Does Rodrigo Duterte deserve the Datu Bago award?

Mar. 13, 2024

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Does Rodrigo Duterte, former president and long-time mayor of Davao City, deserve this year’s Datu Bago Award?

This question was raised after the Datu Bago Awards Organization announced last week that Duterte, popularly called Digong, will be the only awardee for the 87th Araw ng Dabaw celebration this month.

The Datu Bago Awards was created in 1969 by the late Mayor Elias Lopez to recognize Dabawenyos and Davao residents who “contributed to the development of the city with exemplary competence and dedication and who best serves as a model of excellence and as inspiration to the residents of Davao.”

This year, the awards group said they “suspended” the evaluation process of the other five nominees and decided to solely confer the annual award to Duterte.

The announcement was made in a media briefing by City Councilor Pilar Braga, who chairs the board of trustees of the awards organization. 

Braga they are awarding Duterte “for his exceptional and transformative contributions to the city’s progress and development” as mayor for seven terms or 21 years from 1988 to 1998, 2001-2010, and 2013 to 2016.

She added that “it is high time and it’s the best time for Dabawenyos to show appreciation and thanks” to Duterte.

A press release commended Duterte for “(h)is emphasis on inclusive governance and community empowerment has fostered a culture of unity, resilience, and progress among Davaoeños, ensuring that no one is left behind in the city’s journey toward prosperity and progress.”

Unethical, contradictory

But a member of the civil society in Davao City called out the awards on ethical and political grounds.

Malu Abella Lopez, civil society leader and Martial Law survivor, said conferring Duterte this award is “unethical” since Duterte’s children, Sebastian and Paulo hold positions in local politics (as mayor and congressman) and national politics as well as with Vice President Sara.

Lopez said the board should also look into Duterte’s presidency, where his favored relations with China for Build, Build, Build “compromised Philippine interests”.

She said this compromise is contradictory to the legacy of the name of the award, Datu Bago, who was hailed by historians as a local hero who fought Spanish aggression away from the Davao Gulf.

“How can Duterte be an awardee supposed to be inspired by Datu Bago when he compromised the Philippines and its territory and sovereignty by his dalliance with China when was president? How can he be an awardee when is the opposite of Datu Bago?” asked Lopez.

Legacy questioned

As to the issue of legacy, Lopez questioned the timing as Duterte is facing an investigation from the International Criminal Court for his war on drugs campaign that compromised human rights.

“Yung legacy kasi ni (The legacy of) Duterte only history can decide. Right now, it’s not the right timing because he is being accused of blatant violations of human rights, (his case in the) International Court. So, if Braga thinks that he deserves it, she is not the right person to judge,” she added.

Braga, the only remaining senior councilor since the post-EDSA 1988 election, has been allied with Duterte’s various local parties through the decades, from Lakas Dabaw to Hugpong ng Tawong Lungsod.

Lopez also scrutinized the so-called “Duterte factor” in local politics as “strong leadership”, as he points out that democratic spaces such as criticisms and holding rallies are gradually dying out as the Duterte local dynasty imposes fear on the public.

“He killed the opposition. That is very anti-democratic. How can you say na progressive ang Davao when there is not one councilor opposing him? Walang (there’s no) check and balance,” she said.

Another controversy tainting Duterte is his close ties with Apollo Quiboloy, founder of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and Sonshine Media Network (SMNI), who is facing sex and human trafficking cases in the United States and a Congressional probe on irregularities and violations of his broadcasting franchise.

Duterte was recently assigned as “administrator” of Quiboloy’s properties as he remains in hiding to evade arrests.

A collective effort

Lopez further stressed that Davao City’s progress through the decades cannot be attributed to one person as it is a collective effort.

Lopez has been involved in various movements in decades to shape local development such as women empowerment.

“It’s too early to judge him in the context of historical perspective. When he had this Women’s Code and Women’s Desk in our LGU hindi naman nya work yun. Work naman yun ng (that wasn’t his work, it was the work of) civil society to push for that, nag-agree lang sya (he just approved it), it did not come from him. He was mayor, he is being paid to make progressive developments sa city,” Lopez pointed out. 

Students’ reactions

Some students interviewed by Davao Today shared that the Datu Bago Awards should find more relevance by recognizing ordinary people making extraordinary services.

Irish, a student from the University of Mindanao, said that while Duterte has contributed to the city, it is also best to recognize health frontliners in the city during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Madami gud nangyari (A lot has happened) during the pandemic and alam natin paano sila nag (and we knew their) sacrifice for us even. Siguro (Maybe) it’s high time (also to) give back (to themodern day heroes,” she said.

A student of Ateneo de Davao University who refused to give his name said the award is “not relatable because of its elitist nature.” He suggested the award-giving body should expand its qualification to recognize inspiring individuals from different sectors of the city.

Past Datu Bago awardees include leaders and trailblazers from civil society, public service, business, medical profession, arts and culture, journalism, environment conservation, and activism. (

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