September 9, 2021


PHILIPPINES: Still skeptical about Duterte for vice-president, until December

BY Bob Herrera-Lim

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( 3 mins)

President Rodrigo Duterte’s PDP-Laban party formally nominated him at its party convention today, 8 September, to be its vice-presidential candidate in May 2022. However, Duterte factotum Senator Christopher Go, who was chosen to be its presidential bet, declined the nomination, and the party has not announced any replacement for him. The next step would be in the first week of October, which is the filing period for 2022 candidates. However, even if Duterte were to move forward with his candidacy next month, election rules may still allow him to back out and be substituted with a different candidate, possibly as late as December.

A Duterte vice-presidential candidacy is fraught with risks for his family and national brand. First, it could be a distraction that unduly complicates the planned presidential run of his daughter Sara. She has been mobilizing a national campaign for several months under her own party, the Force/Faction for Change (HNP). While Sara has been leading recent surveys and polls very well in her father’s bailiwick in the southern island of Mindanao, she likely still needs a vice-presidential candidate from the country’s northern or central regions to strengthen her ticket.

Duterte running independently of her party could scare off her potential vice- presidential running mates, causing her to choose a weak, nominal placeholder, or it could confuse the Duterte family’s popular base. Mentioned as her possible running mates are Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of the former autocrat, from the main island of Luzon; Martin Romualdez, Imelda Marcos’s nephew, from the central Visayan island group; and Gilbert Teodoro, the former defense secretary under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, also from Luzon. And if Sara were to not have a vice-presidential candidate that fills her regional gaps, this may make her vulnerable, especially if the initial polling numbers show her as having a strong opponent, which for now is possibly Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso.

Second, Duterte is not polling strongly. According to the most recent survey in June, he leads all potential vice-presidential names, but with only 18% support — hardly an overwhelming lead. Therefore, his candidacy would be vulnerable to negative narratives, i.e., that he is simply running to avoid any liability for his more controversial policies or that it is an indirect route for him back to the presidency. These are not the compelling stories that led to the groundswell of support for him in 2016. PDP-Laban also offered up an underwhelming slate for the 13 senate seats (one-half of the chamber) being contested next year, which may be a sign of an echo chamber in the party that believes in the infallibility of the Duterte brand.

Finally, boxer and Senator Manny Pacquiao, who is also considering a presidential bid, similarly belongs to Duterte’s PDP-Laban party, and he leads a competing faction in the party that may challenge the president’s nomination, adding to the distractions from his candidacy.

Therefore, Duterte’s planned vice-presidential run can be considered a feint, at least until December, on the assumption that his party recognizes the issues that his candidacy creates for Sara, or a serious political miscalculation.

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