Barely a year to election time and presidential candidates are coming out of their cocoons like caterpillars hungry for food.  They would transform into butterflies called metamorphosis.  The butterflies would then fly from one plant to the next to feed on the sweet nectar located in the interior of flowers.  The same thing with presidential candidates – they go from one political party to another in search of the right party to run under.  Hence the term “political butterfly” comes to play.

In Philippine politics, presidential candidates fly from one group to another until they find the right mixes of people and ideas to build their campaign.  Meanwhile, they start looking for their running mates, which could be a problem.  They have to search for someone who would play second fiddle as vice-presidential candidate.  And more than likely all of those vying for president would also like to be chosen as the running mate of a strong presidential candidate.  But nobody would talk about being the running mate because that would take them out of the presidential derby right away.

It’s a very complicated process where one has to thread very carefully because one misstep could derail his or her presidential ambition and could also leave him or her out of the vice presidential race as well.

Remember, the Philippines doesn’t have primaries like they do in the U.S. where each political party would have a primary election in each state to elect their presidential and vice presidential tandems.  The Philippines doesn’t elect the president and vice president in tandem.  They’re elected independent of each other and oftentimes the winning president and vice president come from competing teams.  A case in point is the current president and vice president – Rodrigo Duterte and Leni Robredo — who belong to two opposing parties.

With the next election barely a year away, the question is: Who will run for president and what would the current vice-president, Robredo, run for?  Since the president’s term is limited to one six-year term – which means Duterte is not allowed to run for re-election – would vice-president Robredo run for president, which is usually the case in presidential successions?

Since Robredo is in the opposition Liberal Party, Duterte is trying to pre-empt Robredo from running for president, which brings to fore the question:  Whom would Duterte support for president?  The logical answer would be his daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, who seems to like the idea but has so far stayed away from it.  However, support for her candidacy is growing and President Duterte may already have chosen her for the post.

Conflicting statements

But according to President Duterte, Sen. Bong Go wanted to be president; however, Go denied it, saying that Duterte was only joking. However, presidential spokesman Harry Roque was quoted as saying: “If Sara [Duterte] doesn’t run, [and] if Bong Go doesn’t run, because he [Go] will only run for president if the President will run for vice president, the President will have to choose who has the numbers.”  And who would that be?  One person that comes to mind is Bongbong Marcos, who would be a safe choice for Duterte to keep his family in power if Sara would run as Bongbong’s vice-presidential running mate.  And then Sara would follow Bongbong.  It would signal the beginning of the Duterte-Marcos political alliance.

But if Go would run for president with Rodrigo Duterte as his vice-president, that would end up with Duterte calling the shots because Go — Duterte’s most loyal political “lapdog” – would still be controlled by Duterte, just like when Russian president Vladimir Putin turned over the presidency to his second-in-command prime minister Dmitry Medvedev in a power-switching operation to keep Putin in power. After Medvedev’s one-term presidential term, they switched again to their old positions. They had conveniently managed to keep power to themselves by just switching positions. That shows that Philippine politics and Russian politics is a game of survival of the fittest or should I say, survival of the cheatest?

Presidential wannabes

And this is where it gets to be interesting.  At this point, the presidential candidates — including those who would run for vice-president if they failed to gain traction in their run for the presidency – would be fighting each other in a free-for-all (labo-labo) contest with the candidates forming their own coalitions or political parties.  By the time the slates are finalized, the leading presidential candidates would choose their running mates, who some of them were their former rivals.  There would probably be five or six pairings left that would slug it out until Election Day on May 9, 2022.  Since the president and vice-president are elected separately, the two winning candidates could come from different political parties, which happened quite often.

Various personalities have directly and indirectly hinted on the possibility of running for president or vice president.  Polls taken in April show the following in order of popularity: Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte (27%), former Senator Bongbong Marcos (13%), Senator Grace Poe (12%), Manila Mayor Isko Moreno (12%), Senator Manny Pacquiao (11%), Vice-President Leni Robredo (7%), and Sen. Bong Go (5%).  Others who are mentioned are: Sen. Bato dela Rosa, former Sen. Allan Peter Cayetano, Sen. Sonny Angara, Sen. Richard Gordon, and former Senator Mar Roxas.

It’s interesting to note that in the past three presidential elections, the front-running presidential candidates eventually lost in the election. In 2016, the early favorite for president was Vice-President Jejomar Binay who came out fourth after Rodrigo Duterte (the winner), Mar Roxas, and Grace Poe.

In 2010, Senator Benigno Aquino III and Senator Manny Villar were statistically tied in the Pulse Asia poll at 38% for Aquino and 37% for Villar.  But the final tally showed Aquino winning over former president Joseph Estrada and Villar, who came in second place and third place, respectively.

In 2004, the late action hero Fernando Poe Jr. was the front-runner ahead of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who came from behind to beat Poe in the election with a margin of just over one million votes, the closest margin in Philippine election history.  Ping Lacson came in third place.

Does that mean that Sara Duterte would also slip and fall short of winning the presidency a year from now?  There is still a lot of water that will flow under the bridge, so to speak.  A great deal of what Papa Digong’s performance in the last year of his presidency would affect Inday Sara’s future presidential candidacy.  With all the controversies that he got himself into and the dire economic situation the country is in right now, it could drag her down the political sewer.  First of all, Sara doesn’t have national experience in governance.  She’ll be pitted against sitting senators, the current vice-president, and the popular current mayor of Manila.

What is interesting – and intriguing – is the candidacy of Bong Go.  Why would he run for president against Sara, the president’s daughter?  But Duterte himself doesn’t approve of Sara running for president.  “My daughter is not running,” he said.  “It’s not for a woman.”  “My only sin is the extrajudicial killings. The job would ‘make her crazy’ if she won the office,” he said.  But the extrajudicial killings are not just a sin, it’s a crime against humanity.  Besides, it could all be part of “strategic denial,” which is the popular ploy early in the game.

As a matter fact there is a move in Congress to amend the constitution to allow the president to run for re-election, which I think is not going to happen.  They had been trying to extend the president’s term since the time of former president Fidel Ramos but had never gained national or congressional support.  It reminded people of the Marcos years when he extended his rule by declaring martial law.  Never again would the people allow another dictator rule over them.

Quo vadis, Leni Robredo?

And this brings to mind Vice-President Leni Robredo’s own political future. She revealed recently that her lack of resources was affecting her decision to run for a possible presidential run in 2022.  While she is still considering running in 2022, speculation is rife that she has been preparing to run for governor of Camarines Sur, her home province.   However, her spokesperson said there is no ”truth” to rumors that she is running for governor.

So there you go, the presidential musical chair game of elimination has started.  There would be a lot of speculation, rumors, claims, and denials as the presidential hopefuls parade themselves in a circle hoping to remain in the game until there is just a person left who would then become the presidential candidate of their party.

And then there is the scramble for the vice-presidential spot. Indeed, the presidential musical chair game is bloodless but only the fittest or cheatest wins.