Rodrigo Duterte faces a life-and-death scenario in next year’s elections.

His chosen successor must win at all costs to be able to shield him from potential investigation and indictment before the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague for crimes against humanity.

In the next two months, the ICC may decide to formally investigate Duterte for the thousands of killings related to his war on drugs in the country from 2016 to 2019.

But the ICC can also go back to 2011 to examine the deaths in Davao City when Duterte was still a mayor, because of a similar pattern of killings.

Duterte cannot save himself from the ICC inquiry even if he is elected next year as vice president, unless the next president is an ally.

But two months before the filing of certificates of candidacy at the Commission on Elections, cracks within the administration have started to surface and may affect the chances of Duterte’s chosen successor.

Mudslinging comes next as political forces consolidate before October’s deadline for the filing of candidacies.

Although political parties do not really matter in Philippine elections as voters choose on the basis of personalities, not political platforms, a rift within the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) could weaken support for the president’s candidates.

Alfonso Cusi and other party members who joined PDP-Laban after Duterte won in 2016 have hijacked the organization, casting aside the founder’s son, Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and his ally, boxing icon and senator Emmanuel “Manny” Paquiao.

The ruling party still needs a monolithic organization to replicate its 2019 midterm elections victory.

The political opposition was wiped out and a few popular personalities, like Grace Poe and Nancy Binay, survived as the president’s candidates and allies dominated the polls.

Manny Pacquiao will win votes in Mindanao if he decides to run for president, preventing the administration from keeping total control of the island.

Based on pre-election surveys in June, Sara Duterte-Carpio has been dominating voter preference in Mindanao with 62 percent. Pacquiao was a distant second with 10 percent.

She is, however, weak in the capital region and on the main island of Luzon, getting only 16 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr are ahead in Metro Manila with 23 percent and 22 percent, respectively, and Luzon with 15 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

But the pre-election surveys do not guarantee that Sara will win the 2022 elections as experience has shown that the frontrunners often ended up losing the elections — Sen. Manuel Villar in 2010 and Vice President Jejomar Binay in 2016.

The two-term Davao City mayor needs to team up with a candidate who has solid support in the capital and the main island of Luzon to pull up her numbers in the elections.

She is considering Marcos to be her vice president but the Marcos family has to make a decision before September if a partnership will be made.

The dictator’s widow, Imelda Marcos, wished her son to be president to reclaim the family’s lost glory. She is too old to see him run for president in 2028.

There is another survey showing Sara Duterte and Isko Moreno with 33 percent and 29 percent, respectively, almost a statistical tie.

Her small regional party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago, had announced she would declare her presidential candidacy on July 30.

But two weeks before the date, Sara suddenly kept quiet. Before that she was almost in the news pages every day, meeting with leaders from other political parties, like former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, whose daughter, Liloan City Mayor Christina Frasco, was designated as her spokeswoman.

No announcement was made on July 30 and her spokeswoman and the party’s spokesman did not make statements about why it was postponed.

Then came the announcement from the PDP-Laban last week that it was endorsing Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go and Duterte as its presidential and vice presidential candidates.

The PDP-Laban’s announcement has exposed a more serious rift in the administration, as some groups behind the president were not confident that Sara could win the elections next year despite the polls.

These groups, including the majority of the president’s Cabinet members, are putting their trust in Bong Go, who only got 3 percent in the same June Pulse Asia survey. They are confident the president, who will be his running mate, will help pull his numbers up on election day.

In case Bong Go and the president’s daughter run against each other, they will only cancel each other, giving other presidential hopefuls a chance to snatch the presidency.

There were even speculations the departure of Wendel Avisado as budget secretary could be related to the Cabinet’s political maneuver to remove Sara Duterte-Carpio’s ally who holds the purse.

Avisado’s office said he was only taking a two-week medical leave after contracting coronavirus disease (Covid-19) and on the advice of his doctor. There is, however, uncertainty if he would return to his position after two weeks.

Some members of the Cabinet and a group of 30 governors have been pushing Duterte to run as vice president. If he decides to run, politicians who are aspiring to be Sara’s vice president, including Marcos, might be forced to back out, knowing the president is a formidable political opponent.

Marcos might even run for president, taking his chances as the president’s candidate, Go, is weak and Sara’s chances would also be weakened by Go and Pacquiao.

Another Mindanao-based politician, Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez, could also take away votes from Go and Sara as what happened in 2019 when he defeated candidates supported by Duterte-Carpio.

Alvarez’ Reporma Party has aligned with Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson and with the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) led by Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto, who is prepared to battle with Duterte for the vice presidency.

The political plans for May 2022 take a back seat for two weeks as the country faces surging Covid-19 cases, which breached the 10,000 daily mark last week.

The pandemic could be a game changer in the elections as frustration and disappointment among the people are growing and could affect the government’s popularity.

Potential candidates are setting aside political plans, including the planned oath taking of the Manila mayor with the Aksyon Demokratiko Party founded by the late Sen. Raul Roco.

There could be movements by September when major decisions are made — Vice President Leonor Robredo, Isko Moreno, Panfilo Lacson, Sara Duterte-Carpio, Bong Go, Bongbong Marcos, and Manny Pacquiao will all announce their candidacies.

Duterte will also make a decision to seek the vice presidency, which will affect the plans of Senators Win Gatchalian and Sonny Angara, and former congressman and defense secretary Gilbert Teodoro if they will challenge the president. Only Sotto is certain of seeking the second highest position in the land.

It would be foolish if Bong Go and Sara Duterte-Carpio would run against each other. They have the same political base and it would only strengthen their opponents — Marcos, Moreno and even Robredo.

In the end, these are only smoke and mirrors and Duterte will still support his daughter, ignoring his Cabinet’s vested interests because she has the biggest chance to win the elections next year. She could be her father’s savior from the ICC.