The presidential race in the Philippines was shaken yesterday by the announcement that incumbent Rodrigo Duterte’s preferred successor as president, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, was dropping out of the race.
In an interview on the sidelines of an event in San Juan City, Go said his family has been against his decision to run for the highest office and said that he decided to run only out of duty to Duterte’s PDP-Laban party.
Go said that given the “dirty” nature of Philippine politics, he did not want Duterte suffering the strain of campaigning for him. As a result, he said he would be backing out of the race, according to a report in The Inquirer.
“My love for him is more than the love for a father. He is old and he has given a lot to the country. So I don’t want to add to his problems. I remain loyal to him and I promised to be with him for life,” Go told reporters.
Bong Go’s withdrawal was foreshadowed in media interviews and in a recent meeting with Duterte’s allies, and follows a period of confusion and factional power struggles within PDP-Laban. Bong Go first filed to run as vice president under Duterte’s faction of PDP-Laban but withdrew that candidacy after Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, announced she was running as a vice presidential candidate on the presidential ticket of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the son of the late Philippine dictator.
He then announced his candidacy for president under the banner of another party, Pederalismo ng Dugong Dakilang Samahan (PDDS) while still enjoying Duterte’s endorsement, reportedly to avoid legal complications.
Bong Go’s withdrawal now leaves Duterte’s faction of PDP-Laban without a standard-bearer and raises questions over whom the president – still a popular figure as his six-year term enters its final phase – will support in the race, in which president and vice president are elected separately.
Given that Duterte has already endorsed his daughter’s vice presidential candidacy, the obvious choice for Duterte’s presidential endorsement might seem to be her running-mate Marcos, especially given the long-standing political connections between the Duterte and Marcos clans.
Were that to happen, some observers believe, it would likely prevent vote splitting among the supporters of Duterte and Marcos, and increase the likelihood that Marcos will follow his notorious father into Malacañang Palace, completing an unlikely political rehabilitation.
“Bong Go’s withdrawal from the presidential race is an attempt to avert the split of the Duterte-Marcos alliance in 2022,” the activist and political observer Renato Reyes Jr. said in a post on Twitter. “The withdrawal of course benefits Bongbong Marcos and Sara Duterte.”
But it remains possible that Duterte – ever-mercurial – might choose to endorse another presidential candidate over Marcos. Duterte has previously referred to Marcos as a “weak leader” and “a spoiled child,” and said that he “did not like” his daughter’s decision to run for vice president on his ticket, especially when she topped surveys as a presidential candidate in her own right (Duterte’s spokespeople have denied any reports of a rift between the president and his daughter).
One candidate who is rumored to enjoy Duterte’s favor is Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno Domagoso, who responded to Bong Go’s move by saying he was “hopeful” of gaining the president’s endorsement. “If they endorse me, thank you. Thank you in advance, but I will not preempt them until they say so,” he told reporters in Manila.
Considering that the official campaign period does not begin for another two months, Filipino voters are in for a good deal more political wrangling and deal-making before casting their votes in May.