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The Family Of Rodrigo Duterte Is Shaking Up The Philippine Presidential Race

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

National elections in the Philippines are not until May of next year, but the family of the president, Rodrigo Duterte, has already shaken up the race. NPR's Julie McCarthy explains how

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: President Duterte is barred from seeking reelection. But in a highly unusual move, Duterte last week accepted his party's nomination to run as vice president next year. In thanking the party, he mused about why he wanted to seek the No. 2 spot.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE: (Speaking Tagalog).

MCCARTHY: "Is it ambition? Maybe," he said. "But it's really love of country because I want to see the continuity of my efforts, even though I may not be the one giving the direction."

Attorney Christian Monsod says Duterte's motives may not be so noble. Monsod helped frame the 1987 Philippine Constitution following the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. He says the framers were careful to limit the presidency to one six-year term.

CHRISTIAN MONSOD: The rationale was that six years is enough time for a good president.

MCCARTHY: But Monsod says Duterte's bid for the vice presidency opens a backdoor to the highest office. If Duterte's running mate were to win the presidency then step aside, Monsod says Duterte steps back into power.

MONSOD: That's why I'm calling it an insidious attempt to circumvent the constitution.

MCCARTHY: Political analyst Richard Heydarian says Duterte has attempted to thwart constitutional limits before. He says Duterte suggested a revolutionary government dominated by the military. But Heydarian says the military stood in his way.

RICHARD HEYDARIAN: So it seems what is left for him is to push for a proxy or an anointed successor to replace him in next year's elections.

MCCARTHY: Duterte tapped his longtime lieutenant, junior Senator Bong Go, to run with him at the top of the ticket. But Go declined the nomination, upsetting the plan for a loyal successor. Duterte watchers say he's very worried about being held to account once he leaves office. Heydarian says Duterte could face investigations of alleged corruption in his administration.

HEYDARIAN: But of course, above all, it's the prospect of him facing investigation, if not prosecution, for massive human rights violations under his war on drugs.

MCCARTHY: Analysts agree Sara Duterte, the first daughter, may be Duterte's best shield. She leads opinion polls in the upcoming presidential race and has succeeded her father before to become mayor of Davao City, at times publicly sparring with him. Manila-based analyst Robert Herrera-Lim says Sara Duterte has a unique appeal in a family brand that remains strong.

ROBERT HERRERA-LIM: She is shown to be somebody who is the daughter but is not somebody the father controls. So for those who are undecided and say - you know what? - we're not comfortable with Duterte, they can say, she's also not comfortable with Duterte. She will be her own person. She might be a better version of her father.

MCCARTHY: The possibility of a Duterte-Duterte ticket was initially trumpeted as the perfect pairing. But Ateneo University political scientist Edmund Tayao says a Duterte family duo would turn voters off.

EDMUND TAYAO: The message is quite simple that the Dutertes are really just gobbling up all the power to themselves.

MCCARTHY: Sara Duterte says the family deal was that only one of them would contest a national election, and therefore she's not running. But political scientist Tayao says she can still change her mind, and her father could still choose not to run. The law allows substitutions of nominations.

TAYAO: That's why I said, so much can still happen up to November.

MCCARTHY: November 8 is the deadline for substitutions, and Tayao says expect a lot of horse trading between now and then.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF KENO AND TRISTAN DE LIEGE'S "REVERRING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.