By Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales
MANILA – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday withdrew his bid to become a senator, the same day his preferred successor quit the presidential race, adding to uncertainty about the mercurial leader’s political future and the scope of his influence.
The president filed withdrawal papers at the election commission a few hours after longtime aide, Senator Christopher “Bong Go” did the same, a decision Duterte’s spokesman said was to enable him to better serve the country.
The constitution bars Duterte, 76, from seeking reelection as president, but he was allowed to run for other positions in nationwide elections in May 2022.
He had planned to pursue the vice presidency, but chose instead to seek a seat in the powerful senate.
The withdrawal is the latest twist in a Philippine election race fraught with last-minute changes and surprises that have baffled political experts.
Go was not performing well in opinion polls and it is unclear who will have the endorsement of Duterte, who has maintained consistently high approval rating since he won the 2016 election as an outsider promising to fight crime and drugs.
“The idea perhaps is continuity but how can there be continuity if there is no candidate for president for the administration?” said political analyst Edmund Tayao.
The president’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, had been tipped to succeed him, but she opted instead to run for vice president alongside the son of the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, who has emerged as an early frontrunner.
On Tuesday, she said she supported her father’s decision.
Much is at stake for Duterte, who has made as many enemies as allies during a presidency fraught with government scandals and made famous globally by the staggering death toll of his bloody war on drugs.
“Momentum has really shifted against (the administration) over past few months,” said Richard Heydarian, an author, columnist and academic who specialises in politics.
“The president is struggling to find a footing in the 2022 race.”
Victor Manhit, an analyst with the Stratbase think tank, said Duterte’s withdrawal likely aimed to transfer his support base to his daughter and Marcos, to “consolidate their forces to secure a victory”.