DAVAO, Philippines (Reuters) - After 22 years with Rodrigo Duterte as its crime-busting mayor, the Philippine city of Davao is coming to realise that it might have to share him with the rest of the country after Monday’s presidential election.
Duterte is the undisputed hero and patriarch of Davao and his touting of extreme measures to bring order to a once-lawless city has resonated on a national scale and put him on the cusp of winning the presidency.
The no-nonsense former prosecutor enjoys a cult-like following as a de facto sheriff who transformed a Wild West town fraught with drugs and gangs into a buzzing, modern city with a population proud of its rise from obscurity.
“Davaoanians”, as they call themselves, feel it is time the rest of the country got a taste of Duterte’s rule.
“We want to share him. We’re happy with him being a mayor but we also want the Philippines to experience it,” said taxi driver Dax Dela Rosa, 42.
“You are safe everywhere ... Here the criminals are scared, unlike in Manila (where) it’s the people who are afraid.”
Criticism of Duterte is almost unheard of in Davao and its people say he is a man of action whose sweeping promises of thwarting criminals and rooting out corruption are not hollow.
The streets of Davao are festooned with campaign posters bearing images of a stern-looking Duterte, and there are giant banners and car bumper stickers of a clenched fist accompanied by bellicose slogans and his most famous quotations.
T-shirts emblazoned with Duterte are ubiquitous, many with the “DU-30” code for his name that became iconic as the mayor’s popularity standing in opinion polls surged, making him the clear frontrunner.
“There will be no corruption and he can help the poor when he becomes president,” said ice cream vendor Rio Roxas. “He won’t change his attitude.”
The common narrative of Duterte is of a thuggish, crass candidate with a single-policy platform that has won him nicknames like “Duterte Harry”, “the punisher” and - among his presidential rivals - “the executioner”.
It is an image Duterte has himself cultivated with boasts of scaring off and shooting criminals, making him the target of rights groups and rival candidates who accuse him of sanctioning hundreds of extrajudicial killings on his watch.
But those who have known no other mayor talk of his softer side, like his push for clean governance, a city-wide smoking ban, and setting up a childrens’ cancer ward, vaccination programmes and a modern 911 emergency services facility.
Duterte has personally intervened in countless situations, according to residents, from property disputes to joining raids on drug dens, finding jobs for homeless and ordering taxi drivers to spend more time with their wives.
“I’ve seen what Mayor Duterte has done for the city. His passion, his dedication, everything he has done for the city and how selfless he is,” said businesswoman Lezita Go, 38, who wears Duterte wristbands. “He is not just a myth, or hearsay.”
Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Mark Heinrich