WorldDuterte's Battle for the Ballot in the Philippines

Duterte’s Battle for the Ballot in the Philippines

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The Philippine presidential race took a turnaround last week. Although no hopefuls have formally presented their candidacy so far, the name that leads the polls for the May 2022 elections is Sara. Isay Duterte-Carpio, daughter of current Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. After confirmation on Tuesday that her father would be the candidate for runner-up on the ticket, Sara herself posted a message on Facebook on Wednesday stating that Duterte asked her not to run the candidacy or to have Senator Christopher Bong Go as a running mate.

Sara, 43, had already achieved prominence in Philippine public life long before her father became president in 2016. In fact, in 2011, and for reasons unfavorable to her reputation, the current mayor of Davao, a southern city archipelago that is the stronghold of this political clan, received the nickname of demolition, for having punched a court official four times in the face in an attempt to delay the removal of shacks in a favela. With a strong and independent character, she is a lover of high-capacity motorcycles and does not hide being as quarrelsome, stubborn and controversial as her father, with whom she confesses to having had a love-hate relationship in her adolescence.

Although she claims to have developed a vocation for pediatrics, Rodrigo Duterte’s favorite ended up following her father’s path: she was a lawyer before entering politics, succeeding her current mandate as mayor of Davao in 2010, after having been deputy mayor in the previous three years.

Despite saying that he does not intend to be the new tenant of the Malacañán Palace, Duterte-Carpio has been leading the polls for a year, well ahead of other well-known candidates, such as Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos, son of the former Filipino dictator of the same name, and boxer Manny Pacquiao, several times world champion. “Not everyone wants to be president. I’m one of those”, he says. Many Filipinos, however, opine that, once again, she is following in her paternal trail, as Duterte also denied her interest in running in the 2016 elections until a few months before the vote. Sara’s supporters want her to uphold her father’s policies and projects, and on many streets in the Philippines for months, posters have been seen reading “Run, Sara, Run” (“dispute, Sara, dispute”), a campaign by which the mayor, apparently, left.

Several politicians close to Duterte likewise did not hide their enthusiasm that Duterte-Carpio took this step. Gilbert Teodoro Jr., the country’s former secretary of defense, offered as a partner in the candidacy, as he believes that, thanks to her experience as mayor, she has the “ability to unite” the Filipinos and help the country to recover of the covid-19 pandemic. According to the Philippine website rappler, the politician Joey Salceda also commented that “at least five parties” are forming alliances to support Duterte-Carpio: “I have no doubts, from what we’ve talked about, that they will contest the 2022 elections”.

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The law requires that the positions of president and vice president be elected separately. The 1987 Constitution limits the presidency to a single six-year term. At least two former presidents, Joseph Estrada and Glória Macapagal Arroyo, occupied other public positions after passing through the presidency, but none of them managed to run for vice presidency, as it seems that Rodrigo Duterte will do.

Karlo Nograles, executive vice president of the ruling PDP-Laban party, reported last week that 76-year-old Duterte “has accepted to make the sacrifice and listen to the clamor of the people” to stand in the May 9 elections. Despite the rise in covid-19 infections and deaths and the slow pace of vaccinations, his popularity remains high, and if he forms a slate with his daughter, analysts agree they both stand a good chance of winning. “I will continue with the crusade. I’m worried about drug trafficking and the insurgency. The first is the insurgency, then the drugs, the crimes,” announced Duterte in a recorded speech that was released last Wednesday. It is a strategy reminiscent of that of his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, whom Duterte once defined as “his favorite hero” and who managed to cling to power by modifying the Russian Constitution, which until 2008 prohibited a third term. Dmitri Medvedev was then elected president, and Putin assumed the position of prime minister between 2008 and 2012. In 2012, like a chess move, he resumed his duties as president, and Medvedev took over as prime minister.

For his plan to work, Rodrigo Duterte would need to dodge the serious accusations that hang over him. On June 14, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court asked for judicial authorization to investigate alleged crimes against humanity committed in the midst of the war on drugs promoted in the country. Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has called for an investigation into suspicions of “extrajudicial executions” that “appear to have been committed in accordance with official state policy of the Philippine Government.” His most weighty argument, according to the testimonies collected, is that members of the National Police and other associated groups “illegally killed between thousands and tens of thousands of civilians”.

Getting the vice presidency would give Duterte an immunity that would keep him from sitting in the dock for at least six years. His decision aroused the ire of opponents, who argue that this move runs counter to the spirit of the 1987 Constitution, passed after the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. The socialist-leaning Akbayan party even warned that a Duterte-Duterte duo “would represent the establishment of a political dynasty of the highest level”. However, the president’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said the president would step back if his daughter decides to step forward. These statements were eliminated in the edition of the speech broadcast on the same date.

In her statements on Facebook, Sara Duterte explained: “Recently, the president confirmed to me that he would introduce himself as vice president and that senator Go would go as president. It was not a pleasant moment. He left me two letters to consider the options: one note explained why I should support the Go-Duterte ticket, and the other suggested that I accept Senator Go as my candidate for vice president.” Both Sara Duterte and Go, if elected, could contribute to protecting Duterte from possible criminal charges.

Sara Duterte leads the regional Hugpong ng Pagbabago party. Duterte and Go, in turn, are members of the PDP-Laban, where a faction supports senator and boxer Manny Pacquiao. The executive director of the PDP, Ronwald Munsayac, an ally of Pacquiao, considers that “the Go-Duterte ticket is a smokescreen to hide the real candidate, the mayor of Davao, Sara Duterte (…). It is part of a strategy to undermine the party’s bases.” Duterte-Carpio wasted no time in replying: “I am not a person [que toma decisões] last minute. I think, organize and act accordingly. Meanwhile, I refuse to be a punching bag for a disorganized party.” Employing a discourse that often becomes ambiguous, Duterte’s eldest daughter reacted to the criticism by advising: “Stop talking about me and saying that I am the reason that prevents you from running or not.”

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