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Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte is setting up his daughter to be his political heir

A banner showing support for Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte to run for president is seen in a community in Manila, Philippines, April 9, 2021. Picture taken April 9, 2021.
Reuters/Lisa Marie David
Keeping them guessing.
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The Philippines is a democratic country enamored of political dynasties, and on Saturday, president Rodrigo Duterte named his heir—his daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio—almost at the same time that he announced his retirement from politics.

The Philippine presidency is limited to one term, and Duterte had planned to run for vice president with his long time aide and current senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go as president, but cited “sentiments and surveys” that suggested that the public saw a vice presidential run by him as an attempt to circumvent the constitution. He was choosing to retire, Duterte said, “in obedience to the universal will of the Filipino people.”

In response to a question from Philippine broadcaster ABS-CBN about next year’s ticket, Duterte said “It’s Sara-Go.”

Sara Duterte-Carpio is the current mayor of the city of Davao, as well as serving as the first lady during her father’s presidency. She succeeded her father after his nearly three decades in power, in 2016, the year Duterte was elected president. Her grandfather was a governor of the province, her older brother Paolo Duterte is a congressman, and her younger brother, Sebastian Z. Duterte, is her vice-mayor. In one sense, it would not be surprising for Duterte-Carpio to follow her father into national office.

But Duterte-Carpio has batted away calls to run for president. On the same day Duterte said she would be running alongside senator Go in presidential elections due next year, Duterte-Carpio filed her candidacy to run for her third consecutive term as mayor of Davao. Publicly, she has asked her father and senator Go to leave her out of their decisions about the elections in 2022. On Monday, Christina Garcia Frasco, Duterte-Carpio’s spokesperson said, “Mayor Sara has no intention of becoming a member of PDP,” Duterte’s political party, “or of being its standard bearer now or in the near future.”

For his part, Duterte said he had not notified his daughter that she would be running for president, and admitted that they don’t talk about politics.

Duterte, who is known for a bloody campaign against drugs that saw thousands of his citizens executed by police and vigilantes nevertheless counted on widespread support in the country. Last month, the Hague-based International Criminal Court opened an investigation into whether the killings constitute crimes against humanity, holding there was reasonable evidence that they could be. Duterte has some of the highest approval ratings of any Philippine president, and a possible Duterte-Carpio candidacy is seen as a continuation of her father’s rule. Early polls show her leading the list of potential presidential candidates. Like her father, Duterte-Carpio is known as a capable, tough mayor and enforcer of Davao City’s rules, but without Duterte’s trademark crudeness. But in the Philippines, personality politics and family names lead the issues, and Duterte’s popularity fuels support for Duterte-Carpio.

In addition to Sara Duterte-Carpio, the most recent survey by Pulse Asia, a local polling agency, showed three candidates tied for second place: Francisco “Isko” Domagoso Moreno, the current mayor of Manila, Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, the senator and boxing champion, and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and Imelda Marcos, the former first lady and congresswoman.

Despite the apparent lack of communication between father and daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio may yet announce her presidential candidacy, using a page from her father’s political playbook.

In 2015, Duterte played coy, refusing to commit to run for president while calls for his candidacy flared up. More than a month after the deadline to run for president, Duterte traded in his bid for mayor of Davao, and took the place of an obscure politician as his party’s presidential candidate.

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