Sara Duterte joins Arroyo's political party in prelude to running for Philippine president

Sara Duterte-Carpio (centre) being sworn in as a member of former president Gloria Arroyo's political party Lakas (Strength). PHOTO: COURTESY OF REPRESENTATIVE MARTIN ROMUALDEZ

MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte's daughter and political heir on Thursday (Nov 11) bolted from the powerful coalition she had led since 2019 in what could be a prelude to her own run for the presidency or vice-presidency under the wings of former president Gloria Arroyo.

In a handwritten note, Ms Sara Duterte-Carpio said she was resigning as chairman of Hugpong ng Pagbabago (Caucus for Change).

"My support will always be with you, and I will always be grateful for all the things you have taught me," she said.

Later in the day, she was sworn in as a cadre of Mrs Arroyo's political party, Lakas (Strength).

"I am confident that with Mayor Sara's exceptional brand of leadership, she can help our party chart a new course that will ensure a brighter tomorrow for our children and the next generation," said Lakas president Martin Romualdez.

Ms Duterte-Carpio, 43, resigned from Hugpong even as she was meeting Mrs Arroyo, 74, and a large contingent of politicians from Lakas at a posh, members-only island resort 100km east of the capital Manila.

Her decision to leave Hugpong is seen as politically expedient. She cannot run under Hugpong because the coalition, being a regional party, cannot - and did not - field candidates for president and vice-president. It can field candidates only for local posts like mayor, governor and congressman.

But Ms Duterte-Carpio can run for president under Lakas because the party has a "placeholder candidate" she can replace.

The election commission allows parties to "substitute" the candidates they fielded last month with new candidates by next Monday.

Lakas had nominated an obscure politician to be its candidate for president, and Ms Duterte-Carpio is now expected to take the place of that candidate.

If she decides to run for president, it will set her against former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the 64-year-old son and namesake of the late dictator whom she has said she is seeking an alliance with.

For months, Ms Duterte-Caprio has denied she has any interest in succeeding her father as president. Her political future for a while seemed destined to end in Davao City, with her serving three more years as mayor.

She registered to run for re-election as Davao mayor last month, insisting that the last thing she wanted was to be in the middle of a long, gruelling national campaign.

She also fuelled talk that she was throwing her support behind Mr Marcos after she called on her Hugpong supporters to aid his campaign.

But, on Tuesday (Nov 9), she suddenly announced that she was withdrawing her candidacy for mayor without specifying her future plans.

Then came her meeting with Mrs Arroyo and resignation from Hugpong on Thursday.

Ms Sara Duterte-Carpio said she was resigning as chairman of Hugpong ng Pagbabago (Caucus for Change). PHOTO: REUTERS

Throughout this week, rumours were rife that Mr Duterte's camp was pressuring Mr Marcos to step down and run instead for vice-president under Ms Duterte-Carpio because his chances were weakened by a disqualification case filed against him.

Lawyers from an opposing political coalition have asked the polls commission to cancel Mr Marcos' certificate of candidacy on account of a previous conviction for tax evasion.

But Mr Marcos is unlikely to cave, sources say.

He continues to top surveys for president, sans Ms Duterte-Carpio. But his strength in the polls come partly from Mr Duterte's own followers, pundits say.

With Ms Duterte-Carpio throwing her hat in the ring, his standing would be further weakened.

But a joint ticket will stack the odds for both.

"Whether the final configuration would be a Marcos-Duterte or a Duterte-Marcos tandem, it would be a formidable force propelled by Duterte's command votes and Marcos' bulging war chest," said political commentator Federico Pascual.

Ms Duterte-Carpio has led opinion polls throughout this year as the most preferred candidate for president.

The Philippines will go to the polls in May 2022 to elect a president, vice-president, governors, mayors and local officials.

Mr Duterte, 76, cannot seek a second term under the Constitution, and plans to retire.

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