Today is election day in the Philippines. May 9, 2016.
Today, I want to write about my experience over this election period. This article is not about promoting any particular candidate or party, it is about the experience of living in a City where the Presidential front runner is also the Mayor of that city. It has been an interesting and unique experience.
In my life, both in the USA and in the Philippines (I also lived in South Africa, but I was young and do not remember anything about politics), I have lived through many elections. I have seen many Presidents elected, Senators, Congressmen, local officials and just about any other office you could think of. But, in all of my life, I have never lived in a City where the Mayor ran for President of the Country, until now.
In the USA, the “real people” don’t really have any contact with the President of the country. Oh, we will see him if he is in our community and does a speech, assuming we attend the occasion. But, what we see is some guy that we saw on TV who is surrounded by a large security team, no way you could really have a conversation with him. Very unlikely that you would ever be able to shake his hand, unless it is campaign time, and even at campaign time it is very unlikely that you would be close enough to the President to shake hands. Only a very small number of people could ever say that the President is somebody they know or have talked to.
The Philippine experience is a little different. You would still need to be in the right place at the right time, to some point anyway, but it is possible that you might meet the President someday. And, I learned this year, it is possible that the President might turn out to be somebody that you have met on multiple occasions, seen in malls, somebody who actually knows who you are! It seems kind of humbling after growing up in a place where the President might as well be in a different universe.
Of course, the Presidential Candidate in today’s election that is from the City where I live is Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte has been the Mayor of Davao since 1988. There have been a few times when he was not Mayor during those years, because the Philippines has term limits for Mayors, and when he had served the limit of terms he would have to sit out for the following term, but he was always re-elected when he could run again. During those “break periods” from being Mayor, Duterte would serve in some other office, like Congressman, or even as Vice Mayor. Anyway, this is only to give a little bit of background on the man and his political rise.
During my years of living in Davao, I have met the Mayor and also seen him in various situations. One time, Feyma and I went out to eat at a restaurant, and the Mayor was also eating there, at the table next to us. There is another restaurant, Yellow Fin, a seafood place, which is not far from our house, and that is kind of the “favorite” restaurant of Mayor Duterte. He eats lunch there very often. So, having a guy that you have seen around town suddenly running for President, and being a serious contender has been a different, and an interesting experience.
Because Mayor Duterte is very popular with Dabawenyos, the support for his candidacy here is very strong. I would imagine that he will take 80 or 90% of the vote here in our City. If you go around town, all you really hear people talking about is the Presidential race, and how the Mayor is doing. It is a constant topic of conversation. Foreigners can’t or should not really get involved in politics here, but with the race on people’s minds so much, it is hard to avoid. Every time you hop on a jeepney or catch a taxi, people ask you about it. “What do you think about the election?” I hear it every day. I try to reply in a non-committal but supportive way. Kind of show the City pride, but without showing political support.
As I was saying earlier, it is a little different here in terms of meeting a President. Not like the States where the President is deeply insulated from the people.
Back around 2005 or so, Feyma, the kids, and I went to the Marco Polo Hotel here in Davao. We were going to the pool there for a swim. When we walked in the lobby we could see that there was something going on, but were not sure what it was. Suddenly, a woman walked up and started talking to me. I looked and was shocked when I saw that it was Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the President of the Philippines at that time. I talked to her for a few minutes and she was very friendly. It was at that point that I really realized how different it was here in terms of closeness or the ability to meet the President.
A friend of mine told me that one time, through a connection that his wife had, he and his wife were invited to Malacañang Palace (the Philippine equivalent of the White House) for lunch with the President. I bet that was quite an experience to remember! This also occurred with Gloria was President.
Anyway, the past months have been interesting to see the campaign in full swing. I hope that the elections today are peaceful, and the results turn out good for the country. I have witnessed Presidents change in the Philippines both by election and by coup d’etat. Hopefully the days of the coup are over in the Philippines. Peaceful transfer of power is a much better solution. So, good luck to the Philippines, and to the Filipino people!
Whoever wins, good luck to the new President of the Republic.