The Philippines’ governing party opened its national convention on Wednesday with delegates set to choose President Rodrigo Duterte as its vice presidential candidate in upcoming elections, a maneuver widely seen as an effort to keep the popular leader near the center of power while avoiding constitutional term limits.
Duterte, 76, notorious for vulgar rhetoric and a crackdown on illegal drugs that has killed thousands of mostly petty suspects, said late last month that he would accept the PDP-Laban nomination to run for vice president next year so he could “continue the crusade.”
Some 400 members of the party were gathered in San Fernando City, north of the capital, Manila for the convention while others attended online to observe COVID-19 health protocols.
The party is the first to hold a convention to select candidates for the May 9 national elections.
Under Philippine law, the vice president is elected separately from the president and Duterte’s party was also expected to name a presidential candidate later Wednesday.
Duterte’s popularity has remained strong despite the Philippines’ struggles through the COVID-19 pandemic, with rising infections and death rates and a slow vaccine rollout.
Polls indicate strong support for Duterte running in tandem with his daughter, Sara Duterte, as the candidate for president — though he suggested he might step out of the vice presidential race if she announces a bid for the top job.
Sara Duterte, 43, is currently the mayor of Davao City and is a member of the regional HNP party, which she founded in 2018. She has supported her father’s party at the national level.
Another name mentioned as a possible presidential candidate is longtime Duterte ally and former aide Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, though he told the party at the end of August that he had decided not to run for president. Analysts suggested the move might have been to pave the way for Sara Duterte’s candidacy.
Ahead of the convention, PDP-Laban Secretary General Melvin Matibag said the party hopes to convince Go to accept and was still pushing for a Go-Duterte ticket.
Philippine presidents are limited by the 1987 Constitution to a single six-year term. At least two former presidents, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, have made successful runs for lower public offices after serving as president, but not for vice president.
If Duterte goes ahead with his run, it will likely face court challenges from the opposition, though the Supreme Court has strongly supported the president’s moves in the past.
Critics of Duterte say his bid for vice president is also an attempt to protect himself from possible prosecution by the International Criminal Court which has said it found reason to believe crimes against humanity have been committed during Duterte’s anti-drug crackdown.
Hours ahead of the convention, Sen. Panfilo Lacson of the Partido Reporma or Reform Party launched his candidacy for president, with Senate President Vicente Sotto III as his running mate. They vowed to give local governments more responsibility and to win back public trust in institutions.
Lacson lost his first bid for president to Arroyo in 2004.
A rival faction of PDP-Laban led by boxer and Senator Manny Pacquiao who has been touted as a possible presidential candidate, will hold its convention later this month.
Another familiar name who has suggested he might announce a bid for president is Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the ousted dictator whose government was infamous for corruption.
Rising reported from Bangkok.