• The San Juan Daily Star

Duterte says he will retire rather than seek vice presidency

President Rodrigo Duterte said he would retire from politics and not run for vice president next year, but gave no indication on when he would step down.

By Jason Gutíerrez

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines said Saturday that he would retire rather than pursue the vice presidency next year, a surprise reversal of a plan meant to keep him in government after his presidential term ends.

It is still possible that Duterte will retain strong influence if his daughter or his close ally, Sen. Christopher Lawrence Go, win the top spots in the election.

The Philippine Constitution limits presidents to a single, six-year term. But Duterte had announced that he would run for vice president in the May election, and his former chief aide, Go, had been expected to seek the presidency.

On Saturday, however, Go submitted papers declaring that he, not Duterte, would run for vice president. Duterte raised Go’s hand afterward in a show of unity.

Duterte’s announcement appeared to leave the field for president open for his popular daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, who had earlier said that she would not run for that spot if her father was a candidate in the election.

Referring to opinion polls that indicated public opposition to his earlier plan, Duterte, 76, said that “in obedience to the will of the people, who after all placed me in the presidency many years ago, I now say to my countrymen that I will follow your wishes.”

“Today, I announce my retirement,” he said, adding, “I thank you all.”

He gave no indication that he planned to step down before the end of his term in June.

Richard Javad Heydarian, a political analyst and author of the book “The Rise of Duterte: A Populist Revolt Against Elite Democracy,” said that the polls suggested the president would have faced an “uphill battle” if he continued to pursue the vice presidency.

Boxer Manny Pacquiao has announced his candidacy for the presidency. Pacquiao, a Philippine senator, was once an ally of Duterte but has recently been critical of the president, accusing his government of corruption.

Last month, the International Criminal Court based in The Hague authorized a full investigation into Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, which has left thousands of people dead since he took office in 2016. Duterte’s critics in the Philippines saw his plan to seek the vice presidency — with Go as president — as a way to stay in power and shield himself from prosecution.

Go recently said that he had promised to serve Duterte “as long as he lives.” On Saturday, he said he was running for vice president “to be able to continue the programs for real change begun by President Duterte.”

Go offered no apologies for the drug war, in which thousands of Filipinos have been gunned down by police officers and vigilantes, allegedly because they were involved with narcotics.

“Let the public judge if their children feel safer now with less addicts and crime on the streets,” he said.

The International Criminal Court said last month that the drug war appeared to have been “a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population.” A lawyer for Duterte said representatives of the tribunal would not be allowed into the Philippines.

Heydarian, the analyst, said Duterte’s handling of the pandemic and its economic fallout was at the heart of much of the recent unhappiness with the president. Duterte’s government has been accused of corruption in purchasing substandard protective equipment for health workers as the Philippines battled a surge in COVID-19 infections. There was also a lot of public frustration with his insistence on buying Chinese-made vaccines, rather than prioritizing purchases from pharmaceutical giants in the west.

Heydarian added that in the past, fear of Duterte “may have prevented a lot of Filipinos from expressing their disapproval.” But he said that “as Duterte enters his twilight months in office and there is a new hope for a new kind of governance, more and more Filipinos are expressing their dissatisfaction.”

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