By Clarissa Batino and Andreo Calonzo
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte keeps saying that he’s tired and ready to quit.
What’s holding him back? He’s not satisfied with his successor.
“Guys, I want you to know that I am thinking of stepping down because I’m tired,” Duterte told a group of executives and politicians at the launch of a business program Tuesday night. Still, he told them he didn’t think Vice President Leni Robredo, who is a member of the opposition Liberal Party, was up to the job.
“I am hesitant to suggest a constitutional succession,” Duterte said. “I have nothing against Robredo. She’s a lawyer. You have heard her talk. But I do not think she can improve on anything here.”
The speech was only the latest occasion that the 73-year-old former Davao mayor has lamented the pressures of the office. During the 2016 election campaign, Duterte said that if he failed to deliver on his promises, he could turn over the reins to Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, a suggestion he repeated in a separate speech Tuesday night.
Duterte has offered to quit numerous times over the past two years: if allegations of corruption against him and his children were proven; if he managed to push through a constitutional shift to federalism; if someone proved the existence of God; or if enough women signed a petition after he publicly kissed a female supporter on the lips.
“Our unsolicited advice: Just do it!,” Liberal Party vice president Erin Tanada said in a statement.
“We wonder who at this point is still taking the president to his words, given that he threatens to resign at least once a month?,” Tanada said. “Let’s give the president the benefit of the doubt that this time, he meant what he said that he was thinking of stepping down.”
Marcos, the only son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, ended up narrowly losing to Robredo. Marcos is challenging the result and, if successful, could still become vice president. Robredo has previously said that she doesn’t want to dignify Duterte’s attacks against her, and has urged the president to focus on the economy.
Duterte, who has been condemned abroad and at home for a deadly war on drugs that has left thousands dead, blamed corruption in government for his struggles.
“While I’m not angry at anybody, my chase against corruption seems to be endless,” he said, adding that his promise to rid the Philippines of illegal drugs within his first six months was unlikely to be realized before “the end of my term” in 2022, and could even worsen.
“The guy is 73, working nonstop. I understand why he feels tired,” Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said Wednesday. “I’ll suggest that he takes a break,” maybe for a week, he said.
Duterte dismissed as “pure speculation” recent reports that 6.8 billion pesos ($130 million) of methamphetamine had recently been smuggled into the country. The case being probed by lawmakers is reminiscent of the 604 kilograms (1,330 pounds) of smuggled narcotics last year that saw his son Paolo Duterte accused of involvement.
Ramon Casiple, a political analyst at the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said that few people believed Duterte was really ready to give up power. Casiple said the president’s remarks were more about “disarming the opposition that alleges he plans to extend his term or to establish dictatorship.”
Duterte spokesman Harry Roque said in a radio interview on Wednesday that the president hasn’t found the right person to be his successor. “When the conditions are ripe and when he finds that person, he will step down.”
In a rare rebuke to China, Duterte also urged China Tuesday to “ temper” its stance in the disputed South China Sea. “You cannot create an island,” Duterte said. “It’s man-made and you say that the air above this artificial island is yours.”
© 2018 Bloomberg L.P