"All eyes are on Inday Sara Zimmerman Duterte."
For the first time in Philippine political history, the daughter of an incumbent president is seen as a highly probable successor, or so the tale of the surveys indicate.
Inday Sara Zimmerman Duterte, mayor of Davao City, former vice-mayor to her father who served as mayor of the southern capital for the longest time before getting himself elected to the presidency in 2016, is now being primed as successor to the father in the forthcoming election of 2022.
She is now serving her second three-year term out of a possible round of nine years, and could opt to run again for mayor, which hardly anyone in her city would dare challenge.
But supporters of the Duterte brand, loyalists of one of the most popular presidents in contemporary Philippine politics, are egging the daughter to succeed her father.
Continuity is their battle cry, and as early as the beginning of the year, clamor has been shown by posters and calendars being distributed emblazoned with the words “Run, Sara, Run.”
A caravan of white vans recently toured the northern provinces of Luzon, organized by supporters in red, white and blue t-shirts proclaiming themselves as “Inday Sara Duterte Ako” or ISDA, part of the effort to convince the president’s daughter and feisty mayor to throw her hat into the electoral ring for 2022.
Billboards and tarpaulins have sprouted in many places, including the national capital region, asking her to run, some of them with the sub-text “SaMa tayo sa Pagbangon.” The sub-text suggests a tandem, whether Sara-Mark, as in DPWH Secretary Mark Vilar, or even Sara-Manny as in the Pacman. Although the latter at first glance seems to defy traditional geographic balance, both being from Southern Mindanao, the nationwide awareness of the Pacman as “Pambansang Kamao” cuts through all regions.
Her toughness is vivified in resurrected video clips of her dealing strong punches at a court sheriff who ejected squatters despite her orders during her first term as mayor of Davao. Her political skill was demonstrated when she “ejected” Davaoeno Pantaleon D. Alvarez from his seemingly secure perch as speaker of the HoR on SONA day itself in 2018. That has left an open wound in her relations with one of the president’s original staunch supporters.
There has been speculation last year about a Sara-Bongbong tandem, a geographically balanced team from the deep south and the extreme north. Solid Mindanao plus Solid North. But the very recent unanimous Supreme Court ruling against the son of Ferdinand Marcos would make a team-up unlikely, despite the fact that Mayor Inday Sara’s husband, lawyer Mans Carpio, is from the same province as the Marcoses, the same town even—Paoay.
The recent Facebook page float of former DND Secretary Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro has likewise fueled speculations that he might be looking at a vice-presidential run, in a team-up with Inday Sara.
The mayor however quashes these seemingly orchestrated initiatives for her to run as balderdash, even to the extent of stating that she is a possible candidate for president far into the future, “2034 if at that time there is something I can do to help the country.” And two weeks back, she even warned against scammers soliciting funds for her presidential run.
One has to consider that she is a doting mother with young kids, and although at 42 she is constitutionally qualified, as a mother, her children’s well-being and motherly care must naturally be an important consideration, despite the responsibilities of public service as mayor of the country’s largest city by area.
Maybe this is one reason why President Duterte himself has been saying, publicly and privately, that he does not approve of his daughter being his elected successor. “She is my daughter. I want to spare her from the burdens of highest office,” he reiterated in a recent closed-door meeting with his original political supporters.
So without the President’s go ahead, where is the clamor coming from, and who are orchestrating the same?
No less than the presidential legal counsel has publicly sponsored a Duterte-Duterte tandem in 2022, with the president himself running as his daughter’s vice-president. While there is no legal or constitutional bar to that, it is not likely that the president would agree. Mindful of his place in history, Rodrigo Roa Duterte is not one to bite into a political experiment that smacks of dynastic perpetuation on a national scale. That it happened in Davao City and in other local government units does not automatically mean you can juxtapose the same upon the entire nation.
In 2014, a ragtag team of barangay officials from Davao City started a movement to persuade their city mayor to run for president. They called themselves the MRRD, or Movement for Rodrigo Roa Duterte. The times called for a strong leader who possessed the political will to effect profound changes in the ailing body politic. By early 2015, they were joined by a motley group of non-Davaoenos, from Manila, Cebu, Zamboanga, Bacolod, Quezon, even the Ilocos, who felt that Duterte was the right answer for the call of the times.
The rest is history. Despite bouts of hemming and hawing, Duterte finally answered the genuine clamor, and sneaking from behind with calculated yet stealthy purpose, he triumphed big-time against known brands as Roxas, Poe and Binay.
Can the tactical template of 2015 be replicated in 2021?
Street smart Filipinos would smugly snicker—“bumenta na iyan.”What worked in 2015 until 2016 may not be replicable this time around.
Yet, the incumbent is highly popular, and survey after survey measuring performance approval and trust have been unprecedentedly high through the past four years and a half. This gives encouragement to the Inday Sara supporters to ask her to run, and be the immediate successor of her father.
Indeed, early surveys indicate an overwhelming support for her in Mindanao, as high as 57 percent. But the numbers differ in NCR and balance Luzon, and although she is leading among the Cebuano-speaking provinces, the Ilonggo votes which remained faithful to native son Mar Roxas in 2016, remain aloof.
Over-all, the similar tale of many surveys give her a lead of some 5 to 7 points over Isko Moreno of Manila and come-backing Bongbong Marcos of the Ilocos. Though Manny Pacquiao is still farther off in the race, he seems to be determined, answering what he privately describes as a calling from the heavens. There is the incumbent vice-president, Leni Robredo. And Ping Lacson, who seems determined to go for the top post after three terms as senator. Count in Grace Poe who shows no sign of interest yet, and of course former speaker Alan Cayetano. And others who keenly await the crucial numbers by mid-year.
And then there is Bong Go, the assistant who has become senator and spearheads a nationwide Malasakit program, whose supporters also press upon him to go for the presidency if the incumbent does not indeed and at the end, allow the daughter to run.
All eyes are on the presidential daughter. If she declares, there are likely to be fewer contestants to the throne that her father will vacate come June 30, 2022. In the last presidential elections, five serious contenders vied; in previous elections, as many as seven or eight.
Even as the nation awaits the roll-out of the vaccine, the political pot simmers.