When Sara’s politics departs from her father’s: Boon or bane?

Pia Ranada

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When Sara’s politics departs from her father’s: Boon or bane?

Maria Tan

In 5 cities in Metro Manila, Sara Duterte endorses local candidates different from those endorsed by her father's political party. She's flexing political muscle but how will two competing Duterte endorsements affect local polls?

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential daughter Sara Duterte devoted the last week of February and first week of March to parading her 13 senatorial candidates around the nation’s capital of Metro Manila and the nearby provinces of Rizal and Cavite. 

It was part of Hugpong ng Pagbabago’s (HNP) planned conquest of Luzon, the first destination of their 110-event campaign caravan.

But what set the Greater Metro Manila rallies apart was how Inday Sara proved willing to endorse local candidates different from those of her father’s.

In 5 cities, she showed her support for local candidates from the national parties which her party, HNP, had forged alliances with. These candidates were the rivals of Duterte’s own candidates, who were running under the banner of his party, PDP-Laban.

City HNP-supported candidate PDP-Laban candidate
San Juan City Janella Ejercito Francis Zamora
Manila Joseph Estrada Alfredo Lim
Quezon City Joy Belmonte Vincent Crisologo
Pasay City Chet Cuneta Imelda Calixto Rubiano, Edward Togonon
Taguig City Lino Cayetano Arnel Cerafica


San Juan City

In San Juan City, Sara raised the hands of Janella Ejercito, granddaughter of Manila Mayor and former president Joseph Estrada. Ejercito is running for San Juan mayor under Estrada’s party, Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP). She is also the daughter of one of Sara’s senatorial bets, Jinggoy Estrada. 

Duterte’s choice of San Juan mayoral candidate is different from her father’s. In another event, President Duterte raised the hands of Francis Zamora, a PDP-Laban officer who is the incumbent San Juan vice mayor. 

Zamora is somewhat of a dark horse because the Ejercito-Estrada clans have dominated San Juan for 5 decades.


In the country’s old capital, Sara again made good on her alliance with PMP by supporting mayoral candidate, incumbent mayor Joseph Estrada. Estrada’s nemesis is former mayor Alfredo Lim, PDP-Laban’s candidate.

Quezon City

A day later, Sara was inside Amoranto Stadium to endorse the Quezon City mayoral bid of Joy Belmonte. One of Belmonte’s rivals is QC 1st District Representative Vincent Crisologo, fielded by her father’s PDP-Laban.

There’s some bad blood there as Belmonte, back in May 2017, had switched to PDP-Laban from the now opposition Liberal Party – ostensibly to get the President’s valuable endorsement. But PDP-Laban went with Crisologo instead.  

But more than a year later, in August 2018, Belmonte found another way to shine under a Duterte glow – by having her party, Serbisyo sa Bayan Party (SBP), sign an alliance with Sara’s HNP.

Pasay City

In Pasay City, Sara and HNP candidates were hosted by mayoral candidate Cesar Joseph “Chet” Cuneta, who is running against PDP-Laban candidates Imelda Calixto Rubiano (currently Pasay City representative) and Edward Togonon (Manila City prosecutor). 

Taguig City

In Taguig City, Sara hitched her wagon to that of the Cayetanos who are also allies of her father but who belong to a different political party, Nacionalista Party (NP). 

Sara and HNP were hosted there by Mayor Lani Cayetano, wife of Alan Peter Cayetano, Duterte’s former running mate and former foreign secretary. It was a show of support for the family’s mayoral bet, Lino, Alan’s younger brother. Of course, we can’t forget that their sister, Pia, is one of HNP’s senatorial candidates. 

But among Lino Cayetano’s rivals for the top Taguig post is a PDP-Laban candidate, incumbent Taguig-Pateros Representative Arnel Cerafica. 

Not a puppet

These differences in the politics of the country’s most powerful father-daughter tandem burnish Sara’s image. 

Already armed with her father’s heavy political clout and popularity, she nevertheless shows an independence that projects a certain level of strength and political muscle.

“Sara Duterte’s own magic has something to do with she being able to successfully project the image that she might be her father’s daughter but she is not a puppet of her father,” said University of the Philippines political science professor Aries Arugay.

But these endorsements of rival local bets are also an age-old trick in Philippine politics – hedging.

By supporting different candidates vying for the same post, the Dutertes are ensuring higher chances of their candidates getting elected. 

Allies in local posts are critical for the next elections in 2022.

“If they just endorse one without any deep knowledge of the local political dynamics in that area, it could hurt them locally so I think if you have situations where you have President Duterte endorsing one and Sara is endorsing another, it’s more like something that has been done by other political dynasties –they’re hedging their bets locally,” said Arugay.

Boon or bane?

But this could lead to mixed results for the local candidates. 

On one hand, it could be confusing, especially for voters in the local elections. If there are die-hard Duterte supporters who will vote for the candidate with Duterte’s blessing, they would likely ask themselves, who is the real Duterte candidate? 

Sara is often seen as the President’s “proxy,” given how highly the Chief Executive speaks of her. Will her endorsement carry more weight than her father’s? 

Sara also takes the time to be physically present in these city-wide sorties, whereas her father attends much fewer PDP-Laban rallies. She’s been present at 26 rallies compared to her father’s 5.

So most of the time, the local bets under PDP-Laban are counting on their association with the President’s political party, and maybe their photos with him doing the fist bump, whereas their rivals with Sara’s endorsement actually get to be seen onstage with her.

In the end, the two Duterte endorsements might not make any difference.

In that case, the local candidates’ personal network and resources, and local dynamics will play a larger role in determining who wins in May.

Hottest ticket

But what Sara’s departure from her father does is help non-PDP-Laban candidates benefit from association with a Duterte, even without joining the “ruling party.”

Now, you don’t have to get mixed in with PDP-Laban if you want the Duterte sparkle to rub off on you. You could just support Sara and company.

This surely robs PDP-Laban of many opportunities and affirms the personality-driven nature of Philippine politics. It’s not links to any political party you should gun for, but warm ties with the popular politician or political tandem, and it’s now the Digong-Sara tandem that is the hottest ticket.

Certainly, the opposing politics of Sara and her father’s party have caused some irritations. When Maguindanao congressman Dong Mangudadatu’s face went missing from an HNP banner at the QC rally hosted by Belmonte, he was quick to blame the QC mayoral candidate and her ill will toward PDP-Laban.

Mangudadatu is good friends with Belmonte’s rival for QC mayor, the PDP-Laban candidate Crisologo. Crisologo got the PDP-Laban endorsement over Belmonte.

For Arugay, the 2019 elections are a coming-out of sorts for Sara. The campaign will test her and her political savvy. Already, her own 2022 presidential run is being encouraged during HNP sorties, something she tries to tone down but does not stop. 

“In other words, 2019 is really all about 2022,” said Arugay.

If so, the Dutertes prove they are typical of Philippine politics – rather than the norm-breaking harbinger of “true change.”

From the Marcoses, to the Aquinos, to the Roxases, children of political parents inevitably make their way onto the political stage. The only difference is the way they do it and how near or far they leave their parent’s shadow. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.