting the Philippines middle of this month.