BY ROGER M. BALANZA
Campaign headquarters of presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte sprouted like mushrooms all over the country soon after the Commission on Elections (Comelec) dismissed petitions to bar the Davao City Mayor from joining the race to Malacanang in the May election.
The junking of the disqualifications cases put happy closure to a suspenseful wait by supporters and campaigners who believe in Duterte to effect change in national governance.
The agonizing wait ended with Comelec Commissioner Christian Robert Lim providing color to Duterte’s entry into the presidential race as he announced in a press conference the ruling of the Comelec.
“The punisher will live to die another day,” in jest said Lim. Duterte is widely known as “The Punisher” for his iron-fisted campaign against criminality especially illegal drugs dealing in Davao City.
Four petitions for disqualification have been filed against Duterte sparking apprehensions that he could not join the race.
With his route to Malacanang cleared, it is now full steam ahead for the standard bearer of the opposition Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Laban (PDP-Laban).
Duterte and his running mate Senator Alan Peter Cayetanowill be proclaimed on February 9 in Tondo, Manila.
The May 9 presidential derby is a 5-way contest between Duterte, Mar Roxas of the ruling Liberal Party, Vice President Jejomar Binay of the United Nationalists Alliance (UNA), independent candidate Senator Grace Poe and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago.
Duterte had placed his supporters on edge as he somersaulted several times on his decision to run for president.
A year before his dramatic announcement in October that he is joining the derby, Duterte had gone on a year-long nationwide tour dubbed “ Listening Tour” where he advocated a shift to a federal parliamentary type of governance from the present unitary presidential.
The tour gained wide support and calls for him to run for president and spawned the birth of “federal movements” nationwide.
The “federalist” groups along with the numerous Duterte-for-President movements that have sprouted all over the country, were expected to play potent vote-getting roles in Duterte’s race to the presidency.
With the legal obstacles out of the way, crowd-drawing and tough-talking Duterte faces a tight campaign schedule to speak on his platform of moving the country toward, a shift to a federal system of governance, wiping out criminals especially drug lords, and eliminating corruption in government.
Even before the Comelec decision was handed out, Duterte has made the rounds as guest in election forums organized by various groups including media.
Being now an official candidate, Duterte will join the series of presidential debates sponsored by the poll body and media outlets.
Christopher Go, Duterte’s aide, said the Davao mayor would not back out from any debate now that his disqualification cases have been junked.
The Comelec will hold the first presidential debate in Cagayan de Oro City on Feb. 21.