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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Saturday he was retiring from politics, a surprise move that fuelled speculation he was clearing the way for his daughter to run to succeed him.
"The overwhelming... sentiment of the Filipinos is that I am not qualified and it would be a violation of the constitution to circumvent the law, the spirit of the constitution" to run for the vice presidency, Duterte said.
"Today, I announce my retirement from politics," he added, accompanying loyalist Senator Christopher "Bong" Go from their ruling PDP-Laban party as he registered to run for vice president.
Duterte, who polls show remains almost as popular as when he was swept to victory in 2016 on a promise to rid the country of drugs, had been expected to run for vice president in 2022. He is not eligible to run again for the top job as the constitution sets a single-six-year term limit for the president.
Political observers had long suspected Duterte could spring a surprise, such as a presidential run by his daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, next year.
But Duterte-Carpio, who replaced her father as mayor of Davao, said last month she was not running for higher office next year because she and her father had agreed only one of them would run for national office in 2022.
The older Duterte's decision not to join the race next year would clear her way.
"This allows Sara Duterte to run," said Antonio La Vina, professor of law and politics at the Ateneo de Manila University. But La Vina said he could not rule out the possibility that Duterte senior could have a change of heart and be Go's substitute.
Likely protection from ICC probe
The authoritarian firebrand declared in August he would contest the vice presidency in the next election -- a move critics said was a smokescreen and motivated by fear that could face criminal charges after leaving office.
Rodrigo Duterte made the surprise announcement at the venue where he was expected to register his candidacy. The tough-talking leader did not specify when he would leave politics, nor has he yet announced his preferred successor.
Candidates have until Friday to register, but withdrawals and substitutions are allowed until November 15, leaving scope for last-minute changes of heart, like the 11th-hour entry of Duterte for the 2016 election, which he won by a huge margin.
His daughter Sara, who has been the front runner in recent polls, would likely protect Duterte from criminal charges in the Philippines and International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors probing his deadly drug war, which rights groups estimate has killed tens of thousands of people.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS & AFP)