Rodrigo Duterte loves to confuse his political foes and rivals.

In the 2016 elections, he played the reluctant candidate and even joined the fray long after the deadline for filing of certificates of candidacy for president had lapsed, entering through the backdoor through substitution in December 2015.

But political observers knew he would run for president as early as late in 2013 when he had a caravan from Davao City to Tacloban, ground zero of death and devastation during Typhoon “Haiyan.”

Fast-forward to next year’s elections. Duterte may no longer be eligible to run for reelection under the 1987 Constitution but he remains a strong political force who will likely influence the elections.

Now, he has kept his foes guessing on his political clans. Will he run for vice president, retire from politics, or return to Davao City as mayor once more?

His single term as president was a dismal failure. He rose to power on high expectations of changing the political system through federalism, ending corruption, crime, and illicit drugs, and spending on infrastructure to upgrade creaking highways, bridges, ports and schools.

But the coronavirus pandemic intervened. He mismanaged the response, resulting in the collapse of the economy. From one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies, the Philippines fell behind, plunging the country into its deepest recession since the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s regime.

He never fulfilled a single campaign promise. Illegal drugs remained a menace as tons of the illegal substance were regularly seized right in his hometown, indicating that he had not stopped the flow of the synthetic shabu into the country.

Corruption worsened as shown by international perception surveys done by Transparency International, and his centerpiece “Build, Build, Build” program did not lift off the ground as the billions of dollars pledged by his newfound friends in China did not materialize.

It was his biggest gambit — shifting foreign policy toward Beijing in exchange for the much-needed trade and investments and trading the landmark legal victory won at The Hague in July 2016 for China’s belt and road initiative.

Less than 5% of the $24-billion economic package promised in 2016 after his first visit to Beijing was realized.

The Philippines has been wheeled back to the intensive care unit as the “sick man of Asia,” assessed by JP Morgan as among five economies vulnerable to the deadly Delta variant of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) because of its low vaccination rate.

Five months into the mass immunization, only 12 million of the 109-million population have taken a single dose of what could be the most ineffective brand, Sinovac, which other countries are rejecting.

But Duterte has no intentions of giving up power despite catastrophic failures. He still wants to influence public policy behind the scenes through his chosen successor.

He even wants a high profile role as vice president, raising concern from some sectors, which want him declared ineligible by either the Supreme Court or the Commission on Elections before he could even file his candidacy.

And Duterte loves it when his political foes are thrown off guard and guessing whether he was really serious in running for vice president or not. That’s the same 2016 election playbook all over again.

But it will have a different outcome. Duterte will not run for vice president. It will be a waste of time and resources even if he wins the second highest political office in the land.

Chances are the next president will not be sympathetic to him and he will end up a marginalized vice president similar to what he had done to Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo.

But Robredo is different. She was able to make herself useful and effective as vice president even without an official role in the government and with less budget.

It is true that Duterte remained popular despite his failures. But this popularity is not transferable to his daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, and his preferred successor, Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go.

Based on independent pre-election opinion polls, Sara’s rating remained at about 30 percent and Bong was even lower, at single digits.

Based on an unpublished first quarter trust and satisfaction rating, Duterte had a very high 88 percent, slightly lower than his record-high 91 percent. So where did the 50-point difference between him and his daughter go?

Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moren” Domagoso’s numbers are not far behind Sara and there will be danger her ratings could go down as she has peaked early in the polls.

She might end up like Sen. Manuel Villar in 2010 and Vice President Jejomar Binay in 2016 — frontrunners in the pre-election surveys only to end up as losers in the actual elections.

If Duterte decides to run for vice president, chances are his daughter will back out and Bong Go will run for president. Go is perceived to be weak and very vulnerable to political attacks because of his character.

Political observers believe a Duterte-Carpio and Duterte tandem is out of the question in May 2022, creating a lot of possibilities for ambitious politicians.

Those who are avoiding tangling with Sara and would rather run as her vice president might be emboldened to run for president, thinking it is easier to defeat a lightweight Bong Go.

But Duterte will also have a tough time winning the vice-presidential race. Opinion polls show he is not the only top choice for the position. Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III is a formidable contender along with Sen. Grace Poe.

There is a possibility Duterte will be humiliated as his dismal record as president will be placed under intense scrutiny.

Besides, Duterte’s run could expose his daughter’s weakness, putting into doubt her ability to win the elections.

The possible entry of boxing icon and Sen. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao in the contest could also spell trouble for Sara.

Both are from Mindanao and it would certainly divide the solid Mindanao votes between them. Sara’s popularity is manufactured but Pacquiao’s natural charisma as a boxing hero attracts people like a magnet.

A candidate who will have solid support in the vote-rich capital region and two nearby regions — Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog — will benefit from a weakened and divided Mindanao. These areas have roughly 40 percent of the 70 million eligible voters in May 2022.

Visayas will not go to a Cebuano-speaking candidate as the Western Visayas region — the vote-rich Panay and Negros Occidental province – are traditionally a Liberal Party bailiwick and would therefore be in the opposition column.

This is the only region where Duterte lost in the 2016 elections. He won in Cebu and in the Eastern Visayas region.

Forget the solid north in the Ilocos region. The number of votes in Pangasinan is bigger than Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur and La Union combined.

It would be better for Duterte to hang his gloves and help either Sara or Bong win the political battle instead of joining the fray, which could only complicate the political landscape and distract his own standard-bearer.

It will be difficult to push hard for both president and vice president. It is better if all resources and efforts are directed to a single candidate for a single position.

Elections in the country since the time of Fidel Ramos have been geared toward making a presidential candidate win at all costs. Less attention is given to the vice-presidential contest.

Normally presidential candidates have weaker vice presidents except in 2016 when Robredo and Bongbong Marcos dueled. Both their standard-bearers were perceived to be weak candidates.

Unlike in 2016 when he was the clear favorite for capturing the imagination of the marginalized voter because of his charm and non-traditional campaigning, Duterte will not be the crowd favorite this time and it will not be good for an administration to divide efforts to make its standard bearer and running mate win the elections.

It will only benefit an alternative candidate — someone who is in the middle, neither a rabid pro-administration nor an opposition candidate.

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