"See how it delivers in this year's election."
In 1997, when I got on board then Vice President Erap’s second presidential quest (the first was in 1992, when then-Senator Estrada initially ran for president, then midway through the campaign slid to a more modest vice presidential run with Danding Cojuangco, and won), I was asked to accompany him in his pre-campaign trips.
Erap would accept invitations left and right, from Rotary to Lions, to fiesta celebrations, where most often, his charisma would shine with the “masa.” I saw that popularity particularly strong in Mindanao.
So in the summer of 1997, about a year before the elections scheduled May of 1998, I sat down with the vice president in the kitchen of his tastefully decorated mansion in Greenhills. There I proposed that we “construct” what I described as a “Fortress Mindanao.”
I explained it thus: In 1992, when he assessed that his chances for the presidency was a long shot, he negotiated with then candidate Eduardo Cojuangco of the NPC, whose campaign needed an extra boost. At the time, Danding’s running-mate was Senator Sonny Osmeña, while FVR’s veep was the brother, Gov. Lito Osmeña. LDP’s Monching Mitra had Celing Fernan, the resigned Chief Justice who took the political plunge. The surveys showed Fernan was an easy win, with 56 percent of the national vote, while the brothers Osmeña were in the 20-point bracket each.
To cut a long story short, some say with the intercession of a powerful religious group, Danding jettisoned Sonny, who was only too willing to give way and re-run as senator, and a Danding-Erap tandem was announced. That was a game-changer. Danding lost, but Erap won as VP. FVR won in a closely contested race with the late Miriam for the presidency.
Analyzing the 1992 numbers, I noted that Erap won in all of Luzon, lost to Fernan in the Visayas, and won marginally in Mindanao, where Fernan and Lito Osmena, being Bisaya, got substantial numbers.
In the looming 1998 presidential contest, as of the summer of 1997, the looming candidates were: Joe de Venecia and Renato de Villa in FVR’s then undecided corner; GMA and Ed Angara for the LDP; Senator Raul Roco, possibly a rerun for Miriam Defensor Santiago, and a Liberal Party still egging Manila Mayor Fred Lim to try for the jackpot.
Except for Miriam, all were from Luzon. Miriam was Ilongga; no one was from the Bisaya-speaking majority who populate Central Visayas, half of Eastern Visayas, and 80 percent of Mindanao (a majority of Muslims are quite conversant with Bisaya as well). But Erap, although pure Tagalog, was a retired movie star, and had legions of admirers in Mindanao, both Christian and Muslim.
So I explained to Erap that of all the putative candidates for 1998, he had the best chances of making a formidable “fortress” in Mindanao. Since his Balance Luzon showing in the previous elections was quite strong, his only rival for that huge swath of votes was GMA. Concede Bicol to Raul, Pampanga to Gloria, Pangasinan to JDV, Batangas to Rene, and Panay to Miriam, my calculation showed.
NCR would be a market vote that would be contested by Erap and GMA. (The LP and Tita Cory hadn’t launched Lim yet).
There was another reason for shoring up strength in Mindanao so it becomes impregnably an Erap fortress. At the time, many parts of Mindanao were “cheating fields.” Neutralize the command votes and the products of chicanery, I explained to the intently listening vice president.
And so for the next many months prior to the official campaign period, candidate Erap went from town to town in Mindanao, using his Augusta chopper. An example is: Overnight Davao City, chopper to Cateel, Baganga, Manay and Mati in Davao Occidental, then overnight land trip to rest overnight in Davao City, all in one day’s hard work. The candidate was driven.
The expected outcome showed in the election results. Erap won overwhelmingly, with 40 percent of the national vote, with JDV a far second. My only real worry was GMA, who lived in Iligan City for a few years of childhood, and spoke Bisaya. When she, like Erap in 1992, did not take her chances on a presidential run and became JDV’s running mate, I heaved a sigh of relief. The coast was clear for an Erap victory.
Now fast-forward to 2015.
On January 8, in the board room of Marco Polo Hotel in Davao City, Sonny Dominguez, Bebot Alvarez, Bingbong Medialdea, Bong Go and I were closeted with Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. Sec. Sonny and I discussed the potential “baluarte” or fortress where wooing the voters for a Mindanaoan candidate with Cebuano roots would come from.
Mindanao has 23 percent of the national vote. Through the years its population grew as more and more migrants from Visayas and even Luzon migrated to its verdant fields and typhoon-free clime.
Further to 2019, with the Build, Build, Build program having started and now in full swing, think of the benefits it has wrought on Mindanao.
In a recent land trip from Davao to Butuan, our family driver who was born in Tugbok in Davao City, and whose father used to work in our farm there, was telling me about the infrastructure projects all over the island. I saw for myself the massive highway-widening of the Davao-Agusan highway, part of the Pan-Philippine network.
Mindanaoans in fine have never seen this kind of attention that they are getting from the national government. How can Mindanao ever forget this president, born in Cebu and who grew up in Davao, and until now, without fail, leaves the confines of the palace in Manila for the comforts of his modest house in Davao each and every week?
Fortress Mindanao is baluarte de Duterte. See how it delivers in 2019.
And hopefully, with peace finally reigning in the second largest island of the country, both from the Muslim secessionist and communist insurgencies, Mindanao by 2022 and beyond, will be Fortress Mindanao for a long, long time.