Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Saturday he was retiring from politics and has decided not to run for vice president in next year’s elections amid surveys showing Filipinos believed it would violate the constitution.
In a surprise move, Duterte instead endorsed his long-time close aide, Senator Christopher Go, who registered at the Commission on Elections on Saturday as the vice-presidential candidate of the ruling political party in the May 2022 elections.
“I would like to wish Senator Go all the best and good luck in his quest for the vice presidency,” said the 72-year-old leader, who accompanied the legislator at his registration and later on raised his right hand.
Duterte, whose six-year term as president ends in June 2022, earlier accepted the nomination of the PDP-Laban political party to be its vice-presidential candidate. Go was nominated as the presidential candidate, but he declined.
PDP-Laban has yet to name a presidential candidate.
In a short statement after Go filed his certificate of candidacy, Duterte said there was “overwhelming sentiment” from the public that he was “not qualified” to run for vice president because his candidacy would violate the spirit of the constitution.
“In obedience to the will of the people, who after all placed me in the presidency many years ago, I now say, to my fellow Filipinos, I will follow what you want, and today I announce my retirement from politics,” he added.
Under the Philippines’ constitution, a president can only serve for a single term of six years and cannot seek re-election.
Analysts had warned that if Duterte had successfully run for vice president in the May 2022 elections, he could again have become president if his successor had become incapable of leading the country.
Filipinos expressed surprise at Duterte’s annoucement and Go’s vice-presidential run, and wondered what political “drama” was behind the twist.
Political parties have until November 15 to file for substitutions in their registered candidates, and many believed that aspirants were still negotiating alliances in the elections.
“Game of Thrones will be ashamed [with the twists] in the filing of candidacy in the Philippines,” tweeted leftist activist Renato Reyes.
“The evil empire is consolidating,” artist Bart Guingona said, noting that Go could be a placeholder candidate for another politician.
Go, 47, promised to continue Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs, corruption and criminality if he wins as vice president. He also vowed to fight hunger and ensure efficient and affordable public health services.
“I will continue to serve especially those who need government attention the most, the poor,” he said. “I will be a working vice president who will do everything I can to serve you all. I will not be a spare tire or just a reserve.”
On Friday, boxing icon Senator Manny Pacquiao registered as a presidential candidate. Next week, the popular mayor of the capital city of Manila, Isko Moreno, and former police chief Senator Panfilo Lacson are expected to formalize their bids for the presidency.
Other possible presidential contenders include Vice President Leni Robredo, Duterte’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, and former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, the only son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator.
But Sara Duterte on Saturday filed for re-election as mayor, while Robredo has yet to confirm her plans for next year’s elections. Marcos has been nominated as a presidential candidate by a political party.