Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Announces Retirement from Politics

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose brash and authoritarian style has upended governance in the country, said Saturday that he intends to retire from politics, indicating he won’t attempt to extend his time in power by seeking the vice presidency.

Mr. Duterte’s six-year term will end in June, and under the constitution he can’t run for re-election. But Mr. Duterte had accepted his party’s nomination for the vice presidency in the 2022 election. Critics in the Philippines called it an attempt to circumvent the constitution’s one-term limit by providing a backdoor into the presidency if the next president resigned, died or otherwise left office.

On Saturday Mr. Duterte reversed himself, seeming to put to rest the possibility of running for vice president—or any office, now or in the future. “The overwhelming sentiment of the Filipino [people] is that I am not qualified and it would be a violation of the constitution to circumvent the law,” he said, according to a video of his speech posted by several Philippine news sites and a transcript from the Philippine government’s official newswire. “And today, I announce my retirement from politics.”

But political commentators cautioned that he has made similar statements before, only to reconsider. Six years ago Mr. Duterte, the longtime mayor of the southern city of Davao, was quoted in the local media announcing that he had ruled out seeking the presidency and would retire from politics. But he shortly jumped into the race, which he won the next year by an overwhelming margin.

There is still time for more maneuvering. Decisions for each party’s list of presidential and vice-presidential nominees must be submitted to the country’s election authorities by Oct. 8, though parties can withdraw their nominees and substitute others until as late as Nov. 15th.

Mr. Duterte ignited global controversy by initiating a war on drugs that killed thousands caught up in it. He has also drawn his country closer to China and questioned the value of its longtime alliance with the U.S.

Some commentators aren’t convinced Mr. Duterte is done with politics.

“Duterte is a person whose words are really hard to count on,” said Richard Heydarian, an associate professor at Polytechnic University of the Philippines who focuses on geopolitics. Nonetheless, Mr. Heydarian said that Mr. Duterte may have concluded that after 5½ years in office he had become a liability for his political camp, and that withdrawing from the race is the best way to preserve his influence and become a kingmaker in the coming elections.

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