Charm offensive a push for new Duterte dynasty?

Davao mayor Sara Duterte – a possible presidential candidate?

BAYSWATER council has decided against a formal relationship with a Philippine city notorious for its vigilante death squad, but could the unexpected approach from Davao have been part of a gambit to create a new dynasty centred around controversial president Rodrigo Duterte?

Davao’s death squad allegedly had local government backing in its 10-year campaign of killing suspected criminals and drug users at a time Mr Duterte was the city’s mayor, with reports of mass graves and hundreds of people still missing. When he rose to the presidency, Mr Duterte made international headlines for continuing to advocate for a brutal response to crime, although at home the approach was surprisingly popular.

Davao is now centre stage of an attempt by the International Criminal Court to probe the murders; a fact not picked up in staff report to Bayswater, which only noted the Philippine’s third most populous city was known for its banana, pineapple, coffee and coconut plantations.

However it did note becoming sister cities had a “high” reputation risk. 

While Bayswater knocked back a sister city arrangement involving study trips, student exchanges and tourism and economic links, the council remains “open” to further discussions and may look into a more symbolic “friendship” agreement.

Friendship

The friendship offer came from Davao’s current mayor Sara Duterte – the president’s daughter – dubbed “The Slugger” by local press after repeatedly punching a police officer during a protest against the demolition of a slum.

Ms Duterte wrote to Bayswater mayor Dan Bull calling for a sister city agreement “to promote mutually beneficial cooperation and deeper understanding between the parties, through an exchange of ideas” in fields such as “manufacturing and technology” and “agriculture”.

Davao council’s been working on this for months, having voted to authorise Ms Duterte to cement the agreement in October 2020.

But the letter showing up in May 2021 came out of the blue for Bayswater. It arrived along with a stack of ready-to-sign papers already bearing Ms Duterte’s signature.

It appears Davao has been collecting sister cities at a great rate in recent years, and Bayswater was one of five cities offered sisterhood in its most recent round. A Davao council press statement says its sister city arrangements have been of great help for tourism and industry in prosperous times and also during Covid, when sister cities sent them medical aid donations.

But could the charm offensive be more about racking up international cred for Ms Duterte ahead of a run for the presidency when her father steps down at the end of his mandated six-year reign?

There are plenty of hard-hitters in her father’s camp who have publicly backed her, though she’s denied having any interest. Some analysts have even suggested that the senior Duterte may run as his daughter’s deputy in order to keep a hand in the country’s politics – and perhaps extend his period of immunity from prosecution.

It wouldn’t be the father/daughter combo’s first time in office together; when Ms Duterte first won office in 2010, Mr Duterte served as her vice mayor, and other Dutertes have also held positions.

One hurdle she’ll face though is her father’s trenchant opposition to women leading the country; he’s on record saying they’d only end up looking a fool if they tried. 

by DAVID BELL and STEVE GRANT

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