Now, I can reveal this.
Last 24 March 2016, a month after I wrote my Why Rody Duterte article which would eventually become viral, I received an email from a friend expressing his disconcert over my support for Rody Digong Duterte.
My friend is an Amnesty International leader based in the USA who, along with some others I count as friends, has been working indefatigably on human rights issues in the Philippines for decades dating as far back as the Martial Law Years. These people put up the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines (EANP). Among the members are Prof. Tim McGloin and his wife, Linda, Prof. Paul Bloom of Amnesty International and his wife Meg Layese who is also President of the Philippine Study Group of Minnesota, Gary King who is Group 37 Leader of Amnesty International, Brian Campbell, and John Sifton of Human Rights Watch. I know how sincere and dedicated EANP is in watching actions of the US government that have an impact on human rights in the Philippines.
In 2013, I joined them in lobbying the US Congress to reduce if not eliminate its aid to the Armed Forces of the Philippines because of human rights violations the AFP committed -by itself or through paramilitaries- especially against indigenous and environmental activists. They asked me to articulate indigenous issues to offices of Representatives and Senators of the US Congress which I did. The efforts of EANP paid off. This was the same group that asked the Lantos Commission to look into the human rights record of the Arroyo administration with the same call to review the military aid. Hearings were conducted by the Commission. Since 2012, the group has been lobbying that the Commission would convene again to look into the human rights record of the Philippines and to give a critical look into its military aids to the government. They also sent Pres. Aquino a signed petition published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer to stop the X-strata Mining in Tampakan. On my request, they sent a letter to the Korean government to stop the Korean Exim Bank from lending P9B for the Jalaur Megadam Project which would displace the indigenous Jalaudnon-Bukidnon. Because of this and efforts of the mass movement of which Jey Aye Alenciaga, John Warner Carag, and Malaya Pinas are part, a fact-finding mission was launched to look into the concerns of the affected indigenous community. They also worked to stop the possibility of Pres. Aquino being given the Nobel.
I am so proud to have been working with EANP and hope to continue doing so in the future.
Anyway, my friend must have been very disappointed in me when he learned I was supporting the Mayor of Davao City. This was his email:
Chyt, I thank you for the plan about a counter-petition to prevent ‘injustice’ in the case of Palparan. He clearly has been a monster, and has motivated many persons in the military, paramilitary and government to torture, murder, (and) (d)isappear people.
I have sent it to my usual 250 friends who do Amnesty International work on the Philippines. Numerous ones have told me they signed the petition you sent.
I have heard you support Duterte. We know about 800 persons murdered by the Davao Death Squads. And he made horrid statements in the past endorsing and promoting it. Conceivably, this rate of murder is comparable to the sins of Palparan himself. And then they started in Cebu City, another 200 murdered.
Has Duterte said anything of repentance, and a desire to deliver law and order without EJE? If there is no change of his heart, I fear he will allow paramilitary groups to thrive, and death squads will proliferate.
Why can we expect these things to diminish under Duterte?
As soon as I read the mail, I replied:
How are you?
We really do find ourselves in a difficult position. I do support Duterte and I am not the only one from the left... I must be breaking your hearts but do hear me out.
We are aware of Duterte's HR record. We will always condemn him for that and will continue trying to make him account. But we are also aware- and have personal knowledge-- that he has a track record of supporting sectors we represent. I do know that he has been supporting the Lumads and has always been one with them in rejecting corporate plunder of indigenous resources. There are almost a thousand evacuees in the UCCP Haran Compound right now. They were internally displaced by the AFP and paramilitaries acting for extractive corporations, some of which are supporting Roxas. Duterte and his family are very protective of the Lumads. Sr. Stella Matutina, the Redemptorist nun given a German recognition for her HR work last year, told me that Duterte's family are giving logistical support to the evacuees and have been rallying local business to contribute to their daily needs. This was confirmed by Cong. Karlos Ysagani Zarate of Bayan Muna and other Mindanao fellow HR workers. What is more, he has consistently opposed US military presence in Mindanao and rejected drone testing. And only he has a clear stand on the coco levy funds--give them to the farmers.
The other candidates do not have the same positions; neither a heart for IPs and basic sectors whose issues we passionately stand for and feel strongly about. Roxas is too oligarchic and too pro-mining. Binay is too corrupt which Duterte is not known to be. Poe is supported by Danding Cojuangco. She already announced she would make Col Ariel Querubin, a San Miguel officer, a cabinet official. She said she would open the Philippine economy to foreign ownership. She promised to appoint PNoy as anti-corruption czar. Claims that she is PNoy's other anointed is not hard for me to believe.
Duterte did kill hundreds. This is not right. But at least- and this is not to defend him-- he did not kill activists from the left unlike Palparan. His death squads do not touch the progressive groups. He seems to limit his bloodlust to his perceived criminals. We fear Duterte's death squad but what about PNoy's and the mining sector's paramilitaries? I believe Roxas will not deviate from PNoy's policy on paramilitaries. Shall I support Binay just because he has no paramilitaries? Shall I support Poe for the same reasons?
Moreover, since the 1990s, Duterte has been working with labor organizations (though I do note what he said about KMU). He is actually credited for many Davao initiatives on women, LGBT, children, and other vulnerable sectors. And it is a fact that he donated an inherited property to the government for the construction of a children's hospice. I know people who attest to his simplicity. Yes, he is a man of contradictions: a man with an iron fist but he is also a man with a soft heart.
For me, personally, choosing to support Duterte was not an easy one to make. I cannot vote for the three others. I have hopes that Duterte will make life less harsh for the Lumads and ease the country from corporate stranglehold. I could be wrong. But I have hopes that this man, despite his flawed character, is not as bad a choice as the others.
“I hope you understand my decision.
Find here my statement issued last February explaining why I decided to go for Duterte. I entertained the idea beginning 2013 when it looked like only he was speaking for the Lumads, and while my mind was then made up, I was ready to be flexible should a better or less bad candidate run. The alternatives then were Roxas and Binay. None of the above. Poe? No , because I have not heard her say anything about IPs. In my statement below, I spared Poe from diatribes out of respect for others in the progressive left who support her.
Well, Duterte won by a landslide. I still have to hear from my friend. I know he will never stop fighting to protect human rights in the Philippines and other parts of the world. I know EANP will never rest.
Here I am, very elated that my candidate won. Those days of speaking in caucuses and rallies and other meetings to promote Duterte’s candidacy have contributed even if little to Duterte’s victory. For that, I, as the millions of others who fought for his candidacy despite all odds, claim the right to be part of his conscience, to speak out when he deviates from respect for human rights, and to stand by him when he eases the burden of the impoverished, toiling masses.
I have high hopes in the incoming presidency. I, however, do not believe that elections will fundamentally change things. The mass movement, the different sectors, and the new President must work together to dismantle the oppressive structures.
I hope my friend will eventually tell me, “Chyt, you made the right choice.”