October 19, 2021


PHILIPPINES: Sara Duterte may really be out of the running

BY Bob Herrera-Lim

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( 4 mins)
  • The probability that Sara Duterte may not run for the presidency has increased.
  • The nominal beneficiary is Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., the son of the former autocrat, who may emerge as the front-runner in a Duterte-less race.
  • Polling this early in the race could show substantial volatility, and some clarity may only emerge in December.

In the week since candidate registration ended on 8 October, Sara Duterte, the president’s daughter, has not budged from her position that she will not run in the 2022 presidential elections. Her statements over the past few days appear resolute, with no hedging that she could change her mind. Given the general skepticism of politicians — both Duterte and former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also denied presidential ambitions before reversing themselves — there will continue to be speculation that her non-candidacy will only be certain after the 15 November deadline for candidate substitution passes.

Our view is that while this skepticism may still be justified by the country’s previous experience and the seeming illogic in Sara giving up the leading position in the presidential race, her recent statements and the genuine fluster among the grassroots groups organized earlier this year to support her run may signal that her stated disavowals are real. Therefore, the probability of her avoiding the race has increased. The speculation on the ground is that she had a genuine falling out with her father and his factotum, Senator Bong Go, when she called them out in August for their maneuvering in attempting to force her to support either Go as a presidential candidate with the president as his vice-presidential running mate, or for Sara to run for president with Go as the number two.

Moreover, the president’s allies are in seeming disarray because of Sara’s decision, indicating that her actions may not be a planned feint. Senator Ronaldo de la Rosa, Duterte’s former national police chief, who is now the presidential candidate of President Duterte’s PDP-Laban party, filed his campaign papers only a few hours before the deadline. The widespread speculation is that he was forced to do so as attempts to convince Sara proved futile and that he is only a placeholder to give the president and his allies time for a last-ditch effort in the coming weeks.

With Sara out, Marcos likely benefits

Assuming that she is no longer in the race, her supporters could start to migrate to the other candidates: Francisco Domagoso (Manila city mayor), Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. (son of the late autocrat), Manny Pacquiao (boxer and senator), and Leonor Robredo (Vice President). Our early expectation is that Marcos Jr. may be the primary beneficiary because he shares a common base with the Dutertes. Thus, he could start to lead in the surveys in the coming weeks, possibly competing with Domagoso for her votes. A race with Marcos in the lead would, as we had emphasized in previous notes, generate the greatest perceptions of uncertainty regarding the presidential elections due to his potentially antagonistic relationship with vocal segments of Manila’s elite such as the Catholic Church, academe, media, and the business community, and external perceptions of his family.

Robredo has shown some momentum in media over the past week, and her positioning as a counterpoint to Ferdinand Jr. might draw voters uncomfortable with the return of the Marcos family to the country’s leadership. But her goal in the near term is to be seen more as a real contender because of her weak polling the past few months. Pacquiao is similarly a wildcard, with strong name recognition among the country’s lower-income classes. Still, an undefined candidacy so far outside generic statements on housing and helping the poor could cap his ability to attract votes.

Previous elections that were contested from the start — 1992, 2004, and 2016 — showed noticeable volatility in the polls several months until April, and 2022 may hew to this pattern, rather than the 1998 and 2010 races where a clear front-runner emerged even ahead of the campaign period. The perceived lack of clarity on Sara’s intention and the difficulties of pandemic polling may further limit the reliability of any pattern or trend this early in the race, with December polls likely to provide the first real data for handicapping the candidates’ chances.

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