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Sara Duterte: The rise of a presidential daughter

Renato Tibon .

“I am who I am now because of you.” – Sara Zimmerman Duterte-Carpio to her father, Rodrigo R. Duterte, President of the Republic of the Philippines

THE Sara “magic” is undeniable. Wherever she goes outside her home in Davao City, she gets mobbed by adoring fans and supporters, a celebrity in her own right. I remember the first time she and her entourage, fresh from rallies in the western part of Misamis Oriental to promote the candidacy of her father then running for the presidency in 2016, were joined by local candidates led by Congressman Rufus B. Rodriguez for a political caravan from Barangay Bugo, Cagayan de Oro City. It took them almost seven hours to reach Barangay Nazareth where a rally was set, with Sara perched conspicuously on top of a vehicle hardly moving because residents along the highway joined the throng wanting to meet and catch a glimpse of the presidential wannabe’s daughter. Her own political stock was since boosted with her father’s win.

From then on, her campaign sorties around the country proved her crowd-drawing appeal with thousands upon thousands of enthusiastic supporters attending rallies organized by her regional party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP). Her enthusiasm and energy matched the excitement of the public who wanted to see the female version of her father. The assembly, while avidly listening to her acclamations of the senatorial bets including local candidates in coalition with HNP, was in fact eagerly waiting for punch lines, characteristic jokes and tales that regaled the crowd. The strong showing of these candidates in recent surveys is seen as an upshot of her popularity. It helps of course that the recent Pulse Asia polls, conducted last month, showed President Duterte enjoying an approval rating of 88 percent and trust rating of 87 percent up from 80 percent and 82 percent, respectively, back in January this year. Clearly, the father’s influence rubs off on the daughter which in turn could translate votes for the latter’s candidates.

Her recent visit in Cagayan de Oro last April 5, to grace the HNP Senatorial Caravan and Proclamation Rally for the local candidates at the University of Science and Technology of Southern Philippines (USTP) Gym, likewise demonstrated her political charisma among the more than 5,000 multitude who packed the gym to the rafters, including the spaces outside the venue. Hosted by Congressman Rufus B. Rodriguezwhom she endorsed as her candidate for congressman of the 2nd District of Cagayan de Oro, together with the coalition of CDP-Padayon Pilipino-Abamin-HNP slate, Inday Sara’s magnetism is palpable. She can captivate the audience with her brand of wit and humor. Her endorsement of the candidates of the Coalition was likewise seen as an approbation of her father, whose snub of the PDP-Laban candidates led by Mayor Oscar Moreno and Alam Lim, was patently noticeable. Everyone in that assembly was agog for the expected raising of the candidates’ hands after the President’s speech. The latter did not accommodate dousing their enthusiasm especially those who broadcast in advance their much-anticipated winning moment. That it did not come could only confirm the grapevine’s whisper: they don’t enjoy the President’s trust and confidence. “Sara calls the shots,” said he, apparently washing his hands for whatever political mileage the other candidates have gained after he raised the hands of some “favorites,” albeit half-heartedly. Of course, he can’t say no to the party which helped catapult him to power but saying Sara “calls the shots” could only mean one thing: Sara is, in his own estimation, her own power to reckon with. The results of the mid-term elections would illustrate in no uncertain terms where the political undercurrents flow. If the majority of those she endorsed makes the cut, the political depth is not difficult to fathom.

In Davao City, her father’s turf, she is Inday Sara to Davaoenos who learned to love and respect the Duterte’s brand of leadership. She heeded the wishes of Digong, the mayor-father who instilled in her the value of education and work and the impression that she’s not a person if she does not “become a lawyer and work for her country.” True to the maxim that an apple does not fall far from the tree, Inday Sara did not just become a lawyer but followed her controversial father to Davao City Hall, switching roles with him from 2010-2013 as vice mayor then as mayor, assuming the post that her father Rodrigo held for 20 years. She still holds the position and is running for a second re-election bid. As mayor, she made headlines for publicly challenging foes, making unapologetic statements against critics and cracking controversial jokes not unlike her irrepressible father. In 2018, she blasted Congressman Pantaleon Alvarez for allegedly calling her part of the opposition when she formed a separate regional political party. Consistent with the saying, “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” she slammed Alvarez, telling him he has “messed with the wrong girl.”

With her regional party endorsing “senatoriables” and local slates, the opposition thought she was groomed for the presidential post in 2022. But the President dashed all expectations by saying she is unlikely to run, that “she simply wants to shake the tree and get rid of the dry leaves and everything. I won’t allow her to run.” For her part, Inday Sara said, “the President is correct, I am not thinking about running for President.” It’s too early to say but the signs are telling: the energetic campaigns, resonating words, strong media presence and survey showings, all point to the inevitable: it will be President Sara Z. Duterte-Carpio in 2022.

(Renato Gica Tibon is a fellow of the Fellowship of the 300, an elite organization under Centrist Democracy Political Institute  [CDPI] with focus on political technocracy. He  holds both position as political action officer and program manager of the Institute. He is the former regional chairman for Region 10 and vice president for Mindanao of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines [CDP].)

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