We don’t suppose, as some political observers used to say, that baffling actions and rhetoric in the President’s corner this time are still part of the chief executive’s “chess moves” – something we never bought in the first place.
On Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte’s chosen successor and long-time aide from as long ago and as far away as Davao City announced his withdrawal from the 2022 presidential race, saying it was “not yet my time.”
Days earlier, while vehicles of all types and make were making caravan sights along cemented provincial highways for their respective presidential and vice-presidential aspirants, Go was heard during interviews by vloggers and social media that he was waiting for a sign from above if he should pursue his presidential assignment or withdraw.
He was replying to questions on unconfirmed reports that the 47-year-old Go was going to withdraw from the presidential race – that, after withdrawing from the vice presidential run and substituted for fellow Senator Ronald dela Rosa, also of Davao, as presidential standard-bearer of the ruling party PDP-Laban Cusi faction.
The party’s Pacquiao faction has Senator Emmanuel Pacquiao, 42, who promised to provide houses to all Filipino squatters should he win the presidency in the May 2022 polls.
Go entered the contest for the country’s highest office two days before the November 15 deadline, after previously registering for the vice presidential race.
His sudden exit, announced by him no less during the celebration of Bonifacio Day at the Pinaglabanan Shrine in San Juan City in Metro Manila, narrows the field of candidates vying to replace the 76-year-old Duterte to just six. Duterte is constitutionally barred from seeking a second six-year term when he steps down in June next year but has filed his certificate of candidacy for the Senate, among more than 80 aspirants, with only 12 to be chosen to join the 24-member chamber, also in June.
“My family doesn’t want it either so I thought maybe this is not yet my time,” Go told reporters, adding his decision to withdraw was also to avoid causing “more problems” for Duterte, who he professed to love “more than as a father.
“I remain loyal to him and I promise to be with him forever,” Go said, adding “In the past few days I realized that my heart and my mind are contradicting my own actions.”
Most analysts had given Go little chance of success in the May election, though he was seen, rightly or wrongly, the most likely candidate to protect Duterte from criminal charges in the Philippines, and an International Criminal Court investigation into his deadly drug war as from the time he was mayor of Davao City.
In surveys done by professional groups, including the polling outfit Social Weather Stations, and in those conducted on the streets, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., 64, son of former President Ferdinand Marcos, has a pre-eminent lead over incumbent Vice President Leni Robredo, 56, running as an independent among opposition parties.
Others still on the track from the splintered opposition are Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso, 47; Senator Manny Pacquiao, Senator Panfilo Lacson, 73; and labor rights activist Leody de Guzman, 62.
Duterte has been an ally of the Marcos family, whose members have not, individually or collectively, lobbed any substandard language against the president – the only one, in fact, to have succeeded in having the burial where his predecessors Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and Benigno Aquino III all failed –who allowed the Marcos patriarch to be buried at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani, 27 years after he died in his Hawaii exile in September 1989.
In recent weeks, Duterte had been publicly critical of Marcos Jr, describing him as a “weak leader… saddled with baggage.” But the Marcos have not returned the venom.
We think Go’s exit from the “tight election race” could strengthen the “political force” of Marcos Jr and Sara, although the elder may not endorse Bongbong Marcos for his job.
Go’s decision also comes after a tumultuous week when at least three of the leading presidential and vice-presidential candidates – Marcos and Lacson and Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Lacson’s running mate – took voluntary drug tests after Duterte accused an unnamed candidate of snorting cocaine.
Pacquiao at the time last week, replying to questions, said if he were elected he would make drug testing mandatory for all government employees, but chased that a few days later with an admission of drug use in the past despite his personal friendship with Duterte.
Pacquiao, known for the ringside moves that earned him millions, also admitted that Duterte was unaware that he had used illegal drugs as a young man.
“I have tried drugs before, and then I realized it’s not good for the body. I accept it, I cannot deny it, that was before, and that’s [why] I strongly support the president, that he fights illegal drugs,” he said.
But Duterte has since remained silent.
Go, in an interview with media people formally announcing he was dropping out of the presidential run during the 158th anniversary of Bonifacio, the unofficial first president of the country, at the Pinaglabanan Shrine in San Juan City, said he did not want to add problems to Duterte whom he considered a father.
“I remain truthful to my promise that I will accompany him during his lifetime. Even before, that’s my promise to him.”
We have exhilarating days ahead indeed. (ai/mtvn)