On Monday night, Rodrigo Duterte unleashed his most unkind commentary against a city mayor whom he described as a “call boy.” That was a below-the-belt punch aimed at a potential political opponent.

The ugly season of political mudslinging has started with the president firing the opening salvo, just two months before the Commission on Elections’ deadline for aspiring presidents to file their certificates of candidacy (COC).

Duterte first attacked city and town officials who did not properly distribute the government’s dole out of up to P4,000 to poor households affected by the two-week strict lockdown in the capital and other areas, meant to cut the chain of transmission of the more contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.

The government was worried the situation in the country could become what had happened in neighboring Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, where active coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases have reached hundreds of thousands, overwhelming healthcare systems and even funeral services.

Duterte threatened to remove from these local officials the power to distribute the cash assistance, and transfer it to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

It was a not-so-bright idea as these two departments have limited warm bodies to do the job. This was the reason the government had decided to download the funds directly to local government units, which already have experience in handing out the money to their constituents.

These local officials have done cash distribution twice, using several modes of payments, under the Bayanihan 1 and 2 laws and in early April when the capital and adjacent regions were placed under looser lockdowns.

Duterte’s tirade got vicious when he zeroed in on a particular mayor, bringing up the politician’s past by picking on his semi-nude pictures as a struggling movie actor. He did not name the local official.

People who were listening to the delayed broadcast of his meeting with some officials finally knew who Duterte was attacking when he mentioned the mayor’s lewd photos and called the local chief executive a “call boy,” an old term which is no longer used today to describe a man offering sexual services.

The 76-year-old Duterte is, after all, an old man whose frame of mind never left the 1960s.

He went on to belittle the mayor’s ability as a potential presidential candidate next year, the biggest threat to his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.

Pre-election surveys showed Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso, also known by his screen name “Isko Moreno,” as a close second behind Sara. There was even one opinion poll showing that the two were statistically tied at the top spot.

By attacking his daughter’s potential opponents in the elections, Duterte is acting as a one-man wrecking crew, as his daughter acts innocently as a reluctant candidate. It was the same Duterte’s playbook in 2016.

He projected himself as a politician not interested in the presidency, defaulting on the Comelec’s deadline to file his candidacy only to join the fray a month later as a substitute candidate.

In reality, Duterte lusts for power. He ruled Davao City for more than two decades and slowly built a political dynasty over the years — his daughter is mayor, his son is the vice mayor and another son is a congressman in what has become the biggest dynastic concentration of power in a city.

As early as in 2013 when Typhoon Yolanda struck the belly of the country, leaving more than 7,000 dead and 200,000 households homeless, Duterte started making his presence felt by bringing a caravan of help to devastated Tacloban City.

And once he got to the top, Duterte never really wanted to part ways with power as he wanted to remain in control behind the scenes, either through his daughter or his long-time personal assistant whom he helped secure a seat in the Senate.

His weekly late-night shows, as most people have come to know his once-a-week TV appearance, has become his own platform to attack political foes and potential rivals.

Before launching an attack on Isko Moreno whose city was even recognized two months ago by the DILG as a model city for the orderly distribution of cash assistance, Duterte harangued boxing icon Manny Pacquiao, a former ally who had started attacking the president’s policies on pandemic response and on the West Philippine Sea.

Of course, Duterte’s favorite punching bag is his vice president, Leonor Robredo, whom he had removed from the Cabinet. He had also questioned her qualifications to become the leader of the country.

Duterte is no longer eligible to run for president under the 1987 Constitution so it will be useless for the administration’s political foes to attack him.

It will be counter-productive to focus political attacks on the president and give his chosen successor a free pass — a tactic seen in past political exercises.

Before the 2016 elections, the administration’s candidate Manuel Roxas was not attacking his rivals. Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes IV were his one-two punch against the top contender, Vice President Jejomar Binay, and later against Sen. Grace Poe.

It was too late for them to notice Duterte, who meteorically rose from behind, and stop him from winning the elections. They had earlier dismissed him, only to realize his potential threat in the last two months before the balloting.

Learning from those experiences, Duterte is not wasting his time in demolishing his daughter’s opponents to pave the way for a smooth election victory in May 2022.

The “call boy” attack against Isko Moreno is no coincidence. It was a calculated political move to stain the image of a popular politician.

Everyone has a dark past but Isko Moreno has risen to what he is now — a decent and quick-to-act city mayor who has done a good job in changing the decaying capital city. Some ambassadors have, in fact, recognized his face-lifting jobs.

Duterte does not hide his own skeletons but he could have darker secrets.

It remains to be seen if Duterte’s tactics will work and how far he can damage his daughter’s rivals. The circus has definitely opened. Let’s sit back and enjoy the show.