UPDATES TO ADD BACKGROUND ON SUPPORT FOR NEGOTIATIONS WITH MUSLIM, COMMUNIST REBELS
By Roy Ramos
ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines (AA) – Tens of thousands of people flocked to a park in the southern Philippines for a public party Saturday to celebrate the election victory of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte ahead of his inauguration as president.
Around 2,000 security personnel were stationed at the city’s Crocodile Park where they frisked and inspected those arriving for the festivities, who were banned from bringing backpacks, hats, cigarettes, lighters and sunglasses.
Local media cited the organizers of the celebration, scheduled to last from 1 p.m. (0500GMT) Saturday to 1 a.m. Sunday, as saying that more than 200,000 people were expected to attend.
Duterte, who served 22 years as Davao City’s outspoken mayor, won the election last month by a landslide and is set to become the first Philippine president from the troubled southern island of Mindanao upon his inauguration June 30.
Jimmy Legaspi, a 34-year-old tending to his roadside stall Saturday, told news broadcaster ABS-CBN that residents are “very proud that our next president is from Mindanao”.
“We want peace, not just in Mindanao but in the entire country,” he stressed.
Under Duterte, Davao City transformed from a crime ridden hovel to a peaceful and investment-friendly city, where he imposed bans on public smoking, and the selling of alcohol and the operation of entertainment spots past midnight.
In 2015, however, Amnesty International alleged that “death squads” under his control were responsible for 700 extrajudicial executions in the region. Duterte is reported to have responded that it was more like 1,700.
Duterte, a devout Christian, has backed the outgoing government's peace process with one-time largest Muslim rebel group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front as well as indigenous peoples’ calls for greater autonomy. He has also made overtures toward negotiating with a decades-old communist insurgency.
After winning the May 9 polls on a crime-fighting campaign, Duterte vowed to work toward re-imposing the death penalty and offered a bounty to officers who capture drug dealers “dead or alive”.
Legaspi's wife, 33-year-old Inday, said Saturday that the couple -- both high school dropouts -- had heard reports of “criminals” being killed, “but we're not afraid because we are not doing anything wrong.”
The husband and wife told ABS-CBN that they would join the thanksgiving festivities with their seven-year-old son, for whom they had hopes of a college education.
The Philippine Inquirer reported that vendors had traveled to Davao the night before the party and camped out near the park.
Bebeng Inio, who traveled from Tagum City alongside her husband and neighbors, told the newspaper that they intended to sell food such as fish crackers.
“We hope all of the problems in our place, in the national will be solved. Everything,” she said.