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Discord Threatens The Duterte Dynasty – Analysis

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By Makoi Popioco*

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The chaos of the eleventh-hour substitution filing for the 2022 Philippines elections confirmed the disaccord in the Duterte dynasty. But these disagreements may not be permanent as their broader impact on the elections remains to be seen.

From what was initially shaping up as a potential father-daughter face-off for the vice presidency, outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte decided to file his candidacy for the senate. His daughter, outgoing Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, stood by her decision to settle for a bid for number two in next year’s presidential elections.

The deadline for substituting candidates who decide to withdraw from the race and have another candidate from the same political group replace them was 15 November. A dizzying and soap opera-worthy web of withdrawals, substitutions and expedient turncoatism marked the week before the substitution deadline.

Apart from divulging weaknesses in the Philippine electoral system, the ruckus highlights that the rifts within the Duterte family and the fragmented ruling party remain unrepaired. If anything, they are worsening.

The first daughter’s rise as the default administration bet is no surprise. In Davao City, the elder Duterte has bequeathed top elected positions to his children. For the presidency, the 43-year-old Sara Duterte-Carpio was the heir apparent. As early as the end of 2020, posters and billboards bearing her image with the words ‘Run Sara Run’ started appearing around the country. She was the year-round frontrunner in most opinion polls, surpassing even Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr, the son of the ex-dictator, who had already launched his presidential campaign in October 2021.

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Staying in power is imperative for the Duterte family to shield its patriarch from the International Criminal Court investigation into his murderous drug war once he vacates office. But amid all the early campaigning, Sara had repeatedly denied that she planned to run for president. The father and daughter had several conflicting political views in the past. Case in point — Sara engineered the ousting of Duterte’s former house speaker Pantaleon Alvarez in 2018.

The months before the filing of candidacy saw Rodrigo Duterte dilly-dallying on whether to retire or run for vice president. Then the Marcos family intensified the propagation of its narrative about a potential Marcos-Duterte tandem. ‘It’s a marriage made in heaven’, Marcos Jr’s elder sister, Imee, said in August 2021.

Beyond foretelling the establishment’s game plan, Sara’s decision on her candidacy was much awaited because it would be an indication of unity or discord within the first family and the ruling party, widely believed to have been fragmented since 2018.

When Sara pulled out of her mayoral candidacy in Davao City and resigned from the regional political party that she formed herself, die-hard Duterte supporters were hopeful she would seek the presidency. Her father’s political party had earlier submitted a placeholder for the presidential nomination, which was later offered to her.

Sara instead took oath as a member of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s political party and on 13 November, officially filed as the party’s substitute vice president nominee. This was followed by Marcos Jr’s announcement that Sara has joined him as his running mate.

On the same day, Duterte’s communications team announced that he would also run for number two. The Duterte patriarch accompanied his loyal former aide, senator Bong Go, to file his substitution as the administration’s presidential bet.

But during the interviews at the filing, Duterte appeared unaware of Sara’s recent move to be the vice presidential nominee of another party. Just hours after the filing, a visibly disappointed Duterte spoke with a propagandist Youtuber and said in Filipino, ‘she was number one in the surveys. Why do you settle for vice president when you are ahead of the pack?’

Duterte, who has caught up with Sara’s final decision, said that Go decided to seek the presidency because his daughter refused to. The threat of Duterte running against his daughter appears to be a last-ditch effort to convince her to run with the president’s faction.

Duterte filed an eleventh-hour substitution as a senate candidate. After his daughter’s decision to ditch him, will Duterte support Marcos Jr, a vocal ally whose sister was a supposed funder of his 2016 presidential bid? The president said no, adding he will campaign for Go.

Sara revealed on 16 November that her alliance with Marcos Jr sought the support of her father’s party and was rejected. But as she called for unity, Duterte began disparaging her chosen running mate. In a televised speech just three days after the substitution filing deadline, Duterte claimed that a presidential candidate is a cocaine user. The president dropped hints that appeared to allude to Marcos Jr.

The Duterte dynasty is in disarray. The other influential political clans of the Marcoses and Arroyos have been attempting to reclaim supremacy. But these disagreements may just be an opportune smokescreen. With five disqualification cases threatening Marcos Jr’s candidacy and Go announcing his withdrawal from the race, anything is still possible, including a potential realignment within the Duterte dynasty.

*About the author: Makoi Popioco is an independent journalist and a fellow at the International Center for Journalists.

Source: This article was published by East Asia Forum

East Asia Forum

East Asia Forum is a platform for analysis and research on politics, economics, business, law, security, international relations and society relevant to public policy, centred on the Asia Pacific region. It consists of an online publication and a quarterly magazine, East Asia Forum Quarterly, which aim to provide clear and original analysis from the leading minds in the region and beyond.

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