“Federalism should be able to maintain unity among all. But this does not mean that we should boycott regional voices and the voices of ethnic groups.” — Khil Raj Regmi
By Alex P. Vidal
NEW JERSEY — We were not surprised to learn that President Rudy Duterte admired Iloilo Governor Art Defensor as mentioned in a Philippine regional newspaper recently.
In 2015 when Duterte visited Defensor in the Iloilo Capitol, the future Philippine president sent former Cotabato governor and now agriculture Secretary Manny Pinol as his advance party.
Duterte was aware he would be late in his appointment with Defensor because of tight schedules in his Iloilo sorties.
Duterte knew Pinol was in good speaking terms with Defensor, a fellow Ilonggo, thus the former Davao city mayor was confident Pinol would be a perfect emissary.
“Diin na si Mayor Duterte?” Defensor asked Pinol as he entered the Office of the Governor. “Manong Art, on the way na sila na traffic lang. Nag press con pa sila didto sa Diversion Road.”
While waiting for Duterte, Defensor signed some papers on his table.
Pinol was entertained by prominent capitol officials led by Board Member Demy Sonza and Provincial Administrator Raul Banias.
“Mayor Digong (Rudy Duterte) has so much respect for Manog Art (Gov. Defensor). He believes that Manong Art, being a seasoned public servant, can understand the depth of his advocacy about federalism,” Pinol told Sonza and Defensor’s subalterns who surrounded him and took photos with him.
When Duterte arrived about 45 minutes later, Defensor accorded Duterte, who belonged to another political party, with a warm welcome.
They did not talk about politics. Duterte made known his intention why he was there and why he had been going around the country: to promote federalism.
Duterte did not seek Defensor’s support for his presidential bid (Duterte had repeatedly rejected calls from supporters to run for president saying he was only interested to promote federalism).
He enumerated the reasons why there is a need for the country to shift to federal form of government. Defensor, a veteran lawmaker and expert in political science, lent his ears to Duterte.
Duterte knew that Defensor was one of the only few public officials in the country today who have not been tainted with corruption.
At the back of Duterte’s mind, whether federalism will snowball, Defensor can survive because he believes that the Iloilo governor is clean and untarnished as a public servant.
Duterte knew his visit wasn’t a waste of time because he was explaining his platform to the right person.