MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte has reiterated he will not endorse any presidential candidate to “stay neutral.”

Kung magtanong kayo kung may e-endorse ako (If you ask if I would endorse anyone) – I may or I may not. But preferably, I’d like to stay neutral. Ibig sabihin wala akong susuportahan na kandidato (This means I will not support any candidate). Unless, again, having said that I’ll say it again, it will be a compelling reason for me to go out and tell the people what it is. I’d like to bide my time. I’m not in a hurry,” Duterte said in a television interview.

In Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, later, however, while Duterte vowed to remain neutral for the May 9, 2022 national elections, he told the Ilocano crowd to choose the Ilocano leader they favor.

Without mentioning presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, who is the only Ilocano candidate vying for the country’s top leadership, Duterte went on to say that many Ilocanos are members of his Cabinet.

“In my Cabinet, apat o tatlo na lang kaming Bisaya, ang naiwan puro mga Ilokano na (in my Cabinet, there are only four or three of us who are Bisaya, the rest are Ilocanos,” he said. It is not the first time the President talks about Ilocanos as his close allies and considers them as “bright and handsome” in so many ways.

“Kaya ibigay ko na lang ito isang buwan aalis na ako sa Malacañan, mamili na kayo kung sinong Ilocano na lider ilagay ninyo doon (That’s why I am giving this one month, I will soon be leaving Malacañang, so choose the Ilocano leader you want to stay there),” the Chief Executive said in his speech, which earned a big round of applause and cheers from the crowd in Narvacan, Ilocos Sur.

Duterte inaugurated a modern farmers market in Narvacan where the town mayor is former Governor Luis Chavit Singson, who is currently the president of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines.

Duterte mentioned Secretaries William Dar of Agriculture and Silvestre Bello III of Labor as among the Ilocanos in his team. Among other Ilocanos in the Cabinet are Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu who resigned for health reasons.

But even if his daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, who is married to an Ilocano from Paoay, Ilocos Norte, and is the running mate of Marcos, the President has stood firm in his decision to “stay neutral” and not to endorse any presidential candidate.

He said that if the people’s interest is at stake, then maybe he would choose a presidential bet to support in the upcoming May polls.

Duterte visited the municipality of Narvacan as he was invited by Mayor Luis “Chavit” Singson to grace the formal inauguration of a state-of-the-art Narvacan Farmers Market installed with solar panel roofing to reduce the cost of electricity and lessen carbon footprint emissions.

Speaking during the inauguration rites,  Duterte said the Narvacan Farmers Market and Commercial Complex will bring bright hopes and great opportunities to businesses and consumers not only from the municipality of Narvacan, but also from other neighbouring areas.

“The establishment of this commercial facility is a testament to the long and worthwhile journey that your town has collectively endured in surpassing the challenges that you are confronted,” the President said.

“Although these unprecedented times have indeed been difficult, our unwavering commitment and resolve to ensuring the welfare of everyone has opened our eyes to the innovative solutions that match the emergence of the pandemic [COVID-19].”

Duterte congratulated the local government and its private partners for the completion of the project and commended them for integrating a sustainable energy source for the structure.

The utilization of energy-saving practices in the new infrastructure building will undoubtedly contribute to the country’s sustainability goals, he noted.

According to the President, the charging station for Narvacan’s e-jeepneys within the facility, for instance, will significantly reduce carbon emissions and lessen the reliance on fossil fuels for the municipality.

He expressed hope that other localities will likewise be inspired to incorporate the practice in their respective spaces.

The chief executive believes that those who will use the establishment—especially Ilocano farmers—will undoubtedly “thrive abundantly and propel our recovery towards the new normal”.

At the same time, he recognized the indispensable role of the Filipino farmers in ensuring stable food source, adding their efforts remain an essential component in the country’s food security strategy, especially during times of great need.

Although the project was completed amid the pandemic and while the country reels from the setbacks brought about by the contagion, the President expressed optimism that it will revitalize the local economy by showcasing local products, providing more employment opportunities, and attracting businesses in the region.

Also during his address, President Duterte made an assurance that his administration will work hard to implement programs and projects that will uplift the lives of the people.

“As President, I will continue to fulfill my duties up to the last day of my term so I can leave a timeless legacy of responsive and inclusive governance to our country’s next generation of leaders,” he said.

Situated within a commercial complex, the Narvacan Farmers Market promotes agritourism through hubs and spaces including parks, plazas, and multi-purpose structures that will serve as centers of conferences, financial transactions, and socio-cultural gatherings.

Also present during the event were Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, Agriculture Secretary William Dar, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Presidential Adviser for Northern Luzon Raul Lambino, Ilocos Sur Gov. Ryan Luis Singson, Probinsyano Ako Party-list Rep. Jose Singson Jr., and Narvacan Municipal Mayor and League of Municipalities National President Luis “Chavit” Singson.

Duterte, meanwhile, said he is worried about the resurgence of illegal drugs, hoping his successor would continue his campaign against the drug menace.

“Ito bang (This) drugs, I hope that whoever would sit as president would continue the – if not, the ferocity that I did and I accept it, maski lang naman sana ‘yung (maybe just) a little lower than my standard kasi talagang sisirain ang bayan nating ito (because it will destroy our country). I’m so worried about the resurgence of drug problem,” Duterte said

Interviewed by Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar, Duterte said if the people’s interest is at stake, then maybe he would choose a presidential candidate to support in this coming election.

However, little that it may look for some people but in reality, it is really the interest of the people which is at stake, ‘yun mapipilitan ako maglabas (only then will I be forced to say it). Then maybe, just maybe, I will choose a candidate to support,” Duterte said.

Some candidates, he added, have sought his support and even set up a meeting, but he said he “respectfully just decline to say, anybody.”

“Until now, I have yet to decide whether or not to support a candidate. At this time, nobody’s in my mind actually,” Duterte said.

In the same interview, Duterte thanked the people for giving him the chance to be their President and for their continued support.

Duterte maintained a “very good” net satisfaction rating of +60 with the majority of Filipinos still giving their approval for his performance as the country’s highest government official.

“I don’t know if it is an emotional outpouring but going by the numbers, it is huge and until now it surprises me, continues to baffle me,” Duterte said.