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Philippine elections 2022

Philippine ruling party in turmoil as Duterte aide declines bid

Leader accepts nomination for vice president in 2022 election

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has accepted the ruling PDP-Laban Party's nomination to run for vice president in next year's election.   © Reuters

MANILA -- The Philippines' ruling PDP-Laban Party on Wednesday failed to secure its presidential candidate for next year's general election, throwing a succession plan for President Rodrigo Duterte into question.

Sen. Bong Go, Duterte's longtime personal aide, declined the nomination during the party's national convention, saying he is not interested in the country's top job. His boss Duterte accepted the nomination for vice president.

"No words can express my gratitude for your continued trust and confidence in my leadership and for nominating me as the party's official vice presidential candidate in the 2022 national elections," Duterte said.

Duterte is limited to a single six-year term as president under the constitution, and a successful bid for the vice presidency would let him retain power through the country's second-highest office.

Go's rejection of the nomination further complicates the state of the ruling party, which is grappling with infighting between a faction backed by Duterte and a group supportive of boxing icon Sen. Manny Pacquiao, who is also considering a run for president.

Pacquiao's group last month accused the rival faction, led by PDP-Laban president and Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, of using the Go-Duterte tandem as a "smokescreen for their real candidate" -- Davao Mayor Sara Duterte, the president's daughter, who has topped opinion polls but has yet to declare a bid.

Melvin Matibag, the ruling party's secretary-general and member of the pro-Duterte faction, told reporters after the convention that "we will continue to" urge Go to run until candidacies must be filed Oct. 1-8.

The party support highlights the rise of Go, who started as Duterte's executive and personal assistant in 1998. When Duterte came to power in 2016, Go was appointed special assistant to the president with a rank of secretary. In 2019, he placed third in a Senate race with 12 seats up for grabs, a victory helped by his ties to Duterte. Despite being elected to the legislature, Go remains a constant companion to the chief executive.

In a video after the PDP-Laban convention, Go asked party members to prioritize those interested in running.

"What is important is to find President Duterte a worthy running mate to continue change," Go said. "That is the continuity we aspire for."

The PDP-Laban faction loyal to Duterte also nominated an initial eight candidates for the senatorial race, where 12 seats -- half of the Senate's total -- will be contested next year.

Five of them serve in Duterte's cabinet and are required by election rules to quit their post upon filing as a candidate. They are Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar and presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.

Also on Wednesday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson and Senate President Tito Sotto announced their candidacies for president and vice president, respectively, becoming the first tandem to formally declare an intent to challenge Duterte's succession plans.

Lacson is a former police chief while Sotto is a former actor. Their campaign is centered on recovery from the pandemic. The Philippine economy shrank by a record 9.6% last year, the worst in Southeast Asia, due to prolonged lockdowns. The country is battling record infections driven by the delta variant of the coronavirus.

"Our first priority will be the firm response against the pandemic," Lacson said in a televised program announcing their bid. "We have to prepare for a sustainable recovery from this health crisis."

Other prospective candidates for president in the May 2022 election include opposition member and current Vice President Leni Robredo, former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. -- son of the late dictator -- and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno.

In the Philippines, the president and vice president are elected separately. Winners are determined by plurality, or the candidates with most votes.

Ella Hermonio contributed to this report.

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