'Run Sara Run': Clamour grows for Duterte daughter's presidential bid

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his daughter, Ms Sara Duterte-Carpio, at the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference in 2018. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP) - Philippine "first daughter" Sara Duterte-Carpio has been in lockstep with her father, following him into law and succeeding him as a city mayor. Now, she is leading the race to replace Mr Rodrigo Duterte as president.

So far, the feisty politician, who once punched a court sheriff in front of TV cameras, has rejected calls to seek the country's highest office, insisting that she wants to serve another term as Davao city mayor.

Supporters have plastered "Run Sara Run" posters and tarpaulins across the archipelago nation, held rallies and posted thousands of messages urging the 43-year-old to change her mind.

In a cryptic Facebook post on Saturday (Oct 9) - the day after the deadline for registering as a candidate - Ms Duterte-Carpio thanked supporters who turned up at the Manila registration site for national positions, including president.

"Although I was not at the Sofitel (hotel), you did not lose hope and patience during the wait," she said, hours before her office announced she had tested positive for Covid-19. "For this, I offer my heartfelt thanks."

The elder Duterte has not named a successor, but indicated recently that Ms Duterte-Carpio would run alongside his long-time aide, Senator Christopher "Bong" Go.

While Ms Duterte-Carpio missed Friday's closing date, analysts say she has until Nov 15 to make a late entry into the presidential race - like her father did in 2015.

Ms Duterte-Carpio, known for her quick temper and fondness for big motorbikes, was in first place in the latest Pulse Asia poll of voter preferences for president.

She was followed by Mr Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son and namesake of a former dictator, celebrity mayor Francisco Domagoso and boxing legend Manny Pacquiao.

All except Ms Duterte-Carpio have declared that they will run for the top job.

Not a proxy

Ms Duterte-Carpio entered politics in 2007, serving three years as vice-mayor while her father was mayor of Davao - the family stronghold on the southern island of Mindanao.

They swopped positions for the next three years and she again succeeded him as mayor in 2016 when he won the presidency.

Some doubt Ms Duterte-Carpio's support in the polls will translate into election victory, saying that she lacks the charisma and humour of her father - key traits in a country where personality trumps policy.

"She's drawing strength because she's the daughter of the President," Pulse Asia research director Ana Maria Tabunda told AFP.

Analysts say Ms Duterte-Carpio is not a carbon copy of her father, who surveys show remains almost as popular as when he swept to victory in 2016 on a promise to rid the country of drugs.

She lacks his "folksiness" and that could hurt her appeal, said political analyst Tony La Vina.

"She is more distant and she is not warm," Mr La Vina added. "I suspect her lead will evaporate during the campaign as she will not rise up to the charm of the father."

Ms Duterte-Carpio would be a more moderate version of Mr Duterte, who gained infamy for his foul-mouthed tirades and deadly drug war that has killed thousands of people and is now being investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

"I don't think Sara Duterte will be a puppet or proxy of her father," said political analyst Richard Heydarian. "She's a very spirited person, she has her own mind, she has her own base, she has her own team and has a very different approach to governance."

Ms Duterte-Carpio would "try to strike her own course" on policies, including the anti-narcotics crackdown and relations with superpowers China and the United States, Mr Heydarian added.

Mr Duterte previously warned his daughter against running for president, saying the job was "not for women".

After he declared in August that he would seek the vice-presidency, Ms Duterte-Carpio said she would not run because of an agreement that only one family member would contest a national post.

Mr Duterte later changed his mind and announced he was retiring from politics, paving the way for his daughter's potential entry into the presidential race.

'I am a rape victim'

While there has been friction between the pair, analysts say Ms Duterte-Carpio would likely protect her father from criminal charges in the Philippines and ICC prosecutors.

"She may not like him very much... (but) he's still family and if you can't take care of your father, no one is going to trust you," said a long-time observer.

Ms Duterte-Carpio - a married mother of three children nicknamed Sharkie, Stingray and Stonefish - has acted as first lady on some of Mr Duterte's official trips overseas.

She defended him on the 2016 campaign trail after he sparked international outcry after joking about an Australian missionary who was raped and killed.

She disclosed in a since-deleted Instagram post: "Not a joke. I am a rape victim. But I will still vote for President Rodrigo Duterte."

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