MANILA - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday (Sept 8) accepted his party’s nomination to run for vice-president in next year’s election, pushing ahead with a plan criticised by rivals as an attempt to maintain his grip on power.
Mr Duterte, 76, is barred by the Constitution from running for a second term and his interest in being vice-president, traditionally a ceremonial role, has prompted accusations he wants to stay in power to avert possible legal action against him at home or abroad.
But Mr Duterte, who has always portrayed himself as a reluctant leader, said his decision was driven by the love of his country.
“It is really because I want to see the continuity of my efforts even though I may not be the one giving direction, I might be able to help,” he said in addressing the party.
Political vendettas are common in the Philippines and several former leaders, who lose their immunity of office, have been prosecuted and even jailed after changes in power.
A prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in the Hague is seeking to investigate the firebrand leader over thousands of killings in his notorious “war on drugs”.
Experts believe Duterte, a maverick leader famous for his embrace of China and disdain for ally the United States, could be making a play for retaining power by taking over as president under a scenario in which his successor resigns.
Mr Duterte had wanted long-time aide Christopher “Bong” Go, a senator, to succeed him, but Mr Go declined the party’s presidential nomination.
“My heart and mind are focused on serving people,” Mr Go said. “What is important is we find someone with the same weight as President Duterte to continue the change.”
It was not immediately clear if the party has a second choice ahead of the deadline for registering candidates next month.
Earlier on Wednesday, Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former police chief, was the first to declare his candidacy for the presidential election.
Mr Lacson, 73, made his announcement alongside Senate Speaker Vicente Sotto, who will be his running mate in the separate vice-presidential contest.
“Between me and Senate president Sotto are more than 80 years of honest, dedicated and competent public service,” said Mr Lacson, who ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 2004.
Mr Lacson will be an outside bet and has been ranked low in independent opinion polls of preferred presidential candidates for 2022, which have consistently shown Mr Duterte’s daughter, Ms Sara Duterte-Carpio, as the winning candidate.
Ms Duterte-Carpio, who replaced her father as mayor of Davao City and belongs to a different political party, has has given mixed messages about running for president, months after telling Reuters she had no interest in the job.
She said last week that she had been approached by several politicians offering to run with her if she seeks the presidency, but stopped short of confirming she will contest it.
Asked on Wednesday if she would run, she said “no comment”.
Her father has said he would withdraw if she seeks the presidency.
Political analyst Temario Rivera said that is because Mr Duterte would feel secure with his daughter in power, despite their differences and expectation that she would run the country her own way.
“Duterte will still be okay with that arrangement,” he said. “Blood is thicker than water.”
Political analyst Edmund Tayao said much could still change, even after next month’s deadline for entering the contest.
“Nothing is final until the filing of candidacy and expiration of the time for substitution,” Mr Tayao said.