In two weeks, politicians aspiring to become president will file their certificates of candidacy before the Commission on Elections (Comelec), allowing the poll body enough time to print ballots for more than 60 million eligible voters in next May’s political contest.
There could be at least six candidates to replace Rodrigo Duterte after June 2022.
Three have already declared their desire to become president — Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson who is the most determined; Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go who is the most reluctant but is being pressured to run by his long-time master and members of a political party who do not want to lose government positions; and Sen. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, another determined politician who claims to have heard God’s voice telling him to save the country.
There could be three more hopefuls — Vice President Leonor Robredo who could not make up her mind but is also being pressured by a political party dreaming of getting back to power, former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. who wants to vindicate the family’s honor, and Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso who was propelled to power by his popularity.
Domagoso, Marcos, Robredo and Pacquiao are among the top contenders for the position in pre-election public opinion polls.
Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, who consistently ranked No. 1 in the surveys, has dropped out of the race after her father accepted the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) nomination as vice-presidential candidate.
She had said there would be only one Duterte running for a national position and that she would rather run again as Davao City mayor for her third and last term.
It seems Davao City is more important for Sara who has turned a deaf ear on groups clamoring for her to run for president, including a newly organized grassroots organization called “Hugpong para ka Sara.”
This group even wanted the president to step aside and give up his ambition to become vice president so it could convince Sara to take a shot at the presidency.
Political observers believe the Dutertes are using the same playbook in the 2016 elections with Sara eventually seeking the presidency and her father melting away and even running for mayor anew in Davao City.
Davao City is more important than the presidency. The father and daughter have held a tight grip on the southern city for more than two decades, ruling with an iron fist but with less concern for the social and economic conditions of the people.
Sara felt her two brothers — Paolo and Sebastian — could not carry the banner and would certainly lose to other politicians who are salivating to dethrone the Dutertes in the city.
Only Sara and her father are sure to win the city’s mayoralty race next year.
Sara is thus in a quandary. She also has higher chances of winning the presidency but is not gambling with her chances and will go for the sure win.
It seems the father and daughter are not on good terms after she rejected her father’s conditions: one is for her to endorse the Go-Duterte team in the May 2022 elections and another for her to pick Go as her running mate.
Sara hated Go and the whole ruling PDP-Laban party, organizing her own Hugpong ng Pagbabago regional party. She might in the end endorse her father for vice-president.
Sara’s decision not to run for president could weaken the administration and could even lead to its loss in the May 2022 elections with Bong Go as its standard bearer.
Pre-election surveys showed Go having a single-digit voter preference, even lower than Lacson, the cellar-dweller in public opinion polls.
In the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey, Lacson got only 4 percent while Robredo has moved up to 12 percent in a statistical tie with Pacquiao at 11 percent.
Die-hard supporters of the president still see Bong as the loyal personal assistant, not a presidential material. They would rather support Sara, a blue-blooded Duterte.
Even with the administration’s resources and machinery, Bong does not really register as a presidential candidate. If PDP-Laban will go for the Go-Duterte team in 2022, it will surely lose the elections.
The president’s supporters will certainly vote for Duterte as vice president but they will vote for other presidential candidates, like Bongbong, Isko, or Manny.
Bongbong, who is entertaining thoughts of running again for vice president under Sara’s banner, will shoot for the star if Sara does not run. Bongbong will defeat Bong Go and will have higher chances of redeeming the Marcos name in 2022.
Bongbong is No. 3 in the pre-election surveys and support for Sara could transfer to him, boosting his chances, although there could be a few die-hards who will support Bong Go. Others who are pro-Duterte but anti-Marcos can shift support to other candidates, like Isko and Manny.
Under this scenario, there will no longer be monolithic administration support. It will break up, making the elections more exciting and unpredictable.
Even if Pacquiao has started hitting the president, he is still seen as part of the administration as the standard bearer of another faction of the PDP-Laban.
On the other hand, the administration challengers are also fragmented, dividing further the little support they have. Both Robredo and Lacson have been calling for a unified opposition to defeat the administration but they remained poles apart, making it impossible to win next year.
Both have to work harder to improve their numbers to get close to Sara, Isko, and Bongbong.
Isko has the bigger chance of winning the elections, presenting himself as an alternative candidate to both the administration and the opposition. But he is slowly sliding to the opposition because of his tirades against the Dutertes and his frequent meetings with Robredo.
Until the candidates file their certificates of candidacy in the first week of October, there is still uncertainty on how the political contest will shape up next year.
If Duterte is really determined to run for vice president with his assistant, Sen. Bong Go, he will be committing political suicide with an unwinnable senator as standard bearer.
If Isko, Ping, and Leni will challenge the administration separately, they will also waste their time and resources in trying to defeat the Dutertes. They have to unite to increase their chances of winning.
If those on both sides of the fence remain stubborn and insist on their candidacies in the May 2022 elections, the Marcoses could make a comeback.
It is worse than having Duterte, who has mismanaged the pandemic response and has run the economy aground, serving a second term in Malacañang.
Bongbong will not only vindicate the family’s honor but the retribution will be much worse, having been disgraced for more than three decades.