The May 2022 elections might still be far-off, but even now, we’re already catching a glimpse of who our potential presidential candidates might be.

Whether it’s the ‘will they/won’t they’ arc of Sara Duterte, the not-so-secret desire of Bongbong Marcos to run for a national position, or the suspiciously outspoken demeanor of Manny Pacquiao, it doesn’t take a genius to see the subtle hints of higher political aspirations.

As the old saying goes ‘Pa-simple pa kayo’

Duterte, <b> As election season nears, Duterte allies are starting to fold </b>
They’re not exactly subtle – Digicast Negros

But regardless of whether VP Leni Robredo trades the governor garb for the presidency, or if a Lacson-Sotto tandem does happen, one thing’s for certain: our candidates’ stance on key issues will make or break their chances of winning.

One such issue comes to mind: China’s encroachment on the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

While President Duterte remains popular with the masses (if the surveys are led to be believed), his pampering of Beijing is undoubtedly the biggest stain on his reputation. The topic ‘enjoys’ a near-collective sense of disapproval that transcends political alignments – a trait not even the controversial Drug War can claim.

Duterte, <b> As election season nears, Duterte allies are starting to fold </b>
New York Times

Duterte has long flip-flopped on his stances on China and the West Philippine Sea. Beijing routinely shifts from being ‘a good friend’ to an adversary he won’t back down from. The Hague ruling, considered a diplomatic milestone, has both been called a ‘triumph of reason’ and a ‘piece of paper meant for the trashcan.

Only the most fanatical of Duterte’s supporters weren’t outraged when he chided voters for being ‘gago’ or idiots for believing in his ‘jet ski’ promise, effectively alienating the fisherman who asked the question in the first place.

In April, around 240 Chinese militia vessels resided well within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a trespass so grave that even Foreign Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin couldn’t help but curse at the regional superpower.

Senators, including administration allies, are no stranger to crying foul over Duterte’s defeatist stance. When Duterte admitted to being ‘inutile’ in dealing with the issue, Senator Panfilo Lacson retorted ‘We’re not inutile as a country’. Senator Richard Gordon called it ‘disappointing’ and ‘demeaning’, and an excuse for the Philippines to be bullied more.

Duterte, <b> As election season nears, Duterte allies are starting to fold </b>

The issue of China and WPS will no doubt be a dealbreaker in the upcoming presidential campaigns. And even if they’re allies on paper, aspiring candidates cannot afford to ride-or-die with Duterte’s pro-China agenda. Not with the overwhelming hostility, both from the public and the gov’t, in the air.

Otherwise, they might as well pack their bags along with Duterte’s when he ends his term in June of next year. Case in point: Senator Manny Pacquiao.

Senator Pacquiao has been involved in a feud with Pres. Duterte recently, when the former called the latter’s stance on China and WPS ‘lacking’. Pacquiao is the acting president of PDP-Laban, Duterte’s own political party, so him calling the Prezzo ‘soft’ is bound to raise some eyebrows.

Duterte responded by chiding Pacquiao’s supposed ‘shallow’ knowledge on the issue. Pacquiao replied that he is simply reflecting the sentiments of the Filipino people.

Duterte, <b> As election season nears, Duterte allies are starting to fold </b>

At this point, it is more than likely Sen. Pacquiao will run for the presidency next year. Bob Arum pretty much confirmed it. Even now, he isn’t big on a Sara Duterte presidency, saying that others should be given a chance. And unlike the rest of his party, Pacquiao isn’t a fan of seeing the elder Duterte run for the Vice Presidency.

Does this mean that Pacquiao could ultimately leave the majority’s side come election time? Probably not. The benefits of being associated, such as resources, are far too great.

However, do not be surprised if Sen. Pacquiao – or other aspiring allies – grow bolder and outspoken, even against Duterte, in the coming months.

After all, this is politics, where there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests.

Duterte, <b> As election season nears, Duterte allies are starting to fold </b>