Opinion & Analysis

President Rodrigo Duterte as the next VP of the Philippines?

Could Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte become the Vice President in 2022? The very idea of his candidature reflects the depressing reality in Philippine politics and the alarming regression of its democracy, writes Andrea Chloe Wong.   

True to its nature, Philippine politics stages another gripping turn of events starring the notoriously unpredictable Duterte.

The numerous occasions when Duterte declared he wanted to resign as president has left most people believing he is looking forward to retirement. This is why the recent push by the ruling PDP-Laban Party for Duterte to run as vice president in next year’s elections came as a surprise.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Not only did the PDP-Laban Party nominate Duterte as its candidate for vice president, it also gave him the leeway to choose his president, which is contrary to election norms and party tradition. This raises the probability of Duterte choosing either his long-time aide and now Senator Bong Go, or his daughter, the incumbent Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio. After repeatedly denying his interest to run as president in 2022, Go eventually announced that he might change his mind if Duterte would run with him.

And while Duterte-Carprio insists that she will not compete for the presidency, she may eventually be convinced to run, justifying it as the “clamour by the people.” Such public clamour is based on a nationwide pre-election survey published in April where she emerged as the most preferred candidate for president. Despite the survey result, Duterte however publicly discouraged his daughter to run, noting that the presidency is not for women: “You know, the emotional set-up of a woman and a man is totally different. You will become a fool here.”

Regardless of who Duterte chooses, the political implications of his candidacy reflect the deterioration of Philippine democracy. According to Political Scientist Melay Abao, this implies the “bastardization of the electoral system… A case of politicians using the system in unintended ways for personal interests.”

To be fair, past Philippine presidents have also vied for (and won) lower positions after their terms – Joseph Estrada for Manila mayor and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as congressional representative. Yet Duterte becoming vice president essentially violates the spirit of the Philippine Constitution that bars presidents from holding on to power beyond a six-year single term. His party’s endorsement exposes its cunning tactic to prolong his rule by keeping him at the head of the presidential line of succession.  

President Rodrigo Duterte presides over the PDP-Laban caucus held in 2018. Image: Wikimedia Commons

There are two possible scenarios for this to happen, should a Go-Duterte or Duterte-Duterte tandem wins. First, Duterte can hold a shadow government through his aide, similar to his  “idol” Vladimir Putin’s approach of installing his right-hand men in top position when he cannot formally do so for legal reasons. He can also become a surrogate president through his daughter and establish a Duterte dynasty on a national level, replicating the experience in Davao City when Duterte-Carpio ran for mayor and he ran as her vice mayor in 2010, and both eventually won.

Secondly, Duterte can become president again if either his aide or daughter resigns after winning the presidency. He would then succeed at being president twice, without changing the constitution. Both scenarios basically defy what political analyst Rudy Romero believes to be the legal precept what “a person cannot do indirectly - getting Duterte back into the Presidency through the back door - what the Constitution and the law prohibit him from doing directly.”

There is also the prospect that Duterte may either lose or get elected with an opposition president. Filipino voters have a tendency to do split-ticket voting, picking one presidential bet from one tandem while choosing a vice-presidential candidate from another. This reflects the personality-based nature of Philippine elections in the absence of cohesive political parties. Thus while an opposition president may win (which is also likely given the anti-incumbency trend in recent Philippine elections), the risk of Duterte losing as vice president is slim given the advantage of his mass-based charisma and the government resources at his disposal.


Duterte with his daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Hence Duterte’s allies are confident that he will be able to remain in power, which reeks of self-preservation. Losing his presidential immunity makes him vulnerable to political vendettas and court cases for his abuses of power.

He is also expected to face international lawsuits related to his controversial war on drugs, which resulted in various human rights violations and the death of more than 7,000 people. Thus a victory for Duterte would allow him to retain influence; and a win for his running mate can shield him and his political enablers from accountability once he steps down.

After previously calling God “stupid,” Duterte says he is leaving to God” his decision on whether or not to run for vice president in 2022. But Filipinos are expecting another political déjà vu as Duterte cautiously hides his intention to run while slyly concocting public clamour for it--- a political ploy to boost his candidacy. Aside from an enlightened Filipino electorate, it might also take divine intervention for the Philippines to liberate itself from the current political status quo.  

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author

- Asia Media Centre