Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.

The deadline for substitution of candidates of political parties is fast approaching. It is the Rubicon that will be crossed on Nov. 15.

Sara Duterte-Carpio has to make a decision quickly.

Political analysts say it is the last piece of the puzzle they are waiting for, and that her rivals have not counted her out of contention.

They still believe she is the candidate to beat in next May’s presidential elections given her organization and resources.

Her supporters continue to hope she will change her mind.

Months after her father rose to the presidency in 2016, Sara was floated as her father’s successor.

In 2019, she was pushed to run for a seat in the Senate to prepare her for higher office after her father steps down in 2022.

But she did not. She opted to seek reelection as Davao City mayor for the second time and prove that she was different from her father — more decisive and deliberate in her political decisions.

She also chose to become a kingmaker through her regional party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago, fielding local candidates and entering into alliances with other parties.

Members of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), her father’s political vehicle in 2016, had also run under Hugpong’s banner, and other politicians sought her favor.

Sara’s Hugpong coalition won nine out of 12 seats in the Senate. Only incumbents Grace Poe and Nancy Binay, who were household names, and a movie and television personality, Lito Lapid, steered clear of the political juggernaut.

It appeared Sara was headed for a smooth ride to the presidency in 2022.

Pre-election opinion polls until weeks before the filing of certificates of candidacy showed that she was a top contender, but her repeated statements that she was not interested in the presidency could cost her the No. 1 position.

In the September 2021 Pulse Asia survey, her voter preference declined to 20 percent from 28 percent, allowing former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso and boxing icon Emmanuel Pacquiao to close the gap.

The three are in a statistical tie in second spot behind Sara’s thinning margin of 2 to 5 points.

Sara broke her supporters’ hearts when she decided to seek a third term as Davao City mayor just hours after President Rodrigo Duterte announced his decision to retire from active politics.

Duterte accompanied long-time personal assistant Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go in filing his certificate of candidacy for vice president, surprising even the PDP-Laban which had endorsed the president as its standard bearer.

Duterte was forcing Sara to run for president and pick Bong Go as her running mate. He even announced the Sara-Bong Go tandem to reporters who interviewed him at the Sofitel hotel.

Political observers say Sara hated the PDP-Laban party and the people around her father and would not work together with Go, whom she had personally blamed for the administration’s problems, including allegations of corruption in government.

She has also been rejecting efforts by Sen. Imee Marcos and some people close to her to team up with the dictator’s son and namesake to ensure her father’s legacy.

Many believed a Sara-Bongbong or a Bongbong-Sara tandem in the May 2022 polls would be a formidable team given their political bailiwicks, machinery and resources.

But she refused to listen and stood on her firm decision not to run for a national office, either for president or vice president. She is happy to complete her three terms in Davao City as mayor.

Sara may have her own personal reasons. It could be part of the dynamics between her and the president. There could be some family issues or she was worried that if she abandoned Davao City, her siblings would not be capable of holding the fort and the Dutertes would lose their tight grip on the city, which had lasted three decades.

It would be difficult for the family to bounce back and regain control as her father’s ally-turned critic, Pantaleon Alvarez, was able to build a strong opposition team in the Davao region, defeating Sara’s candidates in the 2019 midterm elections.

Alvarez has aligned with Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacscon and Senate President Vicente Sottio III for the May 2022 elections.

The surveys also indicated an incremental increase in Lacson’s numbers, from 2 percent to 4 percent and 8 eight percent in the third-quarter opinion poll.

His campaign team has predicted that Lacson would hit 15 percent by the fourth-quarter survey and about 25 percent by the time the campaign period starts next year, a comfortable number that will make him a serious contender for the presidency.

Several retired generals who are supporting Lacson believed the contest would be between the senator and the president’s daughter, but even without Sara, Bongbong Marcos Jr., would be a serious contender.

If Vice President Leni Robredo could sustain her social media presence and more local officials join her bandwagon, she could be a serious contender as well.

Political strategists are counting out Pacquiao and Isko Moreno from the race. They peaked too soon and the Manila mayor was hurt by allegations he was Duterte’s “trojan horse” after some of the president’s trusted men joined his campaign, including Lito Banayo and Vince Dizon.

Political observers are not giving the PDP-Laban tandem of Senators Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa and Bong Go a serious look because they are seen as lightweights.

Duterte’s falling satisfaction rating based on the third quarter Social Weather Stations (SWS) polls could become a baggage as the president’s endorsement could be seen as a “kiss of death.”

Duterte’s high approval rating may have suffered from his poor pandemic management and the perceived corruption in deals involving pandemic response funds, including nearly P11 billion in contracts awarded to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation, an undercapitalized company set up in 2019 by a group of Davao City-based businessmen with close links with Michael Yang, the former presidential economic adviser.

Sara has to consider a lot of things if she makes a last-minute jump into the fray. Catching up with her rivals who have left the starting block is not a big deal.

She still enjoys wide support from local officials — governors, congressmen, and mayors who have aligned with her Hugpong regional party. She also has deep pockets, augmented by the administration’s funds.

But the more important question is if Sara is really driven by an ambition to succeed her father and if she is determined to run to protect her father from potential lawsuits once he is out of power on June 30, 2022.

Perhaps, these are not enough reasons for her to take the risks and run for president. Her chances of winning next year’s polls have gone down to probably 50-50.

Perhaps, Sara is not a gambler. She could lose not only the presidential race but the family’s control of Davao City. She is a sure winner in Davao City.

It would be wise for Sara to go for the sure win rather than risk her political future.