FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Even that was not a surprise.

Last Saturday, President Rodrigo Duterte lumbered over to the Comelec registration site at the Sofitel to announce he was NOT running for vice president after all. In his place, he endorsed Bong Go. The loyal henchman promptly filed his certificate of candidacy.

Surreal as that scene was, it could not have been unexpected. It was the tail of a protracted quibbling that had not generated any enthusiasm from the voters. A few days before, when the PDP-Laban released a photo of the President signing his certificate of candidacy, there was no cheering in the ranks.

Speaking before journalists at the Sofitel, Duterte says he respected the results of a recent SWS poll where two-thirds of respondents said his seeking the second highest post violated the spirit of the Constitution. He made no mention of a more recent polling result that showed him trailing Tito Sotto by 11 points in the vice presidential contest. A crushing defeat was staring him in the face.

After what was supposed to be a “shocking” announcement, the President and his freshly endorsed candidate went to an upscale mall to window shop wristwatches – a perfectly normal thing to do on an uneventful Saturday afternoon.

In endorsing Bong Go for the vice presidency, Duterte announced that his daughter Sara would run for the presidency. Later, he admitted that he had not talked to his daughter. As the “dramatic” event at the Sofitel was unfolding, Sara was filing her candidacy for reelection as Davao City mayor.

Someone who did talk to Sara, her brother Sebastian, says it would take a “miracle” for the mayor to change her mind. All the rest of the usual spokesmen for the Davao City mayor refused to comment on the matter. Everyone seems to be waiting for a miracle to unfold.

Before the President made his “dramatic” announcement, no one was even thinking of a Sara-Go tandem. Nothing could be more improbable.

Both Sara and Bong Go come from the same Duterte bailiwick, Davao City. Therefore, there is no vote addition in this combination.

Bong Go’s ratings in the voter preference surveys are, at best, tepid. The bulk of voters do not want him for president or, for that matter, for vice president. There is no addition here too.

He has three more years as senator. Perhaps he should try to shine as a legislator after Rodrigo Duterte retires by giving the job enough attention.

To top it all, Sara Duterte weeks before rejected the idea of taking in Bong Go as runningmate. The proposal seems to have come from the President and the Davao mayor described the conversation on the mater as “unpleasant.”

Convincing Sara to seek the highest post is tough enough. Getting her to agree to take in Bong Go as runningmate makes things even tougher.

Recall that when she took over as mayor, she purged the city government of Digong’s people, encouraging them to follow their boss to Manila. One of them ended up as head of the Procurement Service of the DBM.

What we are now told is that father and daughter agreed that only one Duterte would run for national office. This is the reason Sara gave for her decision not to seek the presidency at this time. If Rodrigo intended for his daughter to succeed him, why did he posture as a vice presidential candidate in the first place?

The idea of a Sara-Go tandem seems to occur only in the President’s mind. There is no indication he has a political strategy group that he consults at every turn. He did not even have an organized team for his now abandoned vice presidential bid.

His boys at the PDP-Laban are left cleaning up after his every spontaneous utterance. It is strange that the party convenes a meeting only after its leader had made a public pronouncement.

The anti-Duterte groups try to paint the President as some sort of political genius, fielding “secret candidates” here and there along with scenarios for substitution of candidates. They try to paint him as a scheming player, aided by a coterie of the best political operators in the country.

The President negates this sort of “evil genius” characterization with every move and every utterance he has made the past few weeks. What these moves and utterances suggest is that he is in a conversation only with himself, surprising his closest allies with what comes out of his mouth.

What happened at the Sofitel was surprising only for those who work most closely with the President. It seemed both erratic and spontaneous. There was no intricate plot here.

What is more likely is that Rodrigo Duterte gets up each morning (or whatever time he actually rises from bed) and does whatever strikes his fancy – whether this be provoking a constitutional crisis with the Senate or reshuffling his electoral bets. His aides then scurry about to attend to his whim, whether this be to endorse Bong Go as vice presidential contender or shop for watches.

There is this magical realist South American novel, Autumn of the Patriarch, which took the literary world by storm many years ago. It speaks of an aging don, sitting endless hours in his darkened and crumbling mansion, imagining past glories and conjuring up his now absent powers. Old and creaky, he is mostly alone, conversing with himself, imagining a separate universe from the one the rest of us inhabit.

This might be the better template to understand Rodrigo Duterte in the autumn of his presidency.

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