MANILA – During President Rodrigo Duterte’s first two years in office, his daughter Sara had barely any interest in politics.
One year on, she is front and center in a midterm election that she isn’t even running in, playing kingmaker for candidates allied with her father in what’s being widely seen as a not-so-subtle trial balloon for her own presidential run in 2022.
Monday’s elections are to a great extent a referendum on the Duterte administration, testing his popularity and giving him a chance to tighten his grip on power by retaining his Congressional majority, and keeping the opposition on the fringes of the all-important Senate for the remainder of his term.
Sara Duterte opted out of running for the Senate, choosing instead to manage the campaign of some of her father’s loyalists, which experts say will boost her political capital and build alliances that could come in handy ahead of the next presidential election.
“She’s projecting herself as a national personality. What’s happening today is her testing the water,” said Ramon Casiple, who heads the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.
“Her image is being looked into, how people accept her. She has her own personality. She’s not being looked at as a carbon copy of her father.”
Sara Duterte reluctantly took over from her father as mayor of Davao City and has become hugely popular there. She is also no stranger to presidential events and overseas trips, serving as first lady because of her father’s annulled marriage.
The 40-year old has spent the past three months on a campaign that has included touring on a 900 cc motorcycle and leading big rallies with billboards and banners carrying an image of herself twice the size of those of the candidates she is promoting.
Casiple said Sara Duterte as president could protect her father’s legacy and insulate him from political vendettas and what he has described as a “pattern of imprisonment” of former Philippine presidents.
Some critics even suggest a family succession would protect Duterte, 74, from a possible International Criminal Court (ICC) indictment for crimes against humanity.
The ICC last year launched a preliminary examination into Duterte’s war on drugs, in which police have killed thousands of people. (Reuters)