MANILA (4th UPDATE) — President Rodrigo Duterte will no longer seek a Senate seat in the 2022 elections, the poll body said on Tuesday.
"The President has filed his withdrawal from the Senatorial elections," said Commission on Elections spokesman James Jimenez on Twitter.
Duterte personally went to the Comelec office in Manila, as seen in Jimenez's photo.
"The President believes that withdrawing from the senate race will allow him to better focus on managing our pandemic response in order to sustain the progress we have made in the country and in safely reopening the economy," said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles.
"He likewise views this as an opportunity to concentrate on efforts to ensure transparent, impartial, orderly and peaceful elections in May," Nograles, who serves as Duterte's acting spokesman, said in a statement.
The President "plans to retire from government to spend more time with his family when his term ends in June 2022," Nograles added.
Duterte, 76, is barred by the constitution from seeking re-election.
He earlier threatened to challenge his daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio in the vice presidential race. He said he was displeased by her decision to seek the No. 2 job after she led opinion surveys for the presidency.
But Duterte ended up registering as a substitute candidate for senator under the PDDS party or Pederalismo ng Dugong Dakilang Samahan, not his own party, the splintered PDP-Laban.
Duterte's withdrawal from the Senate race came hours after his close aide Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go formally dropped out of the presidential race, leaving the administration without an anointed successor.
Duterte earlier called his daughter's running-mate, former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., a "weak leader."
Marcos, whose candidacy is being challenged at the Comelec, is up against other presidential aspirants, including former boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, Vice President Leni Robredo, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso, and Sen. Panfilo Lacson. Most of them have also been the subject of Duterte's tirades.
The window for substitution of candidates who back out of the 2022 polls closed last Nov. 15.
Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes said it appeared that Go and Duterte's candidacies "were merely intended as leverage so that the outgoing regime can gain some concessions from other parties."
"Their withdrawal is not at all surprising given the Duterte regime's penchant for horse-trading and maneuvering," said the activist.
Lacson said Go and Duterte "have chosen peace as their path."
"Let’s give it to them and wish them well," he said on Twitter.
The withdrawal "is a wise move," added Lacson's running-mate Senate President Vicente Sotto III.
"It takes a wise man to sacrifice something that he loves and give way to others who can serve our country better," he said in a statement.
Pacquiao, meanwhile, said he was surprised by Duterte's decision to back out of the senatorial race but that he respects it.
"Nirerespeto natin ang desisyon nya. Ang bawat isa may desisyon, " Pacquiao said on the sidelines or his aid distribution activity at the Mati Cultural Center in Davao Oriental.
(We respect his decision. Each of us is free to make our own decisions.)
Pacquiao said that although there are times he would criticize Duterte, he is supportive of his administration's programs to develop Mindanao. The two were previously close allies.
Meanwhile, Partido Lakas ng Masa presidential hopeful Leody De Guzman said that people should not be carried away with the ongoing “telenovela” of the Duterte family.
“Tiyak marami na namang susulpot na spekulasyon kung bakit inatras ni Duterte ang kaniyang kandidatura. Ang mahalaga ay ‘wag tayo magpalito o magpadala sa kanilang telenovela,” De Guzman told reporters.
(Surely there will be many more speculations as to why Duterte withdrew his candidacy. The important thing is let’s not get confused or be carried away in their telenovela,” he said.
'Tamang umatras siya'
Sen. Richard Gordon, who has been engaged in a word war with Duterte after the former's committee probed alleged anomalies in the government's procurement of items since last year to battle the pandemic, said the chief executive did the right thing by backing out of the senatorial race.
"Tama lang na umatras na siya sapagkat I think siya mismo nakita na kung anong klaseng liderato niya," said Gordon.
(It's only right that he withdrew because I think he already saw for himself the kind of leadership he has.)
"Naghahanap ng butas na papasukan si Duterte. Nilalaro niya yung bayan. Wala nang partidong namimili. Yung pamilya niya na napipilit; dadalhin si Bong Go, dadalhin si Sara Duterte. Walang masama dun pero dapat meron tayo talagang plataporma, meron tayong mga prinsipyo na pinapairal natin sa bayan. At hindi pwedeng one-man rule," he added.
(He is just looking for a hole he could fit in. They were toying with the public. They are trying to drag Go, drag Sara Durterte into the race. There's nothing wrong with that of course, but they should have a platform, we should be guided by our principles. This shouldn't be a one-man rule.)
Gordon heads the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee which is investigating the government's deal with Pharmally Pharmaceutical Inc. He dragged Duterte into what he says is a "grand conspiracy", saying "The President allowed his friends to bleed this nation’s coffers dry".
Domagoso's camp, meanwhile, said it would have wanted to see how Duterte worked as a lawmaker.
"I am a little sad that he (Duterte) could have contributed his knowledge as an executive to legislation," Aksyon Demokratiko campaign manager Lito Banayo told ABS-CBN News on the sidelines of Aksyon Demokratiko's pre-campaign event here.
"Sayang din (It's regretful), but we wish him well."
Since November, Banayo, a veteran publicist who helped Duterte win the 2016 presidential elections, has been saying that the chief executive is unlikely to proceed with his Senate bid.
"Having reached the presidency, it does not seem logical that he will run for senator," he said.
"Palagay ko talagang gusto na niya mag-retire. Palagay ko gusto niya lang samahan si Bong Go, but when Bong Go withdrew, nag-withdraw na din siya."
(I think he really wanted to retire. I think he just wanted to accompany Bong Go, but when Bong Go withdrew, he withdrew as well.)
When asked about the chances of Domagoso bagging the incumbent chief executive's endorsement, Banayo said: "I don’t really know but I think si Mayor Isko is more compatible sa kaniya kung tutuusin mo compared to the other candidates."
Duterte earlier mocked an unnamed Metro Manila mayor for posing in his underwear, saying this kind of mayor cannot efficiently lead a city.
Domagoso is the lone Metro Manila mayor who worked as a matinee and sexy star in the 1990s.
The Manila Mayor shrugged off Duterte's comments, saying he would welcome any help from the President.
The Palace has refused to comment on the possibility of Duterte backing Domagoso's 2022 presidential bid.