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Think tank says Duterte health a risk that could lead to ‘political gridlock’

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte attends a plenary session at a regional summit in Bangkok, Thailand on Nov. 2. -- REUTERS

A THINK TANK on Monday flagged President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s poor health as a risk that could prematurely end his six-year term that started in 2016.

In a report released on Monday, Fitch Solutions Macro Research said this could lead to a potential “political gridlock” until the 2022 presidential election.

One scenario is for Vice-President Maria Leonor G. Robredo to take charge if Mr. Duterte’s poor health forces him to step down.

“We would expect a policy gridlock to ensue and Robredo’s presidency to be a lame duck term,” according to the report.

“Duterte’s supporters within the Senate and House of Representatives would likely stifle and try to undermine Robredo ahead of the 2022 elections,” the think tank said. “Indeed, we would expect Robredo to focus on her presidential campaign for 2022 and focus less on attempting to pass reforms through the hostile Houses,” it added.

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Mr. Duterte’s supporters would probably resist a Robredo presidency. This could “nullify policymaking” and result in political instability, Fitch Solutions said.

Still, Mr. Duterte would probably support candidates in the 2022 elections who will continue his reforms, as well as prioritize infrastructure development.

“Our core view is that Duterte remains president until the 2022 elections and will make a clear choice over who he deems to be his successor as president before the election,” Fitch Solutions said.

“While Duterte has suggested that he does not intend to back a specific candidate, we believe his desire to secure his legacy and protect his interests will mean he chooses a successor,” it added.

Anointing a successor is “a serious pathology in our political and electoral system,” Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a lawyer and research fellow at the Ateneo de Manila Policy Center, said in an e-mailed reply to questions.

“His anointment will afford his chosen one an unfair advantage over the other presidential aspirants,” he said. “This is precisely the reason why politicians planning to run for the top post in 2022 are vying for his endorsement.”

Mr. Duterte might endorse his daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Z. Duterte-Carpio despite his earlier remarks that he didn’t want her to run for president because of hostility from the media and opposition.

Mr. Duterte may also endorse potential successors, including former Senators Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. and Francis Joseph G. Escudero, as well as Albay Rep. José María Clemente “Joey” S. Salceda.

If a favored candidate wins, “policy continuity would remain relatively high,” especially with the support of Mr. Duterte’s allies, according to the report.

“We would expect a continuation of Duterte’s focus on improving social services and logistical infrastructure,” Fitch Solutions said.

“Duterte’s fiscal spending program has helped boost and stabilize economic growth in the Philippines, which has averaged an estimated 6.5% in the first four years of Duterte’s six-year term,” the think tank said.

But the president’s close ties with China and its campaign against illegal drugs are less likely to continue, it said.

Mr. Duterte’s successor would probably seek to cool relations with China and court the Philippines’ traditional allies, such as the United States. “Similarly, Duterte’s war on drugs would be scaled back, given resistance domestically and internationally to the campaign,” it added.

Mr. Yusingco noted that policy continuity could ensure a stable economy, the business sector should play a more proactive role in the upcoming presidential campaign to ensure policies continue.

“The business community should be more active and vocal in getting the commitment of presidential candidates not to change policy without warning and deliberation once they assume office,” he said.

However, Mr. Duterte might also anoint a successor who is not favored by his allies, which could result in political friction. — Beatrice M. Laforga

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