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He’s going to run

I’ve been around for some time and I’ve never seen anything like it. Twenty thousand people asking a reluctant candidate to run —and not one of them paid to do so by the candidate himself, who didn’t even put in an appearance.

I guess it’s safe now to say that Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is going to seek the presidency. That’s what friends of mine in his camp tell me, especially after last Saturday’s pro-Duterte rally at the Rizal Park.

I’ve always hesitated to predict what Duterte will or will not do in the elections in May, given the feisty mayor’s record of declaring and then denying his intentions for the presidency. But according to former North Cotabato Gov. Manny Piñol, one of Duterte’s closest friends and biggest boosters, last Saturday was the game changer.

The gathering was, after all, the same one that Duterte pleaded with his backers not to attend last week. Piñol relates that the mayor personally asked him not to go, but that he turned Duterte down.

“I said, look, we’re friends,” Piñol said. “But you’re not about to tell me what I can and cannot do, and you’re not going to stop me from going.”

Duterte did allow another friend of his, former armed forces chief of staff retired Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr., to read a statement he had prepared for the rally. In it, the mayor thanked his supporters for keeping the faith, but he once again declared that he was just not going to run, citing his health, his age and his family.

So what has changed for the Candidate Who Is So Close To Crying Wolf? Piñol thinks the rally convinced Duterte that he may just have what it takes to win it all.

“There are three scenarios in play here,” Piñol explained. “Duterte may not run, and he will go down in history as the provincial politician who could have been the best President we never had. He may run and lose, in which case he becomes the provincial politician who ran for President and lost.

“Or he may run and win, for which history will judge him as the provincial politician who could just be the best President we ever had,” Piñol continued. “I think he’s now ready to go for the third and last scenario.”

* * *

The latest Pulse Asia “Ulat sa Bayan” survey may have also convinced Duterte to throw his mayor’s hat into the presidential ring. The newest poll, after all, continues the trend of Duterte’s strong showing—including his runaway leadership in the whole of Mindanao (where Piñol says there are 15 million votes) with 29 percent and his strong third-place showing in vote-rich Metro Manila, where the mayor’s 21 percent is good enough for a statistical tie with the two others ahead of him (Senator Grace Poe, 29 percent, and Vice President Jejomar Binay, 22).

And Duterte is also a strong third in the economically significant A, B and C classes. Not bad, overall, for a candidate who’s not even declared that he’s running yet.

Indeed, because Duterte is so easily differentiated from the other three major candidates with his attractively tough law-and-order platform and his strong, steady provincial (meaning non-Manila) base, he may well morph into the real alternative candidate in the coming elections. Even politically, Duterte has no history of being aligned with the current Aquino administration, which is sure to attract the protest vote that is tired of the incumbent’s unrelenting incompetence and compulsive lying.

If Duterte declares for the presidency, the predicted tight, three-way race for the highest post in the land can be expected to get even tighter. And Duterte’s outlier status will certainly give the others a run for their money, popularity and organization.

I certainly wouldn’t be surprised, for instance, if the dirty tricks department of Mar Roxas decides to train its well-paid guns on Duterte sometime soon. After all, if he has learned anything from his 2010 vice presidential debacle, Roxas must now be wary of losing in Mindanao (which he basically abandoned to Binay) and of focusing on the wrong target (Loren Legarda).

Of course, Duterte has repeatedly declared that he has no money to spend in a presidential election and that he will not accept campaign funds from anyone simply because he is not going to run. But when he decides to finally join the race, I am sure there will be no lack of funding for his drive, simply because the usual bankrollers cannot ignore the fact that he just might win.

I told Piñol that Duterte reminds me of the character of General Antonio Luna in the current hit movie: a brash, self-possessed and no-nonsense leader who stands out among the compromisers and political operators of his time. And that I hope Duterte runs, if only because he will provide a real alternative to Manila-based politics-as-usual.

So give ‘em hell, Mister Mayor. Your country needs you to leave Davao for the biggest stage of all— the entire country.

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