Sara Duterte poised for Philippine presidential run despite strategic denials

Sara Duterte. Photo: George Parilla, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte and his daughter, Sara Duterte, continue to insist that she will not run in next year’s presidential election. However campaigns in support of her potential candidacy are growing and the president may have already chosen his daughter as his favorite candidate for the top post.

By Umair Jamal

Speculations are rife in the Philippines that President Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte, will run for the presidency in 2022.

While Sara Duterte says she is not planning to run for the presidency, her father also says the position is not suitable for a woman.

“I am grateful to my friends who believe in me and who relentlessly expressed their calls for me to run for presidency,” she said, adding “I believe that even if we don’t run for presidency, in our show of strength and unity, we can uplift many Philippine families in need.”

President Duterte said in January that his daughter would not be running in 2022.

“I have told Inday not to run because I pity [her] knowing she will have to go through what I am going through,” Duterte said, referring to Sara Duterte by her nickname.

“This is not for women. You know, the emotional setup of a woman and a man is totally different. You will become a fool here. So… that is the sad story,” he added.

However, not everyone is convinced by the father-daughter duo’s explanations as campaigns grow to back Sara Duterte for the country’s top post.

Analysts believe that Sara Duterte, now mayor of Davao city, is going to be President Duterte’s preferred candidate as he looks to counter potential legal and political efforts to challenge decisions he made during his presidency.

While President Duterte, who at one point also served as Davao mayor, may believe that his daughter is not fit for presidency, she has achieved a lot in her decade-long political career and has developed a support base of her own which is now rooting for her to run.  

All major polls show Sara Duterte as the favorite for presidency  

“It is the clamor of the people that will make her run,” said Mar Masanguid, who led the campaign behind President Duterte’s last-minute presidential bid in 2016 and has now founded another group to back Sara Duterte’s potential candidacy. In the run up to the 2016 election, Duterte continued to deny speculations that he was planning to run for president.

Today, banners, stickers, posters and calendars carrying Sara Duterte’s picture and slogans like “Run, Sara, Run” have emerged across the country.

Most major polls show Sara Duterte has become the favored candidate to be the next president. According to a survey conducted by Pulse Asia, a private polling firm, she is the top choice among the preferred presidential candidates for next year’s elections. Another survey conducted by OCTA Research Team in February also reported Sara Duterte was the top choice for the presidency.

The Davao mayor is hugely popular among the city’s voters and has established an image as a pro-people politician who is not in politics for personal gains but instead aims to serve the people. A local survey conducted in Davao city from March 10-19 2021 showed that 6 out of 10 residents support her to become the next president.  

Sara Duterte is currently serving her third term as Davao’s mayor and the experience administrating a city of 1.6 million residents shows she has emerged as a successful politician in her own right. 

She has also gained hands-on experience around the presidency as she has traveled with her father since his marriage dissolved.  

Currently, she is working to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Davao and recently barred her supporters from organizing a rally in her favor. 

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte. Photo: Ceslou, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A Sara Duterte presidency could protect Duterte against legal challenges

It is possible that, behind all the denials and dismissals regarding Sara Duterte’s potential run, there is a well-thought-out strategy underway to build up her public profile before she officially announces her candidacy.

Ramon Casiple, vice president of consulting and research firm Novo Trends, said that the ongoing developments point to a likely run by Sara Duterte, which would emulate President Duterte’s own last-minute announcement which energized his 2016 election campaign.

“You are talking about the same set of tactics,” Casiple said.

Some older statements by President Duterte show that he has not always been against his daughter’s candidacy at all and that he may have pushed her to consider it. In a speech on July 13 2020, President Duterte told his daughter that she should run for presidency if she is interested in serving her country. In the 2019 national elections, Sara Duterte actively campaigned for senatorial candidates and toured the country to support their campaigns, indicating she was aiming for a role in national politics.

Analysts believe that if Sara Duterte wins the presidency, she could protect her father from potential legal challenges that he might face once he steps down. President Duterte has pursued many controversial policies during his presidency and is likely to face legal challenges related to his brutal and controversial war on drugs, which has resulted in the death of more than 7,000 people.

Carlos Conde, a Philippines-focused researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said that “No one can protect Duterte better than her,” explaining what Sara’s presidency could mean for Duterte as far as potential legal challenges are concerned. 

Moreover, there are others who would want to see Sara Duterte run and win in order to save themselves from accountability. Earl Parreno, author of a biography of President Duterte titled Beyond Will and Power, said that with Sara Duterte as president, the country’s bureaucrats and tycoons who flourished under her father’s rule could breath a sigh of relief.

It is possible that President Duterte could try to amend the constitution so he can run for another term if his daughter refuses. As Pia Ranada, an expert on Philippine politics, wrote in an article for Rappler, [President] Duterte, who also started his political career as Davao’s mayor, has been known to “step down from power only when he knows he can hand the reins to someone he trusts.”

“For many years in Davao City, this person was Sara,” she adds.

About the Author

Umair Jamal
Umair Jamal is a freelance journalist and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He can be reached at umair.jamal@outlook.com and on Twitter @UmairJamal15