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Sara Duterte: Hero or heel?

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If it weren’t real, one would have thought it came from a reel, a scene straight from a movie of the Walking Tall genre, where a local sheriff blasted villains and their cars with his bat. Except that this time, it was a lone sheriff who was being beaten, not with a bat by a bulky man, but with a fist by a feisty female.

Let’s take a look at the dramatic scene.

A lady mayor was busy looking after the needs of barrio folks who had been devastated by floods when she received word that a demolition team, led by a court sheriff, and a group of slum dwellers were in a standoff in another part of the city. She calls the sheriff to ask that he delays the demolition by two hours so she can finish her task with the flood victims and then she would proceed to the scene and talk to the angry residents to avoid violence.

The sheriff refuses and goes on with the court order to demolish the shanties, but the residents battle the police with darts and stones. By the time the mayor gets there, a policeman has been shot with a dart in the leg and residents are battling the police. Clad in jeans and a t-shirt, the lady mayor darts right in the middle of the combatants. With a commanding voice, she tells the police and the demolition team to stand down, and they did. She then turns to the angry residents and dresses them down. Meekly, the residents drop their weapons and sit down. She dresses both parties down, laced with all sort of invectives, and they all fall silent.

The lady mayor then turns her attention to the sheriff, who had silently retreated to a corner, and after dressing him down, punches him successively without warning. The sheriff quietly receives his punishment. The mayor’s surprised bodyguards restrain her and lead away the sheriff from further harm.

All this time, cameras were rolling, but the cameras did not belong to a movie outfit but to news stations that beamed the entire action to a shocked nation, and replayed them over and over again.

The lady mayor, Sara Duterte of Davao City, daughter of the equally tough former Mayor Rodrigo Duterte who has slid to vice mayor due to term limitations, was arrogant when asked to explain her action. She said she did not care whether the courts would cite her in contempt for manhandling the sheriff. “I don’t care,” she said, and then told the courts. “Say goodbye to your budget. You asked for additional fund? My God, I am having difficulty with the budget. They will cite me for contempt? I will also cite them for contempt. Starting tomorrow, no more gasoline for them, no allowance, no job order!”

The father, Vice Mayor Duterte, whose three terms as Davao City Mayor was plagued with reports of the dreaded Death Squad, a vigilante group reportedly being backed by the elder Duterte, was even more arrogant.

“You ask the people here in Davao, you ask the media, ‘buti nga kung ganun lang abutin mo sa kin, p#t@ng!@ (expletive)… Kung ako ang mayor, may tama yan talaga.”

When told that columnists are criticizing his daughter, he said: “Ano? Mga columnist? Oh! (shows dirty finger) ta#@n*a (expletive), hindi lang sampal ang inabot noon. (Expletive), you wage a battle against your own people using policemen

The next day, the suddenly sober Sara was singing a different tune: “It was incorrect and I hope they accept my apologies.”

Just as the tough Tennessee Sheriff Bufford Pusser of Walking Tall fame was hailed as a hero by the residents, Sara was hailed by many as a folk hero, one who stands up for the oppressed and the downtrodden.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who is not unfamiliar with tough-fist actions, backed Sarah, saying the situation could have gotten worse had the mayor not intervened in the demolition. “Our countrymen who are criticizing her just see the act of hitting. They do not see the social dimension, the social impact to the constitutents of Mayor Sara,” he said.

Gabriela party-list Rep. Emmie de Jesus And Bagong Alyansang Makabayan also hailed Sara’s action.

“I admire Mayor Sara Duterte for standing up for the embattled urban poor families of Davao who, while having to cope with the aftermath of floods, met the callous demolition attempt of the Davao sheriff,” De Jesus said in a statement. “She stood up for the poor especially at a time of adversity.”
There is this side of me that says Sara should indeed be hailed for standing up for the poor, but there is, on the other hand, the side that tells me what she did was wrong. She was doing right up to the time she dressed down both the angry mob, on one hand, and the policemen and the demolition team, on the other, and told them to stop the violence. She was still right in dressing down the sheriff for refusing her request for a two-hour delay in the demolition until she could reassure the residents that they would be properly relocated.

But when she let loose her fists on a sheriff who was already shaking in fear, that was when she crossed the line between right and wrong, between being a hero and being a villain.

Those four punches all but obliterated the heroic act of standing in the middle of two combating forces and quieting them down, and the bigger-than-life act of standing up for the poor and the oppressed.

Suddenly, she was the typical local political lord who punishes those who dare defy her. Suddenly, she was a goon mayor who thinks she is above the law. Suddenly, she was the arrogant warlord who threatens people into submission.

There can never be an excuse for violent behavior. She was supposed to be there to prevent violence, but when the contending parties were willing to call the fight off, she launched her own violence on a sheriff who was there to enforce a court order. She was supposed to protect the rights of her downtrodden constituents, but she was not hesitant to violate the rights of a lowly bureaucrat. As a lawyer, she took an oath to uphold the law, and yet she showed disrespect for the law by beating an agent of the law and by preventing the lawful enforcement of a court order.

In the end, Sara Duterte was a study in contrast. Who is the real Sara Duterte? Is she a hero or a heel?

By Val G. Abelgas




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