Dash to Davao to court Duterte

Vendors selling souvenir car bumper plates of Mr Duterte in Davao city last Wednesday. Mr Duterte has refused to travel to the capital, forcing political players seeking to jump on his bandwagon to head to Davao.
Vendors selling souvenir car bumper plates of Mr Duterte in Davao city last Wednesday. Mr Duterte has refused to travel to the capital, forcing political players seeking to jump on his bandwagon to head to Davao.PHOTO: REUTERS

Turncoat VIPs flock to President-elect's city in southern Philippines to win his favour

DAVAO • Business tycoons, turncoat politicians, celebrities and rebel leaders are descending on the long-neglected far south of the Philippines, hoping to gain favour with the nation's shock new power broker.

The remote and dusty city of Davao has suddenly become the country's new seat of power after hometown hero Rodrigo Duterte won last week's presidential election in a landslide. He was known for ruthless law-and-order policies in Davao, a city of less than two million people that he ruled for most of the past two decades.

The mayor has refused to travel to the nation's capital 1,000km away, forcing VIPs to head to Davao for the time-honoured Filipino political ritual of jumping on the bandwagon of the new president.

Movie star-turned-politician E.R. Ejercito was among the suitors, shifting effortlessly from his campaign support for Mr Jejomar Binay - an early front runner in pre-election presidential surveys.

"My loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my country begins," said Mr Ejercito, a former governor of Laguna province. He said he hoped to be appointed to head a national tourism agency, but after a 40-minute meeting he emerged without a firm commitment. Others were luckier.

"I'm at a loss for words," veteran politician Manny Pinol said yesterday after Mr Duterte named him agriculture secretary. Mr Pinol is a long-time friend of Mr Duterte and is also from the southern Philippines.

Mr Duterte's aides say the President-elect is looking to fill top posts with people who have proved their loyalty and whom he can trust.

Mr Manny Villar, the head of the country's oldest political party Nacionalista, on Monday appeared at an event alongside Mr Duterte to sign an alliance with the new president's party, PDP-Laban.

Others seen in Davao include billionaire Lucio Tan, the nation's fourth-richest man and a one-time crony of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Mr Ghadzali Jaafar, a senior leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has waged a decades-long separatist rebellion, waited in line at the reception centre on Monday.

And national boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, a Binay supporter who won a Senate seat, also plans to visit Mr Duterte, an aide said.

According to Dr Richard Javad Heydarian, an assistant professor of political science at Manila's De La Salle University, switching allegiances is endemic in the Philippines, where politicians are often driven by self-interest rather than ideology.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2016, with the headline 'Dash to Davao to court Duterte'. Print Edition | Subscribe