MANILA — People who are skeptical of President Rodrigo Duterte's announcement he was retiring from politics should just wait for the deadlines for candidacy filing and substitution for the 2022 elections, his spokesman said on Monday.
Duterte announced his retirement on Saturday as he accompanied his longtime aide Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go to register his candidacy for vice president.
The President, 76, had been expected to run for the No. 2 job, a plan most Filipinos oppose as violating the spirit of the constitution, which sets a one-term limit for the president to stop power being abused.
"Bakit naman tayo magdududa kung sinabi na ni Presidente ‘yan?" said Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque. "Basta ang sabi ni Presidente, he is retiring. Let’s leave it at that."
(Why will you doubt it when the President has said that. The President has said he is retiring. Let’s leave it at that.)
"Kung talagang may nagdududa, eh hintayin na lang natin ang Oktubre a-otso para malaman natin kung anong plano ni Presidente," he said, referring to the deadline for filing of certificates of candidacy.
(If there are cynics, let us just wait for Oct. 8 to find out the President's plan.)
"At kung mayroon pa ring duda, hintayin natin ang November 15 kasi iyon po iyong deadline para sa substitute. Wala na po akong assurance na maibibigay doon sa talagang gustong magduda," Roque continued.
(And if there is still doubt, let us wait for Nov. 15 because that is the deadline for substitution. I can give no other assurance to those who really want to doubt.)
Skeptical political analysts note last-minute changes were still possible, as in 2015, when Duterte entered the presidential election race at the eleventh hour and won by a huge margin.
Analysts say it is crucial for Duterte to have a loyal successor to insulate him from potential legal action - at home or by the International Criminal Court - over the thousands of state killings in his war on drugs since 2016.
"I would take his announcement with a lot of salt," Carlos Conde, Philippines researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, told Reuters. "But assuming that he's really going to retire, that doesn't mean he won't get the protection from the ICC that he craves."
Activist and human rights lawyer Neri Colmenares also viewed Duterte's announcement skeptically, saying "he will still dictate (to) his political machinery."
"Unfortunately for him, he will not be spared from accountability. Retirement from politics will not save him from a prison sentence," said Colmenares, who is also providing legal assistance to drug war victims.
Authorities have killed more than 6,100 suspected drug dealers and users since Duterte took office in June 2016. Rights groups say the police summarily executed suspects, which the police deny, saying they acted in self-defense during sting operations.
'ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN'
Political observers had long suspected Duterte could spring a surprise, such as a presidential bid by his Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio daughter next year.
Her re-election filing, shortly after her father announced his retirement, did little to douse speculation she has her eye on the presidency.
Mar Masanguid, who backed Duterte's 2016 run and has now founded a group to back Duterte-Carpio, said the signs still pointed to a run, which would mirror her father's last minute bid in 2016.
"In politics, anything can happen," he said.
Duterte-Carpio has topped opinion surveys on prospective candidates, but said last month she was not a candidate for higher office next year because she and her father had agreed only one of them would run for a national role in 2022.
The older Duterte's decision not to join the race next year would clear her way.
"This allows Sara Duterte to run," said Antonio La Vina, professor of law and politics at the Ateneo de Manila University. "She sees through the father's scheme or it is a drama to confuse everyone."
But La Vina said he could not rule out the possibility the firebrand leader might have a change of heart and be Go's substitute.
— With a report from Karen Lema, Reuters