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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte plans to run for vice president, sidestepping presidential term limits in an unorthodox maneuver with possible ramifications for the United States in the Indo-Pacific.
“I will run for vice president,” Duterte said Tuesday evening. “Then, I will continue the crusade ... No. 1 is insurgency. Then criminality, drugs.”
Duterte plans to run alongside longtime adviser, Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go, on a slate unveiled by the PDP-Laban Party. The party’s move raises the odds a president known in Washington for his anti-American outbursts could retain power in a country with a crucial link in the network of American allies.
“The guy is as mercurial a figure as you’re going to find in international politics,” said former White House national security council chief of staff Alex Gray, who held that post from 2019 to 2021. “He has personalized the relationship in a way that is extremely difficult for policymakers.”
Duterte’s presidency has been characterized by truculence at home and abroad. His domestic agenda has been dominated by an infamous war on drugs that has drawn condemnation from international human rights organizations and the U.S. (Duterte maintains this criticism is inordinate, given he has avoided financial scandals: “I told the military, what is my fault? Did I steal even one peso?” he said in 2018. “My only sin is the extrajudicial killings.”)
Those disputes over human rights have been overlaid with foreign policy controversies, as Duterte visited Beijing and called for a “separation” from the U.S. early in his presidency.
“He probably agrees with the idea that the United States is actually a power that is in decline and China is actually an emergent power,” Herman Kraft, a security expert at the University of the Philippines, said last year. "In his eyes, the security relationship between the Philippines and the United States is something that's totally unnecessary.”
That attitude helps explain Duterte’s willingness to invoke the termination mechanism of a key military pact with the U.S., known as the Visiting Forces Agreement, to pressure U.S. officials to grant a visa to a political ally implicated in the violence of the drug war.
“A lot of people who had thought we were moving past that era,” said Gray, who is now a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council. “That calculus may have to be revisited.”
On the other hand, Duterte has adopted a docile posture toward China, even as Beijing claims sovereignty over vast waterways of the South China Sea at the expense of the Philippines. Duterte's aversion to disputes with China could undermine U.S. efforts to manage the threats emerging from Beijing.
“If U.S.-China competition is what defines the century, the South China Sea and, more broadly, China's efforts to rewrite the rules of the international system within Asia, are a key part of that,” Center for Strategic and International Studies analyst Gregory Poling explained in January. “You cannot effectively meet that challenge without the Philippines, [both because of] its geography [and] by virtue of the fact that it is your oldest treaty ally in Asia, and so, a huge amount of your credibility is wrapped up in it. You need the Philippines.”
Duterte’s critics have signaled they will hammer him on that front in the upcoming elections if he follows through with the current plan to run as vice president.
“President Duterte has chosen China over Filipinos because he believes Chinese President Xi Jinping is protecting his presidency in the Philippines,” former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario said Tuesday. “In the coming 2022 elections, we must vote for leaders who will put Filipinos first before China, money, and power.”
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Original Author: Joel Gehrke