Manila – In yet another election surprise in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte withdrew his candidacy for a Senate seat, but just after his daughter, Davao City mayor and vice presidential candidate Sara Duterte-Carpio, listed him in her senatorial slate.
Duterte personally went to the Commission on Elections on Tuesday, Dec. 14, to file his withdrawal papers just hours after his long-time aide, Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, the presidential aspirant whom he anointed to be his successor, did the same.
The new twist prompted labor leader and presidential candidate Leody de Guzman to remind Filipinos not to get muddled up by the ongoing “telenovela” of the Duterte family.
“I am certain that there will be more speculations as to why Duterte withdrew his candidacy, but the important thing is not to be confused or be carried away by this telenovela,” de Guzman told journalists when asked for his reaction.
The 76-year-old authoritarian leader, whose term ends in June 2022, is not allowed under the Philippine constitution to seek a second six-year term as president, but he was allowed to run for other positions in the national elections in May 2022. He initially planned to pursue the vice presidency, but chose instead to run as senator.
Political observers said Duterte’s next political plan to run for the vice presidency and the Senate is an attempt to remain in politics and stay in power while facing an investigation by the International Criminal Court into his deadly so-called “war on drugs” that has killed thousands of mostly suspected street drug peddlers.
His daughter Sara is running for vice president and has teamed up with presidential bet Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., namesake of the late dictator.
His son Paolo Duterte is a congressman seeking another term and his other son Sebastian is contesting the mayoral race in Davao City where Sara is the current mayor.
Duterte has repeatedly said he was retiring from politics, but political analysts said he still has political capital as he still maintains a certain degree of popularity. Analyst Dindo Manhit of the think tank Stratbase, said, “Duterte still shapes the political discourse and has enormous resources to even throw his support to his daughter.”
It remains to be seen who the president is endorsing in the coming months, but he has attacked Marcos Jr., a frontrunner in early surveys, saying he is a weak leader, and the other presidential candidates such as incumbent Vice President Ma. Leonor “Leni” Robredo.
Sen. Richard Gordon, who heads the Senate committee probing alleged anomalies in the Duterte government's procurement of items starting in 2020 to battle the coronavirus pandemic, said it was only right that Duterte withdrew.
“I think he already saw for himself the kind of leadership he has. He is looking for a hole he could fit in. He and his family are toying with the public,” said Gordon, who said Duterte is in a "grand conspiracy with his friends who bled this nation’s coffers dry with the anomalous purchases.”
Professor Aries Arugay of the University of the Philippines said the series of political maneuverings among the administration candidates are unseen in the country's electoral history.
"If I will assess it, this is a new low in our electoral politics. It seems that politicians don't really care about what voters think, what voters feel and they are playing with the Filipino people," he said in a radio interview.
The end game of this political spectacle rests on the Filipino voters, such as public school teacher Tina Cruz-Eder, who said she is hoping that Filipinos will decide wisely and be well educated come May 2022 and not be carried away by the charade of the Dutertes and their allies.
“There is much at stake in this coming elections – it will define our future; it will make or break our chances of being renewed after the hell that we have been through under Duterte,” she said.