Philippine President Duterte announces ‘retirement from politics’

Not eligible to run again for top job, Philippine president backs out of a plan to run for vice president in next year’s elections.

Duterte ran for president in 2016 and launched a deadly crackdown on drugs upon taking office [File: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters]

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said he will not run for vice president in next year’s elections and will retire from politics after the end of his term.

Duterte announced the surprise decision on Saturday after accompanying his former longtime aide, Senator Bong Go, who instead filed his own candidacy for the vice presidency at a Commission on Elections centre.

“The overwhelming … sentiment of the Filipinos is that I am not qualified and it would be a violation of the constitution to circumvent the law, the spirit of the constitution” to run for the vice presidency, Duterte said.

“Today I announce my retirement from politics.

Philippine presidents are limited by the constitution to a single six-year term and opponents had said they would question the legality of Duterte’s announced vice presidential run before the Supreme Court.

Soon after his announcement, Duterte indicated his daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio would run alongside Go.

He was asked by a broadcast journalist: “So is it clear, Sara-Go?”

Duterte said in response: “It is Sara-Go.”

Duterte-Carpio, who replaced her father as mayor of Davao, said last month she was not running for higher office next year because she and her father had agreed only one of them would run for national office in 2022.

When asked to confirm what the president said, Duterte-Carpio’s spokesperson, Mayor Christina Garcia Frasco told the Reuters news agency that “the extent of my knowledge is also what was reported in local news. We have no comment on the same.”

Go did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Antonio La Vina, professor of law and politics at the Ateneo de Manila University, said there was still a possibility that the firebrand leader could have a change of heart and be Go’s substitute.

Candidates have until Friday to register, but withdrawals and substitutions are allowed until November 15, leaving scope for last-minute changes of heart, like the 11th-hour entry of Duterte for the 2016 election, which he won by a huge margin.

“This is very much President Rodrigo Duterte’s political style keeping everybody on their toes, making sure that everybody hangs on to his word. But he’s also had the reputation of being a leader who does not keep his word,” Al Jazeera’s Jamela Alindogan reported from the capital, Manila.

“During the 2016 election campaign, he repeatedly said that he would not run for public office. He did not show up at the filing of candidacy only to be filed a month later by somebody who stood in for him.”

Duterte declared in August he would contest the vice presidency in the next election – a move critics said was a smokescreen and motivated by fear that he could face criminal charges after leaving office.

Duterte ran for president in 2016 on a single issue of fighting crime in the Philippines. During his campaign and later on as president, he repeatedly urged police to “kill” drug suspects.

After taking office on June 30, 2016, he immediately launched his deadly campaign described by the country’s Catholic leaders as a “reign of terror”.

The latest government data released in June shows that as of the end of April 2021, police and other security forces have killed at least 6,117 suspected drug dealers during its operations. But government figures cited by the United Nations in June 2020 already showed at least 8,600 deaths.

A Philippine police report in 2017 also referred to 16,355 “homicide cases under investigations” as accomplishments in the drugs war.

In December 2016, Al Jazeera reported more than 6,000 deaths in the drugs war, raising questions about the inconsistency of the government’s record-keeping system and the possible “manipulation” of government data.

Human rights groups say the number of deaths could be between 27,000 and 30,000. They accuse the authorities of carrying out summary executions that killed innocent suspects, including children.

Among those killed were at least 73 children, with the youngest just five months old, according to a UN investigation. Countless people were also killed by “unknown” gunmen, who later turned out to be police officers, according to news reports. Very few of the thousands of cases reported were prosecuted.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies