This week, Sara Duterte, the president's daughter, said she would seek reelection as mayor of the southern city of Davao, in support of her earlier statement that she would avoid what had until then been a presumed presidential run. She would do this, according to her spokesperson, to abide by an agreement within the family that only one of them would be running for either of the top two positions. General elections are scheduled for 9 May 2022.
As we had stated in earlier notes, we believe this to be a feint to take the spotlight off Sara, either until the first week of October, when candidates are due to file with the election commission, or even as late as November, when substitutions to candidates are allowed. To recall, then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte also said he would not run for president in 2016, with his party nominating a placeholder at the first instance, only for Duterte to substitute in October. One clear possibility is that the family's announcement may be more to shake up emerging alliances, as a Duterte run for the vice- presidential position changes political calculations substantially, and then revert to the original plan in October or November.
Sara and her supporters have been setting up a national grassroots campaign network as early as the first quarter of this year, actively placing posters across the country, organizing local community networks, and presenting her as the successor to her father. It would seem implausible and a political miscalculation for the family to abandon this network and her momentum. She is currently the clear leader in the surveys, and to forego this for a more questionable run by her father, who does not poll as strongly as a VP candidate as his daughter does for the presidency, creates a risk that a non- ally or even an opponent could win the top post, with her father losing his VP bid.
If we are to treat Sara backing down in favor of her father seriously, one possibility is that Duterte and his inner circles are worried about the potential for future criminal prosecution and want the formal political protection afforded by a VP position, thus their willingness to abandon the more rational electoral calculation of having her run. Over the next two to three weeks, developments with the following candidates will have to be watched:
- Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” Domagoso appears set for a presidential run. He is openly contradicting Duterte to set himself up as the alternative and is polling best among potential contenders outside of Sara. If Domagoso emerges as first or second in the race (if Sara runs), then other anti-Duterte constituencies might rally around him if only to defeat the Duterte family. A Domagoso-Duterte paring would be very strong, but their current positions seem opposed
- Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the namesake of the former autocrat, has a viable shot at the vice-presidency, but possibly not for the presidency. Duterte moving down to VP would seriously complicate his chances at a number two spot — although it would also work against Duterte because there is common ground between Duterte and Marcos supporters. Marcos would have been a good electoral fit for Sara.
- Leni Robredo, the vice president, is not polling well, and there is a chance she may not run. She could file a nominal candidacy but appears unwilling to do so if her chances are not strong. It is her supporters who Domagoso or any other candidate will attempt to capture.
- Manuel Pacquaio, the boxer and senator, is in a similar situation to Marcos. He is a viable vice-presidential candidate but running for the presidency would expose his weaknesses: he has neither a strong political nor party infrastructure that could convince undecided voters.
- Panfilo Lacson, the senator and former police chief, has formally declared that he would run but appears to have limited upside. He would present himself as an efficient law-and-order administrator but without Duterte's rough edges. However, his polling numbers have been weak and a strong break to the upside would be a surprise.