Academics from the country’s top universities say chances are dim for whoever President Duterte chooses as presidential candidate in 2022 elections, even with Duterte as running mate.

To cling to power, officials allied with President Duterte are moving heaven and earth even in the midst of a pandemic to make him run in the 2022 elections as vice-president with either Sen. Bong Go or Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.

But academics from the country’s top universities agree that the administration’s alignment with China dooms any of Duterte’s bid to keep power beyond his 6-year presidential term.

Lily Terrenio of UP Diliman said: “I wanted the President to change his mind about Philippine friendship with China. While we may have benefited from Chinese aid, their occupation of some (territories) in the South China Sea has affected our fishermen.”

Lawyer Michael Henry Yusingco, research fellow at Ateneo de Manila University Policy Center said this is the only issue where the public disagrees with the President.

Yusingco said Duterte risked losing his political capital after Chinese investment pledges failed to materialize during his term. And the slow progress of the administration’s infrastructure deals with China would probably affect the chances of his anointed presidential candidate to win in 2022, he added.

He said a number of concessions that Duterte extended to China for capital that has yet to materialize would be a main issue in next year’s elections.

Early in his presidency, Duterte announced a foreign policy pivot toward China and away from the country’s traditional allies such as the United States.  Manila got about $24 billion in investment and loan pledges from China to boost big-ticket infrastructure projects but few have yet to materialize one year into the presidential election.

Another issue that would probably be in voters’ minds is the government’s response against the coronavirus pandemic, said Maria Ela Atienza, political science professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman who finds the government’s response to the pandemic another major shortcoming.

“Local vaccination plans can be seen as political capital,” Atienza said.

Out of all Southeast Asian countries, Filipinos are the most disapproving of their government’s response to the pandemic, according to a study by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Studies Centre.

“Antonio Gabriel La Viña, a lawyer and former dean of the Ateneo de Manila University School of Government, blamed the public’s hesitancy over vaccination to the lack of a government-sponsored information campaign on vaccines.

“Foreign policy, particularly our China policy, would be an election issue,” Yusingco said. “I’m sure the opposition will make this one of their focal arguments.”

He said the opposition must offer a clear and credible policy narrative on how the country should defend its territorial and national interests against Chinese intrusion. “Sound bytes and slogans will not be enough.”

Renato de Castro, international studies professor at De La Salle University, said the opposition must show how foreign policy could affect their lives.

“Foreign policy issues will matter to the public,” he said. “We have seen it in the previous administrations. These should be framed in light of domestic issues. Will this give them food?”

Yusingco said Duterte’s popularity is unlikely to diminish as his term ends. “But whoever will be his anointed one for 2022 should not think this trust and fondness for the President carries over to them,” he added.