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How high would Sara go?

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On August 13, 2018, the most anticipated political event happened. Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte, struck on her own by forging a nine-party super-coalition of three national parties and six local or regional parties.

The three national parties are the Nacionalista Party (NP), Nationalist People’s Party (NPC), and National Unity Party (NUP). The six local parties are: Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP), a regional party founded by Duterte-Carpio not too long ago; Ilocano Timpuyog; Alyansa Bol-anon Alang sa Kausaban (Abaka); Aggrupation of Party for Progress (APP); Kambilan; PaDayon Pilipino (PP); and Serbisyo sa Bayan Party.

Joining forces with Duterte-Carpio are big political players Sen. Cynthia Villar of the NP and former President and now Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Former members of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD and allies of Arroyo formed the NUP, while tycoon Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. founded the NPC when he ran for President in 1992.

President Duterte’s idea

Duterte-Carpio told the media that it was her father, President Duterte, who gave her and her supporters the go-ahead to form HNP, which makes one wonder: Where is President Duterte’s ruling party, the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan (PDP–Laban), in the whole scheme of things?

According to an HNP stalwart, the common denominator between HNP and the nine political parties is their support for Duterte’s policies. Duterte-Carpio also denied that she would be running for Senator in 2019. “I am not running for senator. We are just really trying to unite everybody who wants to help the administration of President Duterte until 2022,” she said. Hmm… Something is wrong with her statement. A few days ago Duterte announced that he was thinking of stepping down if Bongbong Marcos or Sen. Chiz Escudero would be willing to take over the presidency. While it’s not constitutionally feasible for either one of them to succeed Duterte without going through an election, Duterte, for all practical purposes, is now a lame-duck president.

Interestingly, Duterte’s ruling party, the PDP-Laban, was not included in Sara’s super-coalition. Does that mean that Duterte would be distancing himself from PDP-Laban of which he is the Chairman? It’s further complicated when the PDP-Laban split into two factions, both of whom pledging their support for Duterte. But Duterte’s dilemma is:

How can he work with two competing factions whose purpose might be diametrically opposite? There is no Solomonic solution to his dilemma other than unifying the two factions again, which might not be possible at this time. And that’s probably why Duterte asked his daughter to form the super-coalition to help his administration until he steps down in 2022. In other words, the nine-party alliance would be Duterte’s political vehicle for the rest of his presidency… and beyond.

It is expected that Sen. Cynthia Villar and Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos would be on the super-coalition’s senatorial slate in 2019. Two other prospective senatorial candidates who were at the signing of the agreement are Senator JV Ejercito and Taguig Rep. Pia Cayetano, a former senator. Others being considered and were personally endorsed by Duterte-Carpio are Sen. Sonny Angara, presidential spokesman Harry Roque, former Chair Francis Tolentino of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, and Secretary Martin Andanar of the Presidential Communications Operations Office for the Senate. Interestingly, Gloria was not included on the list of senatoriables.

House coup d’état

During Duterte’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July, then Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez was ousted in a party revolt led by Arroyo with the help of Duterte-Carpio. Arroyo then took over the Speakership. As a “consuelo de bobo,” Alvarez was retained as PDP-Laban’s Secretary-General, a powerless party position.

What was once Duterte’s united and powerful super-majority party, within a day – nay, within an hour – PDP-Laban imploded when the party split into two factions. One faction had around 200 congressmen who sided with Arroyo, and a second faction with 12 congressmen who sided with Alvarez. Needless to say, Arroyo’s blitzkrieg assault on Speaker Alvarez was swift and no sooner had the spectators in the chamber realize what was happening, Arroyo was sworn in as Speaker. Could it be that Gloria’s takeover of the Speakership disrupted the seemingly united PDP-Laban?


While Duterte-Carpio had said that she is not running for Senator, it is not set in stone. She might reconsider running if there is an overwhelming move to draft her. My crystal ball shows that she would eventually accept a draft.

What about Arroyo, whose term in the House of Representatives will be termed out in 2019? My crystal ball has been blinking like a speeding ambulance lately. Yes, Gloria would accept a nomination and if nobody nominates her, she’ll use a trick from her bag of tricks, which makes one wonder: Why? Well, where else would she go? With Federalism gasping for dear life, she has nowhere to go.

That leaves the Senate the only place where she can go unless she’d go for the presidency. But that is wishful thinking. But the Senate would bring her closer to the apex of power. Once she’s elected Senator, what would it take for her to grab the Senate Presidency, the third in the presidential line of succession? Easy. As corrupt as she was once, she’d just have to buy her peers in the Senate with lots of promises. Heck, Janet Napoles pulled the Pork Barrel scam some years back, and she was just a fixer!

Who’s going for the top?

In the case of Imee Marcos, she hinted to journalists not too long ago of resurrecting the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL), the political party of her late father. There were talks that if Bongbong fails to go for the presidency in 2022, she’d go for it. And that would put her at odds with a lot of ambitious women politicos including Arroyo and Duterte-Carpio.

How about Duterte-Carpio? She would be the Duterte’s political heir in 2022 when his presidential term expired. The question is: Is she prepared and ready to take over where her father takes off?

She might not be as prepared to run for president but she is ready. She has the gumption to fight an intense and contentious presidential campaign. She got that from her dad. But she should also be aware that some of her rivals in the presidential derby might be her allies today. As we all know, political turncoats or balimbings would emerge from the murky shadows of political expedience.

But if Duterte-Carpio plays her cards right, and with her father’s strong political influence, she just might end up with an unbeatable Royal Flush hand. But there is a caveat when you’re playing high-stake politics. If you fall, it would be with a big thud in which you’re unlikely to recover.

While Sara Duterte-Carpio would still be considered a rookie in national politics, her dad could be her mentor, which would give her a boost. And with three strong and seasoned politicians – Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos, and Vice-President Leni Robredo, it would be a grand battle royale in 2022.

Ultimately, the nagging question is: How high would Sara Duterte-Carpio go? Right now, my crystal ball is fuzzy sometimes, which means she’s still undecided. But there were times when it’s crystal clear that she was aiming for the top. But 2022 is still four years away; a lot of water will still flow under the bridge. But the midterms are just around the corner in November 2019. Why doesn’t she go for a Senate run? It would be a warm-up run to the presidential race in 2022.

But here’s the kicker: If Bongbong wins in his recount petition against Robredo and he’s going to take over the presidency as Duterte had planned all along, this could pave the way for a Bongbong-Sara tandem in the 2022 presidential election.


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