Duterte is willing to step down so a former dictator’s son can take over

Who can fill my shoes?
Who can fill my shoes?
Image: AP Photo/Aaron Favila
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Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine president whose brutal war on drugs has killed thousands, has signaled he’s willing to step down. But the scenario for his resignation, like so much of his presidency, could prove to be highly controversial.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said today (Aug. 16) that Duterte plans to resign if Ferdinand Marcos Jr. becomes the country’s vice president, which would pave Marcos’s path to the presidency. Widely known as “Bongbong,” Marcos is the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., whose regime from 1965 to 1986 was marked by violence, corruption, and human-rights abuses.

In 2016, Bongbong Marcos, a former senator, had run for vice president but narrowly lost to Leni Robredo, who’s become the face of Duterte’s opposition. (In the Philippines, the president and vice president are often from rival parties.) Marcos, however, has always challenged the results, and a recount started last April. A tribunal, made up of the country’s supreme court, will decide on the case.

Jean Encinas-Franco, an assistant professor of political science at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, is skeptical Duterte will follow through on his word and resign. “What is clear from his pronouncements is that any decision by the electoral tribunal would now be subject to suspicion of presidential interference and influence,” she says.

For Marcos, his challenge is a hedge to get back into the presidential palace. He also plans to run for president (paywall) in 2022, when Duterte’s term will come to an end. Despite the Marcos family’s dark history in the Philippines, Duterte appears to enjoy a particularly cozy relationship with them. In November 2016, he played a role in giving Ferdinand Sr., who died in 1989, a hero’s burial, complete with a 21-gun salute. The move sparked outrage, with young Filipinos protesting for weeks.

Duterte, who is 73 years old, has publicly mused about retirement throughout his presidency, but has said he’s unwilling to do so while Robredo is his vice president. “At this time, I am telling you, I am ready to step down and retire,” he said on Tuesday (Aug. 14). ” I have nothing against Robredo. She’s a lawyer, you have heard her talk, but I do not think she can improve on anything here.” He has, however, indicated that he would like someone like Marcos or senator Francis Escudero, who also lost the 2016 election for vice president, to succeed him.

Duterte’s spokesman reiterated today that “he thinks senator Bongbong Marcos is one of the better qualified persons to succeed.” And if the tribunal decides in Marcos’s favor, he said that Duterte “will make true his word.”