Manila, July 5, 2002 (STAR) He made Davao City safe. Can he do it for the rest of the country?

President Arroyo announced yesteday the creation of a "special task force" to be headed by Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte that will help the police fight syndicated crimes including kidnapping and drug trafficking.

Newly appointed Philippine National Police chief Director General Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. will have "total command and responsibility" in trying to bring down the country’s crime rate in a year, but "he will not be without expert help," the President said.

As Ebdane took over command of the police force from Leandro Mendoza yesterday, Mrs. Arroyo announced the abolition of the National Anti-Crime Commission and the National Anti-Kidnapping Task Force, which Ebdane used to head.

"I am happy to announce that in Jun Ebdane’s battle against syndicates and also the continuing — and it will be an improved — battle against drug lords, Jun Ebdane will be assisted by a special task force to be headed by Davao City Mayor Rudy Duterte," she added.

Duterte recently made the pages of Time magazine because of his "Dirty Harry" style of fighting criminality.

A tough-talking, gun-packing mayor who patrols Davao on a Harley Davidson motorcycle accompanied by motorcycle-riding security men, Duterte has been widely credited by local residents for taming the once crime-infested city.

In the late 1980s to the early 1990s, gangs, bandits, kidnappers and drug dealers used to operate with impunity in Davao, making it the crime capital of the Philippines.

But when Duterte took over city hall and criminals started turning up dead, it didn’t take long before Davao became, as Time correspondent Phil Zabriskie wrote in his piece, "as oasis of peace in the middle of the Philippines’ lush center of chaos."

Ironically, peace came from a barrel of a gun. A vigilante group calling itself the Davao Death Squad would carry out the same modus operandi.

Once, two well-known cell phone snatchers were walking the street. Two men aboard a motorcycle came up, one of them opening fire as the motorcycle speeds away. Duterte would then order a police investigation which would, as always, get nowhere.

Although Duterte denies his involvement in the summary executions of criminals – sometimes in broad daylight in the streets – Davao resident say his tough talk against crime was not an idle threat. One joke in Davao has it that the Davao Death Squad is actually the Duterte Death Squad.

"If we had 20 more mayors like Duterte, the peace and order would improve," Time quoted former cop and former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim – himself known for his hardline, sometimes outspoken, stand against criminals – as saying.

In fact, at least a handful of cities in the South like Digos in Davao del Sur province are now dishing out Duterte-style law and order.

Last year, Davao’s 1.3 million residents swept Duterte back into office because of his diligent approach – to put it nicely – in fighting crime, something which the PNP is known for.

How Duterte will help shape up the nation’s police force will put his hardline determination to the test.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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