Not many in the Philippines are convinced that President Rodrigo Duterte will retire from politics, in itself a surprise announcement. He may yet be clearing the way for a presidential run by his daughter. Sara Duterte-Carpio is currently mayor of Davao, the Philippines’ third-largest city, and filed on Saturday to contest the role again. She had previously said she would not run for national office next year.
“Today, I announce my retirement from politics,” Duterte said as he accompanied his ally Senator Christopher “Bong” Go of the ruling PDP-Laban party to register Go’s candidacy for vice-president in next year’s election. Political analysts in Manila are rather sceptical, remarking that last-minute changes were still possible, as in 2015 when Duterte entered the presidential election race at the eleventh hour and won by a huge margin. At the age of 76, he had been expected to run for the No. 2 job, a plan most Filipinos oppose as violating the spirit of the Constitution, which sets a one-term limit for the President to stop power being abused.
“In obedience to the will of the people, who after all placed me in the presidency many years ago, I now say to my countrymen, I will follow your wish,” Duterte said as he urged the public to back his longtime aide. It is crucial for Duterte to have a loyal successor to insulate him from potential legal action ~ at home or by the International Criminal Court ~ over the thousands of state killings in his war on drugs since 2016. “I would take his announcement with a lot of salt,” said Carlos Conde, the Philippines researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“But assuming that he’s really going to retire, that doesn’t mean he won’t get the protection from the ICC that he craves.” Duterte, a maverick leader famous for his embrace of China and disdain for America, traditionally a close ally of the Philippines, remains popular even though his opponents accuse him of being authoritarian. Activist and human rights lawyer Neri Colmenares also viewed Duterte’s announcement sceptically, saying “he will still dictate (to) his political machinery”. More than 60 million Filipinos will vote next May for a new President, Vice-President and more than 18,000 lawmakers and local government officials. Political observers had long suspected Duterte could spring a surprise, such as a presidential bid by his daughter next year.
Duterte-Carpio’s filing of re-election shortly after her father announced his retirement, did little to douse speculation that she has her eye on the presidency. Mar Masanguid, who backed Duterte’s 2016 run and has now founded a group to back Duterte-Carpio, said the signs still pointed to a run which would mirror her father’s last minute bid in 2016. “In politics, anything can happen,” he said. Politics is in a state of flux in the Philippines.