A series of recent developments in the Philippines has added suspense and drama to next year’s presidential election, which otherwise looks likely to reinforce the country’s long-standing tradition of politics as an affair of political families. The political drama originally centered on who would be the eventual presidential candidate representing outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte’s party, the PDP-Laban, in the May 2022 election. Though the party fielded an incumbent senator as its candidate, he was seen as a mere placeholder for Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, who was expected to be named as a replacement candidate at the last moment.
Having cultivated suspense for months over her political ambitions, Sara, who is currently the mayor of Davao City, ended all speculation about her intentions last month when she withdrew from her Davao mayoralty reelection bid and then quit the Mindanao-based regional party she herself had formed. But instead of joining PDP-Laban, Sara caught everyone by surprise by choosing to be part of Lakas-CMD, a party associated with former President Gloria Arroyo, another powerful dynastic politician. Adding to the general surprise, as well as to her father’s disappointment, rather than seeking the presidency, Sara chose to run as the Lakas-CMD’s vice presidential candidate. And she was subsequently “adopted” by the PFP party of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.—the party’s presidential candidate and son of former long-time dictator Ferdinand Marcos—to simultaneously run as its vice presidential candidate.
It was long expected that Sara Duterte would renege on her promise to remain as mayor of Davao and instead seek a national position. After all, that’s exactly what her father did when he ran for president in 2016. Back then, Rodrigo Duterte denied he was planning to run until the very last day allowed by the country’s electoral laws. This manuever prevented other candidates from developing campaign strategies to compete against him, while allowing Rodrigo to enter the presidential race with more energy and resources, including a strong political machine that caught his opponents off guard. Sara similarly orchestrated a last-minute candidate substitution that, though decried by the opposition as making a mockery of the country’s electoral process, takes a page out of the Duterte dynasty’s playbook.