By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
DAVAO CITY— In the city of pomelos and durians, it’s business as usual under the scorching sun.
The streets bustle only with the rush-hour jams of vehicles driving under the mandatory 30-kph speed limit. Pedestrians shy away from the elements at high noon, except for the occasional street hawker peddling beads.
If not for the campaign posters that sparsely dot this city, you would hardly notice that it’s election season.
It still qualifies as quiet here, much as it was in the days that led to an election that has elevated Davao City and its most famous resident to national and international prominence.
The quiet is also characteristic. This city has gained a reputation as a blueprint for where 16 million Filipinos think the Philippines should be.
But the tranquility masks the mix of anxiety and excitement here, as it did during the countdown to the May 9 vote.
At the MTS, short for Matina Town Square, a city nightspot, a live band belted ballads to entertain patrons taking advantage of the hours left before the nationwide election liquor ban took effect on May 8.
There was no visible or conscious rush to finish. After all, the city long pioneered a liquor ban on public establishments past 1 am. It also has a public smoking ban, but with allowances for certain areas, such as select spots in MTS.
Many of those drinking or eating at the establishments in the MTS that night wore red, having come from the last major political rally in Davao City.
The red shirts were either generic commercial tees or designed ones that had stylized renditions of “Du30”, the shorthand for long-time city mayor Rodrigo Duterte and the city’s favored candidate for president in the 2016 elections.
For a politician who barely had his name carved or painted on the city’s infrastructure, Duterte’s name and face has been scattered all over Davao, courtesy of the people he led for more than 20 years.
Many giant posters are on privately owned billboards or buildings. One reads “Countdown to change: 2:30,” a play on his surname, much like Du30. Some street-side walls boast murals of Duterte, a fist (his campaign emblem), and his campaign catchphrase “Change is coming.”
Some even renamed their establishments for him. The Sunny Point Hotel dubbed itself “Duterte Point”. Matina Town Square for now became “Duterte Town Square”, as a banner declared under the venue’s sign.
In this city, there were hardly any other posters of presidential candidates other than Duterte’s. None of his rivals even campaigned or brought their sorties here.
Fighting instead for poster space were the vice presidents Davaoeños favored for Duterte. Mostly it was his running mate Alan Cayetano. In others Bongbong Marcos—with a pop culture wink called AlDuB: Alyansang Duterte-Bongbong. In at least in one, Grace Poe’s Chiz Escudero.
But the noise was mostly person-to-person, in social media, and in show-of-force gatherings like the event that May 7.
Hundreds of thousands of locals trooped to the city’s Crocodile Park that afternoon in time with Duterte’s miting de avance at Luneta in Manila. Davaoeños attempted to beat the world record for the most people singing the national anthem at the same time. They fell short, partly because not all of those who arrived got registered.
At Madraso Street, a row of stalls selling Davao City’s famous suha or pomelo downtown, tenders shared stories of the local mood before election day while offering a taste of their sour-sweet fruit.
In one breath, the sellers lamented scant business due to fewer visitors brought in by local conferences. In the next, they echoed rumors abounding in social media of vote counting machines being used for fraud.
With their city’s most prominent politician poised to win the race as indicated by the surveys then, Davao residents felt a bigger stake in the elections and reacted to every twist and turn in the very emotional campaign.
The excitement even affected local journalists here.
ABS-CBN Davao’s news teams looked forward to what they saw as their most exciting election coverage to date.
“Ito na ang hinahanap natin (This is what we’ve been looking for),” said the local news chief at their final huddle before election day.
Davao City hardly made the news in previous votes, mainly since there were no violent election incidents or interesting campaigns to cover. Now, the eyes of the nation and the world have turned here.
“This more than makes up for all the boring elections we had in the past—may sukli pa (there’s even change to spare),” one of the station’s execs told the huddle.
One of the biggest among ABS-CBN’s regional units, the Davao news team was scattered not just in Davao, but also throughout the rest of Region XI for May 9.
Before and after hearing their deployment plans, they were also urged at the huddle to be patient, prepared and composed during the coverage.
It was encouragement these guys needed as they had their own share of anxiety as the election drew near.
On the morning before the meeting, the Davao station amped up security. Its employees were told to make precautions for emergency situations.
The night before, a crowd of supporters had converged outside the station gates and lighted candles in silent protest. Their ire was at a negative campaign ad by VP candidate Sen. Antonio Trillanes against Duterte that aired on ABS-CBN and other TV networks.
A Davao native in his mid-twenties explained to me this heated reaction: “It was against one of our own, so it would also hurt us.”
Social media was also rife with condemnation for the ad, with strong voices hitting on ABS-CBN for airing it. The company released a statement clarifying it did not produce the ad and only aired it in the interest of being fair to all candidates who wanted to air ads.
The following day, a heart-shaped wreath of flowers usually sent to wakes showed up in front of the station. On it were the words “RIP (Rest in peace) ABS-CBN”.
And so came precautions for the news field staff to lay low and err on the side of security. So were the requests from their bosses not to engage critics and to be patient for “just a little more”.
Despite the reminders and the threats, these local journalists still share one outlook of this election with their city mates.
“This is historic for us,” another news exec told the team which included a lot of Millennials, among them student volunteers from a local university.
The older generation had the first and second EDSA revolts for their milestones, he said.
The day Filipinos decided to elect Davao’s son to the highest post in the land would be the moment the younger generation won’t forget.