Philippines: Duterte’s Daughter Emerges as Presidential Hopeful

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) and his daughter Sara Duterte arrive for the opening of the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Annual Conference 2018 in Boao, south China's Hainan province on April 10, 2018. The BFA annual conference 2018 takes place between April 8-11. / AFP PHOTO / - / …
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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte, has emerged over the past few years as a front-runner to succeed her father as president when his term ends in 2022.

Duterte’s spokesperson addressed speculation this month around Sara’s political future after Duterte’s chief legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, said she was the only person on Manila’s political horizon “who can lead in 2022.”

“To be honest, there is no one in the political horizon whether in this administration nor … [on] the left who can lead in 2022 that can follow the steps of the president besides Mayor Sara Duterte and her father as Vice President,” the Philippines’ chief presidential legal counsel said on his political talk show Counterpoint on November 9.

Rodrigo Duterte’s official spokesman, Harry Roque, responded to Panelo’s remarks the following day at a regular press conference.

“That’s the personal opinion of Secretary Panelo and we respect his opinion,” the presidential spokesman said.

Sara — commonly known by her nickname, Inday — is the current mayor of Davao City, located on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. Her father served as Davao City mayor for several years off and on starting in 1988. Rodrigo Duterte was Davao City mayor from 2013-2016. He left the post in June 2016 after being elected to the Philippine presidency. From 2010-2013, Rodrigo Duterte served as vice mayor of Davao City while his daughter, Sara, served as mayor.

Panelo referred to this arrangement on November 9 when he suggested that Sara should run for president in 2022, with her father running as vice president. The president of the Philippines is elected to serve a single term of six years and is ineligible for reelection.

Channel News Asia (CNA) profiled Sara in August 2019 amid mounting speculation that she could run for the Philippine presidency in 2022.

CNA noted at the time that “Davao’s transformation from the murder capital of the Philippines to the [nation’s] second-fastest growing economic region is closely tied to the leadership of the Duterte family including Inday Sara.”

The Philippines lacks strong political parties, relying instead on “personalistic politics,” Dr. Maria Ela Atienza, political science department chair at the University of the Philippines, explained to CNA.

Given this political landscape, “it’s natural that the children of the politicians may decide to run [for office]” once their parent’s tenure is up, she said.

As long as Duterte maintains his popularity through the end of his term, “it’s possible that Mayor Sara will be one of the candidates for 2022,” Atienza said.

Rodrigo Duterte in mid-July seemed to express his personal desire for Sara to succeed him as president. In a nationally televised speech, he said he had recently urged Sara to run for the Philippines’ top political office if she feels sufficiently motivated.

“I told Inday, don’t run for president unless you see something that you can do for the country. But if it’s just a matter of ambition, lay off,” Duterte said.

Prior to this July 13 speech, Rodrigo Duterte had seemed to publicly discourage Sara from running for president. He often cited high levels of corruption within Philippine politics and a general lack of fulfillment on his part as reasons not to run. However, as Philippine news website Rappler noted on July 14, “his messaging this time around was slightly different.”

“He [essentially] said Sara should seek the highest office if she could ‘take the heat’ and serve the nation,” the news site pointed out.

“If you don’t steal, ah, bitch, nothing, all you get is exhaustion [as president]. Unless you are driven by patriotism, if you want to be of service to your country,” Duterte said he told his daughter.

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