Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and Sara Duterte

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte wants to completely elevate the dynastic game by seeking to be succeeded immediately by his daughter, Sara Duterte. (Photo: GALI TIBBON / AFP)

The 2022 Philippine Elections: Like Father, like Daughter-te

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The son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the daughter of the current populist president Rodrigo Duterte are seeking to consolidate the power of their inter-dynasty alliance. The formation of an inter-dynasty alliance will have implications for the country’s political landscape for years.

For almost a week, Filipinos witnessed political chaos unseen throughout its history as an electoral democracy. The political drama centred on who will be the presidential candidate of the outgoing administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. While Duterte’s official party PDP-Laban has fielded an incumbent senator for the post, Ronald dela Rosa was seen as a placeholder for his daughter, Davao Mayor Sara Duterte.

In the end, Sara Duterte caught everyone by surprise, including her own father. First, she ended all speculation by cancelling her Davao mayoralty bid. She then resigned from Hugpong ng Pagbabago, a Mindanao-based regional party she herself formed. But instead of joining PDP-Laban, she chose to be part of Lakas-Christian-Muslim Democrats, a party associated with former president Gloria Arroyo. To the disappointment of her father, Sara Duterte chose to run as the adopted vice-presidential candidate of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of the country’s late dictator. Many observers speculate that Arroyo, who is running for a seat in the House of Representatives, has successfully forged a Marcos Jr.-Sara Duterte alliance.

Keeping it in the Family

It was expected that Sara Duterte would renege on her word and seek a national position. After all, this is part of her father’s playbook when he ran for president in the 2016 elections. Back then, Duterte refused to run for president until the very last day allowed by the country’s electoral laws. The manoeuvre prevented other candidates from strategising their campaigns against Duterte.

Dynastic succession as a path to power, including the presidency, is deeply ingrained in the country’s politics. If Marcos Jr. wins the presidency, he will be the third offspring to hold that office following Gloria Arroyo and Benigno Simeon Aquino. Sara Duterte is expected to follow this trend.

President Duterte, however, seeks to elevate the dynastic game by seeking to be succeeded immediately by his daughter. He sought to water down this well-laid plan by saying that he wanted to spare his daughter the pain of being president, and saying that the position is no job for a woman. There was even speculation last year that his administration will have a Sara Duterte-Rodrigo Duterte tandem, with the father running as vice-president.

It is this familial connection that makes Sara Duterte a strong presidential contender. After all, kinship rather than ideology is the strongest tie that binds Filipino politicians together. Current polling suggests that Sara is likely to have the solid Mindanao vote behind her that is about almost one-fourth of the national electorate.

But why did Sara agree to play second fiddle to Marcos Jr. when she can run for the presidency? Many believe that her youth (she is 43) means that she can make a good run for the presidency in 2028. Marcos Jr., on the other hand, is at the end of his political rope. After a bitter vice-presidential loss in 2016, he and his dynasty believe that 2022 is the final chance for the family to return to the peak of political power.

There is some evidence that Sara is discontented with her father’s administration. Sometimes, she has displayed a modicum of independence from her father by disagreeing with officials in her father’s cabinet and political party. In fact, her negative disposition toward her father’s party is seen by many as an indication of her ability to get out of her father’s shadow and exercise a degree of relative autonomy.

Despite lacking political experience and familiarity with national politics, Sara Duterte’s pedigree and political base make her an attractive ally of Marcos Jr., as their political bailiwicks are complementary rather than competitive. With Marcos Jr.’s solid base in the northern region, their tandem is the most formidable national ticket to date.

President Duterte as Spoiler

However, the best-laid plans of a dictator’s son and a presidential daughter went awry quite quickly. As the head of the political coalition that used to include the Marcoses and the Arroyos, Duterte was apparently not consulted about the pairing.

All these machinations imply a loose dynastic alliance between the Dutertes, Marcoses and the Arroyos. If formed, this alliance will maintain its firm grip over the republic for the six years of the new president’s term and beyond.

Deprived of the kingmaker role, Duterte quickly spoiled things by pushing his former chief aide Senator Bong Go to run as president. In an unprecedented move, he also threatened to run as vice-president against his daughter. But he changed his mind and instead decided to run as a senator in the 2022 elections — the first time a president has ever run for a Senate seat after his or her term. It is expected that he has enough allies in that chamber to support his bid to become Senate president. For her part, Arroyo will likewise seek the speakership of the House if she is elected.

All these machinations imply a loose dynastic alliance between the Dutertes, Marcoses and the Arroyos. If formed, this alliance will maintain its firm grip over the republic for the six years of the new president’s term and beyond.

But speculation about a Duterte-Marcos-Arroyo alliance might be off the mark. President Duterte has already changed his previously favourable attitude toward Marcos, saying that the latter is a ‘pro-communist’. With Go and Marcos Jr. competing against each other, it is expected that the once formidable voting bloc controlled by President Duterte will be divided. Duterte’s victory in 2016 was made possible because of the combined votes of his Mindanao base and the solid northern bloc delivered by the Marcoses. As the sole pro-Duterte candidate and the lack of strong challengers, the ‘Daughter-te’ might have a relatively easier path to the vice-presidency.

One clear implication of a divided pro-Duterte alliance is the improvement of the odds of the opposition, particularly incumbent Vice-President Leni Robredo, who is also contending for the country’s top post. While it will still be an uphill climb for liberal and pro-democracy candidates, a divided pro-Duterte vote tilts the balance in their favour.

The May 2022 elections offer the electorate a clear choice between maintaining the populist-authoritarian government perpetuated by Duterte and his allies, and restoring the country toward its more liberal-democratic identity. The decision for the future of the Philippines could not be any starker.

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