May 27, 2019
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Philippine president's daughter Sara Duterte reinforces presidential image

 Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte, speaks during an election campaign in the city of Angeles, Pampanga province, Philippines, Feb. 12, 2019. EPA-EFE FILE/FRANCIS R. MALASIG

Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte, speaks during an election campaign in the city of Angeles, Pampanga province, Philippines, Feb. 12, 2019. EPA-EFE FILE/FRANCIS R. MALASIG

Sara Gomez Armas

Manila, May 14 (efe-epa).- Widely seen as the de facto first lady of the Philippines, the daughter of president Rodrigo Duterte has gained an unusual prominence in the recent elections that saw her getting re-elected as the mayor of the country's third-largest city and boosted her national profile with an eye on the 2021 presidential elections.

After the counting of more than 99 percent of the votes, the results of which were published Tuesday, Sara Duterte secured more than 579,000 votes compared to the 4,255 earned by her rival Magdaleno Marcellones, an independent candidate who stood little chance in the contest to rule Davao City.

Although she refused to run for senator, a very influential post in the Philippines, her role in the campaign for Monday's local and legislative elections – which came exactly in the middle of her father's presidential term – have boosted her standing in the country's political scene.

The 40-year-old has led Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HP), a coalition of new regional parties that endorsed several senatorial candidates loyal to her father and who have resolved to push for Duterte's legislative agenda during the three years that remain of his term.

Analyst Ramon Casiple, the director of the Institute For Political and Electoral Reform, told EFE that Sara Duterte was being tested and promoted as a national-level political figure.

According to Casiple, Sara has demonstrated her own personality, stepping out of the shadow of her powerful father – whom she might succeed in the country's highest office – despite following in his footsteps as mayor of Davao, a position Duterte held intermittently between 1988 and 2016.

Compared to the president's propensity to making verbal attacks and controversial comments, Sara has been portrayed as the sensible voice in the family and has even publicly reprimanded her father when he made news for insulting rivals or his much-publicized sexist remarks.

As Davao mayor, Sara has pushed for a progressive agenda, particularly in matters related to children and women's rights, which has garnered her the support of local nonprofits.

During the three months the campaign lasted, Sara traveled across the Philippine archipelago along with HP candidates who sought her support, although most of them had greater political experience than her. She also played a central role in various election-related events and meetings.

Casiple remarked that the candidates flocked to her not only due to her political lineage but also because of her caliber.

Her photos on posters have been twice as large as the candidates she endorsed and HP supporters – mainly from the working class – reserved their biggest applause and standing ovations for the mayor of the country's third-most important city.

Sara has also boosted her international image over the last one year, accompanying her father on trips to the Middle East and China, playing the role of first lady given that the marriage between her parents was annulled.

Moreover, Duterte, 74, revealed in a public speech in February that Sara was now the one that took the political decisions in the family.

In fact, the president had first presented her daughter as a possible presidential candidate in 2017, saying he saw no better candidate to succeed him.

Salvador Panelo, a spokesperson, legal advisor and personal friend of the president, recently said Sara was competent, clever, brave and had a character similar to her father's, adding that it would not be surprising if she became the next president.

However, according to Duterte's critics, his daughter's candidature would be the best guarantee to preserve his legacy and protect him from political vendetta, given that nearly all former presidents in the Philippines have faced trial – and some have even been imprisoned – after leaving office.

It would also protect Duterte before the International Criminal Court, which has started preliminary investigations into abuses committed during his war on drugs that could result in a trial for crimes against humanity.

Although Sara has on several occasions denied having presidential aspirations, the last time she was questioned about this matter during the election campaign in April, she left the door open for such a possibility, saying she would make a call before the elections in 2021.

sga/sc/dl

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