Duterte family

2025 in the air: Revisiting the guessing game the Dutertes put up every election cycle

Dwight de Leon

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2025 in the air: Revisiting the guessing game the Dutertes put up every election cycle

RUNNING GAME. Then-president Rodrigo Duterte and then-Davao City mayor Sara Duterte during a Hugpong ng Pagbabago campaign sortie on May 10, 2019.

Richard Madelo/Presidential Photo

The father-and-daughter Duterte duo flirt with the idea of running in the 2025 polls. It's the same charade they put up in past elections.

MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Sara Duterte surprised the public on Monday, January 22, when she said in a speech in her hometown that she will run in the next election.

That statement was odd for numerous reasons. First, Sara is the country’s second highest leader, whose term of office won’t expire until 2028. Second, she ran for vice president as the other half of the tandem with now-President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and she still remains part of his Cabinet despite apparent cracks within the administration.

Seeking whatever elective seat in 2025 means giving up the vice presidency.

Sara later insisted she was misinterpreted, and that the confusion stemmed from the splicing of her soundbite. Even so, her office has yet to provide a copy of the full transcript of her speech.

This is not the first time the Vice President has kept the public guessing about her election plans, and it’s the kind of optics that her father – former president Rodrigo Duterte – projected in the run-up to past election seasons.

“The Dutertes have always been that way, ever since they ran for mayor or president,” former presidential political adviser Ronald Llamas told Rappler on January 26. “They would say they won’t run, but end up running.”

“This is not new to me, because you don’t take them at face value,” he added.

2016 polls

In 2015, before he formally threw his hat into the ring for the 2016 presidential election, the older Duterte kept his supporters on edge about his plans.

Rodrigo started a “listening tour” in January that year, traveling all over the country to discuss his dream of a federalist Philippines. In those engagements, he said he had no presidential aspirations, but in the same breath outlined his national agenda if ever he made a bid for Malacañang.

Before the filing of candidacy documents in October, Duterte issued statements twice, saying he’s closing the door on politics. A month later, though, he filed his candidacy for president as a substitute of a party mate who was essentially a placeholder for Duterte.

It was the first major spectacle involving a politician who became a candidate through the substitution method – a route that has become more conventional since. It’s a political play that he and his daughter would repeat six years later.

Graphics by Marian Hukom/Rappler
2022 elections

For the 2022 election cycle, Sara kept her cards close to her chest, making her political ambitions a constant subject of speculation.

She shrugged off immediate aspirations for the presidency as early as January 2021, but in later months, expressed openness to the possibility of succeeding her father.

Sara opted to run for reelection as Davao City mayor when the Commission on Elections opened the filing of candidacy in October 2021. A month later, she backed out of that race and finally joined the vice presidential contest as a substitute of a placeholder – the exact same method that her father used six years before.

Going off-script in speeches, then-president Duterte at first talked about dissuading his daughter from seeking the country’s highest post, but later expressed frustration over her decision to give up the presidency in favor of Marcos despite polling higher in pre-election surveys.

Even the older Duterte, at the time, gave mixed signals about his plans after the expiration of his term in 2022. Over a five-month period in 2021, he put forward the idea of a vice presidential bid, announced his retirement, filed his candidacy for senator via substitution, then withdrew his candidacy.

2025 elections

More than a year before the 2025 midterms, the Dutertes have issued statements that are fueling speculations on how the political family will position themselves in 2025.

On January 25, 2024, the older Duterte said, “I’m done with politics,” but moments later added, “If there is a compelling reason for me to reenter politics…if I am left no choice, I will run.”

A few days earlier, the Vice President told her audience in Davao City that she will throw her hat in the ring in 2025 because she heard her siblings – Davao City Mayor Sebastian “Baste” Duterte and 1st District Representative Paolo Duterte – say they will not be seeking another term a year from now.

“They might not run in the next election so that’s why I’m here to campaign because I will be running for the next election,” she said.

The statements come as recent political developments indicate that the Dutertes are losing sway in the current administration. These include Congress’ decision to junk Vice President Sara’s request for P650 million in confidential funds, and Marcos’ statement that the government was studying the possibility of rejoining the International Criminal Court, which is investigating Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody drug war.

Political analysts believe the Dutertes’ latest remarks are meant to throw their rivals off the scent.

“They want to check how their political enemies will react. This will be unprecedented. We have not seen a vice president run for a lower position, so this can be seen as a strategy to confuse their rivals,” Ateneo de Davao University political science professor Ramon Beleno told Rappler on January 26.

“First, this could just be a smokescreen to confuse her enemies,” Llamas added. “Second, there’s a small chance she wants to be out of the firing range. She has been absorbing all the attacks because she is the front-runner for the presidency in 2028.”

Beleno also floated a scenario in which the Vice President would find her way to Congress in 2025 so she could attempt to steal the country’s fourth highest post from the President’s cousin, Speaker Martin Romualdez, who had become her apparent nemesis in the past year.

“[Sara] could run for lawmaker of the Davao City 1st District, so that she would be able to challenge Speaker Martin Romualdez. Congress would reorganize anyway after the midterm elections,” he added. “But again, there are no clear pronouncements from them. So people here are just reading into it. Anyway, nothing happens in politics by accident.”

2025 in the air: Revisiting the guessing game the Dutertes put up every election cycle

President Marcos, when asked to comment about Sara’s remark that she will run in the 2025 polls, said: “I think she’s also testing the waters to see what the reaction will be.”

The guessing game – if history is any indication – is not expected to be over anytime soon, even after the father-and-daughter duo have denied they are participating in the 2025 elections as candidates.

Rodrigo Duterte’s party PDP-Laban has been discussing the possibility of the former president running for the Senate, while it remains up in the air whether Sara will continue being part of the administration, or defect and form an opposition ticket in 2025.

These are on top of the fact that Sara’s other siblings – Paolo and Sebastian – have been openly criticizing the President or his policy decisions.

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The road to the 2025 midterms is a bumpy one, and available clues suggest the Dutertes want to take the wheel. – Rappler.com

(Quotes in Filipino were translated into English, and some were shortened for brevity.)

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Malacañang, and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.