Last week, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte once again made headlines after claiming that he is willing to quit if the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos succeeds in becoming vice president and his constitutional successor.
According to Duterte’s spokesperson, Harry Roque, the president has expressed a “real, genuine wish to step down” if a qualified leader like Ferdinand Marcos Jr was able to replace him.
This is not the first time Duterte has spoken about quitting. Over the past few years he has made several statements about quitting on numerous occasions. In a speech delivered on 14 August, Duterte remarked that he would “step down and retire” if “the military and the police find the right successor.”
In July, Duterte implied that he would resign once a new constitution is implemented, which will see a federal shift in the national government. “Make me stop being president during the transition. In other words, elect a president before you make the transition from unitary to federal,” Duterte said in his speech.
During other times, Duterte has joked about leaving office. Once he told the media that he would quit if anyone could prove to him that God exists. Earlier this year, he said he would quit if enough women protested against his kissing a married Filipino woman during an official trip to South Korea.
Duterte’s reign as president began in 2016, when he surprised the nation by winning the elections with a landslide, gaining more than six million votes than his closest rival. His presidency has been defined by his administration’s war on drugs which has resulted in more than 4,000 casualties to date.
Despite the popularity of Duterte’s war on drugs amongst locals, the campaign has been widely criticised by human rights organisations. In February 2018, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague announced a "preliminary examination" into killings linked to the war on drugs.
Duterte’s constant hints at leaving office have even fuelled speculation that he is in ill-health. Speculation on his health aside, the question now is, should Duterte resign, who would be his successor?
A question of succession
Legally, if Duterte were to resign before his term in office ends, incumbent Vice President Leni Robredo would assume the national leadership. However, it is unlikely Duterte would let this happen.
Leni Robredo, the leader of the opposition Liberal Party, was elected vice president in 2016 after narrowly defeating Marcos Jr. However, Duterte has stated publicly that he would not want Leni Robredo to become president. Duterte claimed that she was “incompetent” and “not capable of running a country like the Philippines.”
At the moment, only Marcos Jr has received Duterte’s approval for succession. Marcos Jr is currently awaiting the decision from the courts following his challenge of the results of the vice-presidential elections in 2016.
“If there’s development and (Marcos Jr) wins the protest and he becomes the vice president, yes, (Duterte) will make true his word,” said Harry Roque at a press briefing last week.
However, if this were the case, it could sow seeds of dissatisfaction amongst Filipinos.
Marcos Jr’s father, Ferdinand Marcos left a bloody legacy in the Philippines. According to historian Alfred McCoy, as many as 3,257 people were murdered, 35,000 tortured, and 70,000 illegally detained under his regime. Retribution came soon in 1986, when Filipinos launched the People Power Revolution to overthrow President Marcos.
Duterte himself has had a close relationship with the Marcos family. In November 2016, he played a role in giving Marcos a hero’s burial, complete with 21-gun salute. Duterte’s actions drew flak from Filipinos with young Filipinos protesting his move for weeks.
Despite all the talk, there are also those of the opinion that this is just one of Duterte’s many erratic moments and he could just go on and contest the presidency in 2022. If that were the case, it is likely that Marco Jr would run for vice-president, allowing him to be in the running to become the president if he wins.
The return of the Marcos family to the country’s highest office could prove to be dangerous. It would further divide the Filipino people and it is likely that Marcos Jr would continue some of Duterte's worst policies.