Opinion & Analysis

Keeping up with the Dutertes

The falling out between Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio demonstrate the detriments of political dynasties ruling the country. 

ANALYSIS: The political chaos that has recently dominated headlines in the Philippines finally ended speculations of the Dutertes’ plans.

Sara withdrew her reelection bid as Davao city mayor and opted to run as vice president. Duterte initially declared to vie for the vice presidency to compete against his daughter, only to change his mind at the eleventh hour and decided to run as senator instead.

President Rodrigo Duterte with his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, performing a duet in 2019. Image: Wikimedia Commons/Presidential Communications

His decision contradicted his earlier announcement he will retire from politics, while Sara’s candidacy refuted previous pronouncements that she will not run for a national post as “we (her father) both agreed only one of us will run for a national position in 2022."

This recent spectacle was made possible through candidate substitution--- Duterte’s winning strategy when he ran for president in 2015. He withdrew his reelection bid for Davao city mayor, only to file his candidacy for president at the last minute.

This year, Sara and other politicians have replicated Duterte’s tactics to rouse public interests in their candidacies and to test the viability of their electoral victories. While legal under the country’s election code, critics view this exploitation of candidate substitution as a “mockery of electoral and democratic process.”

Rodrigo Duterte took the office of president of the Philippines in 2016.

Though Filipino voters have already anticipated the Dutertes’ substitution tactic, they were nonetheless surprised by Sara’s political move. She explained that her vice-presidential bid is to heed the repeated calls of her supporters "who cried last October 8 [during the deadline for the filing of COC) and I cannot find it in my heart to make them cry again on November 15. After the deadline, the offer to run for vice president became an opportunity to meet halfway."

Despite being the top choice for president in previous election surveys, Sara’s decision not only stunned voters but also piqued her father.

As a sign of protest, Duterte declared he will also run as vice president after persuading his long-time aide Bong Go to withdraw his vice-presidential bid and to seek the presidency instead.  According to Duterte, “I was puzzled… I said, she was number one in the surveys, so why did she consent to running only for the vice presidency?” 

His remark was contrary to his past statement in January discouraging Sara to run: “I pity (her) knowing she will have to go through what I am going through,” while emphasizing that the “presidency is not a job for women. You know, the emotional setup of a woman and a man is totally different.”

President Rodrigo Duterte raises the hand of Senator Bong Go as he presents his certificate of candidacy for vice president. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Duterte’s reaction revealed his desperate efforts to influence political developments aimed at securing his future after his term. 

The fact that he threatened to run for vice president to compel his daughter to withdraw, confirms that he does not see eye to eye with his daughter regarding their political plans. And when Duterte eventually filed his candidacy for senator proves that he has failed to convince his daughter to accede to his original plan of succeeding him. For veteran journalist John Nery, Duterte seemed to have “lost control of the substitution circus he started,” which puts his “post-presidency plans in jeopardy.”

Sara’s decision meanwhile signifies that she has a mind of her own independent of her father. She has repeatedly said she does not intend to seek the presidency in 2022 and told her supporters: “I am pleading to them to please allow me to run for President in 2034, if at that time there is something I can do to help the country.” 

Sara Duterte, pictured here in 2018. Image: Wikimedia Commons

She is determined to plot her own political future on her own terms and not be dictated by his father. But by doing so, “she has squandered her political future,” says newspaper columnist Joel Butuyan. “She has ignored the fact that people and politicians want her because of the immense drawing power of her father.”  

The political confusion that the Dutertes created reveals their fractured relationship.

Duterte admitted that he did not know Sara’s plans until she filed her candidacy for vice president: “I don’t know what’s going on in her mind. We don’t even talk.”

What is unfortunate is that their family drama is unashamedly played out in public--- as personal squabbles between the father and daughter become national politics.

This brings to light the pitfalls of the continued dominance of political dynasties in the Philippines and how they disrupt electoral processes and weaken democratic institutions. In the run-up to the election, Filipino voters will have no choice but to contend with the Dutertes’ penchant for dramatic twists and turn as they slyly secure power for themselves.

- Asia Media Centre