Rodrigo Duterte loves to play games, taking his political foes for a ride after the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) announced that he had accepted the nomination to run for vice president in next year’s national elections.

Political opponents and critics went to town lambasting Duterte’s decision to seek the second highest political office in the country, describing him as hungry for power.

Others warned Duterte would want to stay in power for another term, climbing back to the presidency through the back door in case an ally wins the vote.

He could still run the show as vice president, for instance, if his long-time personal assistant gets elected as president. The elected president will be a puppet leader, taking orders from him. Some people thought of a more bizarre scenario where Duterte would assume the presidency if his ally gave way to him by quitting the position a year or two after the elections.

But these are all speculations. Outside the president’s inner circle, no one knows if Duterte will retire from active politics after June 2022 or seek another public office.

PDP-Laban will not be stopped on Sept. 8 from endorsing Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go and Duterte as the ruling party’s candidates for president and vice president in the May 2022 elections.

But it is still not certain if they will file their certificates of candidacy during the first week of October, the deadline imposed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for candidates to register.

In 2015, Duterte did not file his candidacy on time, but joined the fray a month later as a substitute to Martin Diño who had filed his candidacy.

Even if he did file his candidacy for the 2022 elections, there would still be a chance for him to withdraw before the actual balloting in May. Everything is fluid.

Duterte loves playing games. Making his opponents guess his political moves and throwing them off conventional politics is one of his hallmarks.

However, Duterte’s 2015 playbook will not work.

Experienced politicians and political strategists see Duterte’s dirty games as part of posturing. They believe Duterte simply wants to throw off his administration’s rivals as political realignments and alliances begin to shape up ahead of the deadline to file certificates of candidacy.

Duterte wanted to draw attention, inviting rivals to attack him knowing he would not be a presidential candidate, to distract critics and political foes of his daughter.

When Duterte said he would run for vice president, his reasons were not believable. He said he would seek the vice presidency to escape investigation and possible indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

As a lawyer, Duterte knew only the president had immunity from lawsuits. But the ICC does not recognize that immunity, just like those of other leaders accused of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.

Duterte also said he wanted to run to continue his unfinished business to eradicate drugs, corruption and criminality as well as crush the Maoist-led guerrillas fighting for more than five decades to overthrow the government.

As vice president, he will not be in a position to dictate policies, unless an ally sits as the chief executive. He will likely be sidelined, similar to what he did to his vice president, Maria Leonor Robredo.

Duterte is a master politician and an excellent strategist, qualities that catapulted him to power in the 2016 elections.

He is not so dumb as to shoot down his daughter’s chances of winning the presidency, knowing she is his only savior from the ICC and an avalanche of lawsuits arising from thousands deaths in his brutal and bloody war on drugs.

Between his daughter, two-term Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, and his long-time personal assistant, Bong Go, the former has higher chances of becoming president.

Several pre-election surveys have consistently shown Sara as the top choice for president by respondents, with ratings above 25 percent, compared with Go who has a single-digit voter preference rating.

Duterte also knew that if Go runs against Sara, he would take away some votes from her, dividing the administration’s support base and strengthening other presidential candidates, who have a more solid base in the vote-rich Metro Manila and two adjacent regions — Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog.

Both Sara and Go are weak in these areas, where about 30 to 40 percent of the 61 million eligible will come.

The administration does not need any division within its ranks as rivals have started to consolidate and build a stronger coalition to unseat the Dutertes.

Sen. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao’s revolt from the administration’s ranks could have some effect considering the popularity of the boxing icon, even if he lost in his welterweight bout against the Cuban champion.

Any subtraction matters in a tight contest and Duterte cannot afford to lose more support if Sara and Go go head-to-head in the political contest.

Duterte can also lose some allies if he decides to run for vice president. Politicians who want to be his daughter’s running mate, like former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, will make other moves and abandon plans to run for vice president, knowing Duterte will be a very formidable foe.

Bongbong may shoot for the star if Sara decides not to run and instead supports the Bong Go and Duterte tandem. In a statement, Sara said her father gave her two options after he confirmed he would run with Bong Go in next year’s elections — endorse the Bong Go-Duterte team or pick Bong Go as her running-mate.

It is not easy for Sara to choose Bong Go as her running mate. Both are from Davao City and from Mindanao. She needs a partner from the north to make up for her weaknesses.

But the drama and scenarios could be part of a smokescreen to confuse the administration’s rivals.

In the end, Duterte will not run for vice president and help his daughter win the elections. Sara has already invested a lot in building alliances. She has giant billboards and thousands of tarpaulins scattered across the country.

Duterte will not gamble on Bong Go’s chances. Sara is still his best bet for his own protection.