| 20 May 2024, Monday |

Philippine leader Duterte withdraws from Senate race in latest flip-flop

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte withdrew his senatorial candidacy in next year’s elections on Tuesday, signaling his latest change of heart about what he plans to do after his turbulent term ends, when critics say he will face a slew of lawsuits for an anti-drugs crackdown that has resulted in the deaths of thousands of mostly minor suspects.

Duterte, 76, went to the Commission on Elections in Manila, accompanied by his executive secretary and security guards, and resigned as a senatorial contender.

His former assistant, Sen. Bong Go, came separately before the elections commission earlier on Tuesday to withdraw his presidential bid, which he said was opposed by his family.

Duterte gave no justification for the change, but his spokesperson, Karlo Nograles, said it will let the president to focus more on handling the epidemic in the country and ensuring that the May elections are peaceful and orderly.

Duterte, known for his severe stance on crime, initiated a police-enforced campaign against illicit narcotics when he took office in June 2016. According to authorities, the crackdown has resulted in the deaths of over 6,000 people, the majority of whom were minor suspects.

According to Manila-based analyst Richard Heydarian, Duterte’s latest move demonstrated how the president, who faces potential criminal charges after his presidency for his deadly anti-drugs campaign, appeared to have lost his political footing after his plan to ensure a friendly succession next year caved in.

“Duterte is definitely rushing for any type of leverage in the elections next year,” Heydarian added.

“Duterte is definitely rushing for any type of leverage in the elections next year,” Heydarian added. “His initial goal to create a succession for one of his anointed heirs has now been completely abandoned.”

Duterte wanted his daughter, Mayor Sara Duterte of southern Davao City, to follow him, but she declined to run for president due to unexplained disputes with her father. She eventually opted to run as Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s vice-presidential running partner, the son of the late Philippine dictator.

Later, the president urged Go, a former longterm aide who is now a senator, to run for president. However, Go later pulled out, claiming that he did not want to be president and that his family was opposed to his presidential bid.

Duterte pondered running for vice president but eventually discarded the idea, stating that he wanted to retire after his tenure ended and that polls showed that most Filipinos did not accept such a move.

Philippine presidents are constitutionally limited to a single six-year term, and Duterte’s initial intention to run for vice president sparked a debate about the legality of such a move, which could have catapulted him back to the top position if the next president dies or becomes incapacitated for any reason.

Last month, Duterte announced his campaign for a Senate seat, reversing his prior pledge to leave from politics when his presidential term expires.

Human rights groups said last month that Duterte was aiming to stay in office in order to avoid prosecution for rights violations committed while in power.

The deaths related to Duterte’s anti-drug campaign have alarmed Washington, prompting an International Criminal Court inquiry. The ICC investigation has been temporarily halted at the request of the Duterte government.

At least five important contenders are seeking to follow Duterte, including Vice President Leni Robredo, who heads the opposition, and Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the late dictator’s son, who was deposed in a pro-democracy “people power” rebellion in 1986. In the 2016 vice presidential election, Robredo barely beat Marcos Jr., an outcome he unsuccessfully disputed.

  • Associated Press