Filipinos contemplate prospect of ‘Duterte-Duterte’ administration


The Philippines has seen its share of political dynasties, including two presidents who shared the surname Aquino. 

As the race to succeed Rodrigo Duterte as president heats up, Filipinos are speculating about something the south-east Asian nation has not yet seen: a Duterte-Duterte administration. 

The 76-year-old leader, who is barred from seeking a second term, is running for vice-president, raising the prospect that he could remain on the political scene for years, much as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has done by rotating between the posts of president and prime minister. 

Duterte’s daughter Sara, 43, the mayor of Davao, on the southern island of Mindanao, is leading opinion polls for potential presidential candidates and is expected to run on a separate ticket from her father. 

While Sara Duterte last week ruled out a presidential run, her supporters have been urging her to enter her candidacy, and many believe she will. Some have begun raising “Run, Sara, Run” posters and banners around the country ahead of a filing deadline for candidates on October 8.

Her father was formally named last week as the vice-presidential candidate of his PDP-Laban party on a ticket with his aide Christopher “Bong” Go running for president. The Philippines allows voters to split their choices for president and vice-president, raising the possibility that father and daughter could win the two top jobs. 

Sara Duterte follows the same rough populism as her father, but unlike him, has recently visited Washington © Lisa Marie David/Reuters

“This is the Putin formula: have the president run in the subordinate position with a compliant lackey as president,” said Manuel Quezon, a columnist for the Inquirer newspaper and a former official in the administration of the late Benigno Aquino III.

“Having them both with weak running mates would avoid the optics of them running on a single ticket.”

For the younger Duterte, this would be the second time she had followed her father into a post: in 2010 she took over as Davao’s mayor after his term limit expired.

Pundits have been trading the portmanteau word “Daughterte” to suggest she might have enough support to build a national base similar to her father’s. Like Rodrigo Duterte, she cultivates an image of a combative champion of the common man. Her Instagram page features shots of her posing alongside a motorcycle, one with the hashtag #bikerchick.

In 2011 she punched a sheriff in the face after he refused to delay the demolition of a Davao shantytown where she was trying to defuse a confrontation. 

However, there are signs that Sara Duterte would be her own woman were she to win national office. “She is not going to copy and paste everything from her father,” said Aries Arugay, professor of political science at University of the Philippines Diliman. 

When her father floated the idea of running on a ticket with Go last month, she said it was “not a pleasant event” and urged them to “own up publicly” that they planned to run. “I respectfully advise them to stop talking about me and make me the reason for them not running or running,” she said in a pointed Facebook post. 

Unlike her father, a sharp critic of the US who has not visited the White House, she went to Washington last year on a leadership programme sponsored by the state department.

The bond between father and daughter is relevant, given the possibility of future legal cases being brought against Rodrigo Duterte. In a country where former presidents have been prosecuted under their successors, the president has made it clear he is seeking the vice-presidency to avoid being held legally accountable for any wrongdoing.

The International Criminal Court’s outgoing top prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in June she thought there was a “reasonable basis” to believe a crime against humanity had been committed during Duterte’s “war on drugs”, under which police or vigilantes have killed thousands of people. The ICC opened a preliminary probe into the president’s signature public policy in 2018, prompting Duterte to withdraw the Philippines from the UN court.

Early polling suggests that both Duterte and his daughter would be popular candidates. Five years of Dutertismo, as some call the president’s rough form of populism, have wiped out the opposition Liberal camp formed by the successors of former president Corazon Aquino. Duterte’s grip on social media and key constituencies such as overseas workers has kept his popularity high.

“There isn’t really another candidate who can run against the Duterte brand and hope to win,” said Elaine Marie Collado, Philippine country director with Vriens & Partners, a government affairs consultancy.

A poll conducted in June by Pulse Asia named Duterte as the top contender for the vice-presidency, with 18 per cent support and his daughter as the top presidential candidate, with 28 per cent support.

However, with Philippine presidential races typically decided in their final weeks, including the one that elected Duterte in 2016, analysts say the field remains wide open. 

“I would hesitate to say for sure Duterte is going to run until he files,” Collado said.

As possible running mates for Sara Duterte, Filipinos have speculated that Ferdinand (“Bongbong”) Marcos Jr or Imee Marcos, children of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, might join her on a campaign slate. 

The boxer Manny Pacquiao, who belongs to Duterte’s PDP-Laban party but has fallen out with Duterte, may also announce his candidacy for president, as may Manila’s popular Mayor Francisco (“Isko”) Moreno.

Follow John Reed on Twitter: @JohnReedwrites





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