MANILA— President Rodrigo Duterte is focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, Malacañang said on Friday, after the Chief Executive floated possible candidates in the 2022 elections.
In a speech on Thursday, Duterte said his former longtime aide Sen. Christopher Go wants to be President. Duterte also said his chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo "would make a good senator someday."
Duterte's comment on Go was a joke, said Palace spokesman Harry Roque. The senator made the same statement on Thursday.
"Palagi naman pong nagbibiro ang Presidente para merong light moment," said Roque.
(The President is always joking so that there is a light moment.)
"Nakatutok ang Presidente dito sa ating pagbabakuna... Ang primary thrust pa rin ng gobyerno is this pandemic," he added.
(The President is focused on our vaccination... The primary thrust of the government is still this pandemic.)
All members of the Duterte Cabinet, he said, "were given the mandate to go and support the vaccination program of the government."
Duterte's remarks came on the same day news broke that his party, PDP-Laban, was asking him to run for Vice President in 2022, when his term as chief executive ends.
Go belongs to the same party.
Duterte, in a speech last week, called Go "President," seemingly in jest.
Go, whose term in the Senate lasts until 2025, said the President's latest comment was just a joke.
"Salamat po sa tiwala pero alam naman po ng Pangulo na hindi talaga ako interesado. Biro lang ng Pangulo iyon," he said in a statement.
(Thank you for the trust, but the President knows that I'm really not interested. That just a joke of the President.)
However, Go said, "Magbabago lang siguro ang isip ko kung tatakbong Vice President si Pangulong Duterte."
(My mind might only change is President Duterte will run as vice president.)
Duterte campaigned for Go during the 2019 Senate race that saw the defeat of all candidates from the opposition slate Otso Diretso.
The Senate neophyte went straight to a national position on his first election bid. While now a lawmaker, he continues to be seen on the President's side in his official events.
Go also features prominently on state TV's Laging Handa briefing, the only lawmaker with regular appearances there.
Recently, he was the one who made major announcements related to the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in the country, ahead of confirmations by the vaccine czar himself.
The Chief Executive has said in multiple occasions that his daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio would not seek to succeed him in the 2022 elections.
Duterte said women are not fit to be President.
He also said Vice President Leni Robredo can't be Chief Executive, though she has not revealed plans for the 2022 race. Robredo is the leader of the opposition.
The President's spokesman Harry Roque, meanwhile, accused Robredo of politicking, an allegation that her spokesman Barry Gutierrez fired back at Duterte's allies.