Three weeks before the start of the campaign period, it appears no presidential aspirant would be able to clinch a direct endorsement from President Rodrigo Duterte.
The Chief Executive vowed to stay neutral after his PDP Laban had failed to field its own candidates for the top two posts.
It may include former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., who is running as president with Duterte’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, as his running mate for vice president.
Three people within Duterte’s inner circle said they have not heard of the President welcoming any dialogue with the aspirants.
The campaign period starts on 8 February, where the “aspirants” become “official candidates” and it is crucial for any of them to clinch a presidential anointment, especially from Duterte who still enjoys high ratings in popularity and acceptance.
“The PDP Laban sought for an extension of the substitution period, but it was denied. Had they allowed an extension, most likely, the President will field his candidate,” said Salvador Panelo, Duterte’s former spokesperson and chief legal counsel who is running for the Senate under the ruling party.
His confidante and longtime aide Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go had backed out of the presidential race.
Although Marcos is leading pre-election surveys on the Filipinos’ preferred presidential aspirants, some believe that he would still need Duterte’s endorsement to secure victory in the 9 May 2022 elections.
“Quite frankly, he would still need one. The election is still far away, and we don’t know what the opposition will do next,” said Harry Roque, also a former spokesman of Duterte who is seeking a Senate seat under the BBM-Sara slate. “Presidential endorsement would have achieved 70 to 80 percent of the votes.”
Panelo, meanwhile, disclosed that the Philippine leader turned down requests of other aspirants to speak to him, in keeping with his word that his administration will be “neutral” in the upcoming elections.
“I spoke with him last night because there is one aspirant who wanted to speak with him,” Panelo told Tribune without disclosing the identity of the said aspirant.
“The President said, ‘Tell them that I’ve already made a statement that I will be neutral in the elections and if I will speak with them, I will be going against my own statement,” he added.
Panelo also said that he was “certain that there are other aspirants — presidential aspirants even — who conveyed through their friends” their desire to speak with the President.
“If I am a candidate and I know that the very popular President, who has high trust and approval ratings, has no candidate yet, I would want to speak with him, too, and get him on my side,” he said.
A Pulse Asia survey conducted in December last year showed that Duterte had a 72-percent approval rating, higher than those of his predecessors at a time when he was about to leave the Palace.
Recognizing the power of a presidential endorsement, presidential adviser for political affairs Jacinto “Jing” Paras said he wanted to warn Duterte against “Greeks bearing gifts.”
He was referring to Palace hopefuls who criticized some of the administration’s policies, and even Duterte’s style of governance, but suddenly strike a cordial tune towards the Chief Executive.
“As a presidential adviser, I would call on the President to beware of Greeks bearing gifts because some of the aspirants had said a lot about him and made a sudden turnaround, begging for his endorsement,” Paras said in a separate interview with the Tribune. “Maybe, they will be the bearers of Helen of Troy.”
In all but one election since the 1986 uprising, only Corazon Aquino got her preferred successor elected to the presidency. Fidel Ramos won in 1992 via plurality vote, beating six other candidates with 23 percent of the ballots.
Since then, all presidential aspirants who relied on the advantage of the administration fell short.