Philippine President withdraws Senate candidacy in new electoral turnaround

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Philippine President withdraws Senate candidacy in new electoral turnaround

Amid an electoral process marked by swings in the Philippines, the country’s president, Rodrigo Duterte, withdrew on Tuesday (14) his candidacy for the Senate in elections in May of next year.

Barred by the Constitution from running for re-election, Duterte, who led a government accused of human rights violations, even considered running for Vice President, until he dropped the plan in October and said he would retire from the political arena. Shortly thereafter, however, he announced the race for the Legislature.

The withdrawal from running for the Senate was informed on the same day that one of Duterte’s main allies and appointed as his successor, Senator Bong Go, also withdrew his candidacy for the presidency of the country after presenting poor results in the polls of intention to vote.

The departure of the two figures from the electoral dispute has raised doubts even among Filipino analysts about what the president’s plans are. His attempt to remain in power, whether through allies or a seat in the legislature, was seen as a way of mitigating the investigations that weighed against him at the International Criminal Court.

Duterte is accused of having authorized the deaths of tens of thousands of people amid a drug war policy. According to official figures, around 8,000 people have died in more than 200,000 operations in the Asian archipelago since 2016, but human rights organizations say the numbers are much higher.

“The idea may be to ensure continuity, but how can there be continuity if there is no government candidate for president?” asked local political analyst Edmund Tayao to the Reuters news agency.

According to information from a spokesman for Duterte published by the American network CNN, the closing of the candidacy for the Senate was intended to allow the head of state to focus on the response to the coronavirus pandemic, which killed more than 50,000 people in the archipelago, and in efforts to ensure transparent and peaceful elections.

The Filipino has stated in recent speeches that he will organize a peaceful transition of power. During the Democracy Summit organized by US President Joe Biden, to which Duterte was invited even though democracy in the Philippines is not ranked well in international comparisons, he said he will have “the greatest honor to hand over the reins of power to the successor” .

Also during the virtual meeting, he said that freedoms of expression and press are “fully enjoyed” in the Philippines, something discredited by human rights organizations and the independent press. Duterte was elected as one of 37 heads of state “predators of the free press” by the NGO Reporters Without Borders.

Criticism of the harassment her government organizes against journalists gained greater international prominence when Filipino-American journalist Maria Ressa won the Nobel Peace Prize 2021. Founder of the investigative journalism website Rappler, she is the target of more than ten lawsuits initiated by the management of Duterte and had to ask permission from the Philippine Justice to leave the country and appear in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, where the award was delivered last Friday (10).

One of the names initially quoted to run for election with Duterte’s support was his daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, mayor of the southern city of Davao. She, however, chose to run for Vice President alongside Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, son of the eponymous dictator who was in power for two decades, from 1965 to 1986.

Victor Manhit, an analyst at the think tank Stratbase, reckons that Duterte’s withdrawal is likely to shift his support base to his daughter and Marcos, in order to guarantee a victory in the elections.

In the Philippines, the president and vice president are elected separately. Although the Vice-Presidency is a post with few attributions, analysts explain that if an opposition figure holds the post, this can limit the role and power of the elected president.

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