Philippine Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, the preferred successor to incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte, has announced his withdrawal from the race to be the country’s next leader.
After days of speculation, Go said on Tuesday he was pulling out of the 2022 presidential campaign because it was “not yet my time”.
Go, a close aide to the president, entered the contest for the country’s highest office two days before the November 15 deadline, after previously registering for the vice presidential race.
His sudden exit narrows the field of candidates vying to replace Duterte, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a second six-year term. Duterte is running for the Senate instead with the country of 110 million also choosing governors, mayors and local officials in the May 2022 elections.
“My family doesn’t want it either so I thought maybe this is not yet my time,” Go told reporters, as he stressed his loyalty to Duterte.
Most analysts had given Go little chance of success in the election, although he was the most likely candidate to protect Duterte from criminal charges in the Philippines, and an International Criminal Court investigation into the so-called “drug war” that has left thousands dead.
“From the very start he has launched a lukewarm campaign and it’s very obvious that he was just thrust into that job by President Duterte,” said Jean Franco, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines.
It is not clear who 76-year-old Duterte will now support.
“I and President Duterte are ready to support whoever will truly serve and can continue and protect Duterte’s legacy towards a more comfortable and safe and prosperous life for our children,” Go said in a short speech streamed on Facebook.
The current front runner is the son and namesake of former leader Ferdinand Marcos, according to a recent survey by respected polling outfit Social Weather Stations.
He is followed by the incumbent vice president and Duterte critic, Leni Robredo, celebrity mayor Francisco Domagoso and boxing great Manny Pacquiao.
Duterte has been an ally of the controversial Marcos family, which had gone into exile in the United States after the patriarch’s downfall in 1986.
But recently Duterte has been publicly critical of Marcos Jr, describing him as a “weak leader … saddled with baggage”.
Sara Duterte, his daughter, had been widely expected to run for president.
But she has filed her candidacy for vice president, a position which holds very little power, and formed an alliance with Marcos Jr.
Go’s exit from the “tight election race” could strengthen the “political force” of Marcos Jr and Sara, said Franco.
But she doubted that Duterte would endorse Marcos Jr for his job.