By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday night mocked a mayor who’s been doing well in election polls for the alleged disorder at his city’s vaccination sites, saying he was unfit to become President.

The tough-talking leader, alluding to Manila Mayor Francisco Moreno Domagoso — also known by his screen name Isko Moreno — ridiculed him for his past as a sexy actor. He should not become Philippine President, he added.

“That’s what you want — someone trained like call boy?” Mr. Duterte said in a televised speech in Filipino. “That’s the training for a President, stripping and having his picture taken.”

Before his stint in showbusiness, Mr. Domagoso was a scavenger and pedicab driver in one of the most populated districts in the Philippine capital.

The mayor had done well in polls on voters’ preferences for presidential and vice-presidential candidates, placing second to presidential daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio and Mr. Duterte, who earlier said he might run for vice-president next year.

The President said he would strip the city of its power to distribute government cash aid for the alleged chaos.

Sought for comment, Mr. Domagoso instead shared a certificate issued by the Interior and Local Government department two months ago praising his performance in distributing cash aid.

Potential candidates next year should brace for more political attacks, with less than two months left before they file their certificates of candidacy, political analysts said.

“The stronger challengers to the administration will likely be the object of smear campaigns,” said Dennis C. Coronacion, who heads the University of Santo Tomas Political Science Department. 

“Pro-Duterte bloggers, vloggers and the entire disinformation machinery will go against whoever is doing good in the surveys,” he said in a Viber message.

Mr. Domagoso’s narrative could be easily discredited “because it’s personality- rather than platform-oriented,” said Cleve V. Arguelles, a political science lecturer at De La Salle University.

“It’s what happened to Jejomar Binay and Manny Villar’s presidential campaigns before,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “They only have to discredit their characters for their entire campaigns to lose credibility.”

The Interior and Local Government department last week ordered the Manila mayor, who was elected in 2019, to explain his city’s alleged failure to fully implement Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs.

The order may be an effort to harass Mr. Domagoso, who has a big chance of challenging a Duterte victory in the 2022 polls, said Maria Ela L. Atienza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines.

Mr. Domagoso’s rise from poverty is a powerful narrative that could challenge the Dutertes and the country’s elite-dominated politics, she said in an e-mail.

The mayor, who beat ex-President Joseph Estrada in the 2019 elections, can develop a more powerful narrative “because he really has grassroots origins, unlike the President who comes from a political family,” Ms. Atienza said. 

“Isko has actual ‘masa’ origins whereas the President, despite his tough talk, is part of the elite though he comes from Mindanao,” she added.

Mr. Duterte’s appeal is partly about his narrative of toughness and concern for the poor as well, Mr. Arguelles said. “So Isko’s story and use of the same narrative wouldn’t be surprising.”

Mr. Moreno, who is believed to be seeking the presidency in the 2022 elections, earlier said Manila’s vaccination registration site was attacked by bots a day before chaos ensued in the city’s vaccination hubs.

He said the cyber-attack could be part of a grand plan to discredit his leadership.

In a report, Manila City said the attack was meant to make it difficult for people to register for vaccination. “We highly suspect that whoever is doing this has a troll farm-generating machinery.”

Mr. Domagoso traced the chaotic vaccinations in some of the capital’s inoculation sites to “agitators” sent by people with political motives.

“The hacking could mean that some sectors are out to destroy Isko,” UP political science Professor Jean S. Encinas-Franco said in a Viber message. “There would be more attacks.”

Mr. Domagoso last week resigned as vice-chairman for political affairs of the National Unity Party, which was formed by former party mates of ex-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, after it pledged to support Ms. Carpio’s presidential run.

“These are enough reasons to make Mayor Moreno a perfect target of black propaganda,” Mr. Coronacion said.

Expect a “high level of disinformation against candidates who will offer alternative views of realities,” said Victor C. Manhit, president of think tank Albert del Rosario Institute.

Senator Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel has said China’s cyber-warfare and disinformation campaigns would be “one of the biggest threats to our national security and our democracy.”

She said Chinese authorities might be using some video-conferencing apps to steal data from users.

Social media giant Facebook, Inc. last year shut down 155 accounts, 11 pages, nine groups and six Instagram accounts that originated in China with posts expressing strong support for Mr. Duterte and his daughter.

Meanwhile, Vice-President Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo on Tuesday said she was talking to Senator Emmanuel “Manny” D. Pacquiao in a bid to unite administration critics before the 2022 elections.

“I’ve spoken to him, I think twice already,”  she told CNN Philippines. They had talked about their stand on several issues.

Last month, the boxing champ was voted out as president of the ruling party headed by Mr. Duterte.

Ms. Robredo also said she had rejected Senator Panfilo M. Lacson’s unification plan because she “felt strongly” against it.

“It’s not going to be easy because we all come from different places,” she said. “We’re not from the same parties, and I expect that we feel differently about many things, but I don’t want to say that just because we don’t agree on one, we can’t agree on more,” she said in mixed English and Filipino. — with Alyssa Nicole O. Tan