Duterte ‘Resigned’ From Politics, Now He’s Running for Senator

The political drama in the Philippines could put Netflix to shame.
duterte presidency
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte visits the electoral commission office in Manila in October to support his party's candidates. Photo: Lisa Marie David via AP

He has repeatedly claimed he will retire from politics, but Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has made a last-minute move to run for senator in May’s national election. His bid to stay in national politics after his mandatory single term ends comes as his daughter is set to vie for the vice presidency.

Duterte’s representative arrived at the electoral commission’s office in Manila roughly ten minutes before the deadline for candidate substitutions on Nov. 15. It ended speculation prompted by an announcement from his office two days earlier that he would run for vice president and compete against his daughter, Sara Duterte Carpio.

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Faced with an impending International Criminal Court investigation into alleged crimes against humanity as part of his murderous war on drugs, speculation is that Duterte wants to remain in a position of influence in national politics after his presidential term ends in June. 

Duterte, 76, said in July he would seek the vice presidency to retain legal immunity, although it is unclear whether the position would indeed shield him from a possible ICC summons or international arrest warrant. Philippine law bars presidents from reelection, but allows vice presidents to be elected in a separate vote. But in October, after public opinion surveys showed him lagging far behind another candidate for vice president, Duterte said he would just retire from politics.

Observers nevertheless kept watch over Duterte’s political plans, as he has walked back on similar statements around his political intentions in the past. Ahead of the 2016 election, Duterte, then mayor of Davao City in the country’s south, denied reports he would run for president and said he would retire from politics, before becoming his party’s presidential candidate at the last minute.

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This time, he substituted for senatorial candidate Liezl Visorde, a political newcomer of pro-Duterte party Pederalismo ng Dugong Dakilang Samahan. The party’s acronym “PDDS” is a play on “DDS,” a term used colloquially to refer to “die-hard Duterte supporters.” DDS is also the acronym of the “Davao death squad,” the infamous vigilante group in Duterte’s hometown allegedly behind extrajudicial killings that earned his reputation as a ruthless city mayor.

In a media interview on Nov. 14, Duterte said he wasn’t pleased with his daughter’s decision to run for vice president instead of president. Duterte Carpio had been the frontrunner in opinion surveys on presidential aspirants, and her father said a run for the number two post was beneath her. 

“I’m sure Sara’s run was a decision by Bongbong’s camp,” Duterte said, referring to Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, the deceased dictator’s son who is running for president. Marcos’ party has adopted Duterte Carpio as their vice president running mate, meaning the two strongmen’s children will be campaigning in tandem.

A day earlier on Nov. 13, a displeased Duterte made a surprise appearance at the electoral commission’s office, mere hours after Duterte Carpio became Lakas-CMD’s vice presidential bet. He arrived on the scene with Senator Bong Go, his longtime right-hand-man, who then filed his candidacy as president as a substitute for an earlier candidate. 

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Go, who now inherits Duterte’s mantle to succeed him as president, originally filed to run for vice president under the PDP-Laban, which split in two following a rift between Duterte and boxer-turned-senator Manny Pacquiao, who is also running for president in May.

Duterte Carpio originally filed to run for reelection as Davao City mayor, but withdrew that candidacy last week to seek higher office, despite her saying earlier that she would not. Observers say that her landing a top government position would potentially enable her to shield her father from the impending ICC investigation.

The Duterte and Marcos families have, until now, been political allies, with the Marcos family supporting Rodrigo Duterte’s 2016 campaign. But Duterte now says he won’t support Bongbong Marcos’ campaign because he is “pro-communist,” despite Duterte himself claiming to have leftist sympathies when he was campaigning in 2016.

Duterte entered politics when he first became mayor of Davao City in 1988, and has since then ruled the city with his family. For more than a decade, Duterte and Duterte Carpio have alternated as mayor and vice mayor, skirting mandatory term limits to keep the family’s hold on their political turf. 

Duterte’s rise to the presidency in 2016 marked the family’s entry into national politics. He presented himself as an antidote to the elite-dominated political establishment, and promised a ruthless purge of crime and government corruption.

But he and his administration have recently come under fire for botching their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and for allegations of massive corruption in the purchase of medical supplies involving a company with a dubious background and track record.

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