A retired Catholic bishop in Manila called on Filipinos this week to be wise in electing the country’s future leaders as the Philippines gets read for next year’s national elections.
“I hope our people will now be wise enough to turn down [President Rodrigo Duterte],” said Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani of Novaliches.
The retired prelate made the call following Duterte’s announcement that he will run for vice president in next year’s elections, confirming an earlier announcement by the country’s ruling political party.
The announcement came ahead of the party’s national convention on September 8, where it is also expected to endorse Duterte’s aide and incumbent senator Christopher “Bong” Go to be its presidential candidate in the 2022 polls.
“I will run as vice president, then I will continue the crusade. Number one is insurgency, then criminality, drugs,” Duterte said in a late night weekly national address.
“I may not have the power to give the direction or guidance but I can always express my views in public,” he said.
Under the Philippine Constitution, a president can serve only one term.
The president’s announcement had been widely anticipated as Duterte had already hinted he could seek the No. 2 job, a move seen by political observers and critics as a backdoor to the presidency.
Another retired prelate, Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon, said on Wednesday that Duterte’s decision to run next year is “highly irregular.”
“Perhaps his motive of running for [vice president] is self-protection,” said Bishop Arturo Bastes, retired prelate of Sorsogon.
“He is afraid of being prosecuted by the [International Criminal Court] for his crimes: murder of thousands of so-called drug addicts,” said Bishop Bastes.
In June, the ICC chief prosecutor has requested judicial authorization to proceed with a formal criminal investigation into the alleged crimes committed by Duterte in the Philippines.
Bishop Bastes said the president is afraid of being prosecuted by the ICC because “the long arm of Lady Justice will someday catch him.”
Critics believe Duterte could be making a play for retaining power by taking over as president under a scenario in which Go wins and then resigns, enabling Duterte to shield himself from possible legal actions when he leaves office.
“This is really part of the scheme of the Duterte clique to extend not only influence but control of government,” said opposition congressman Carlos Zarate.
Duterte’s legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, has described as “unfounded and illogical” claims that he would control the office of the president should he clinch the vice presidency.
Opinion polls show Duterte remains hugely popular, despite his bloody anti-drugs campaign and criticism of the pandemic response, but analysts say his popularity would not necessarily rub off on Go.
In the Philippines, the president is elected separately from the vice president.
Duterte has previously said he wanted Go to be his successor. His endorsement in 2019 helped Go to become a senator, a post he carries out alongside his duties as Duterte’s personal aide.
“In choosing his successor, President Duterte is grappling with an unstated urgent concern: who can be best trusted to protect and insulate him from almost certain criminal suits once he is out of power,” said the Center for People Empowerment Governance.
Go has been the 76-year-old president’s closest aide since the late 1990s, when Duterte was a congressman representing his hometown Davao City.
Previously, Go has insisted he is not interested in the presidency.
“Vaccines first, before politics,” Go, who chairs the senate committee on health, told Reuters.
Duterte’s daughter, Davao City mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, has outshone Go in opinion polls, but she and her father have played down the prospect of her running.
Political analyst Victor Manhit said until candidacies were officially filed, starting in October, everything is speculation, with opinion polls showing other vice presidential candidates including a Manila mayor just behind Duterte. – with a report from Reuters