MANILA – Sara Duterte, the daughter of the outgoing populist president of the Philippines, took her oath Sunday as vice president following a landslide electoral victory she clinched despite her father’s human rights record that saw thousands of drug suspects gunned down.
The inauguration in their southern hometown of Davao, where she’s the outgoing mayor, comes two weeks before she assumes office on June 30 as specified in the Philippine Constitution. President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Duterte’s running mate, will take his oath in Manila on June 30.
“I’m not the best or the most intelligent person in the Philippines and the world but nobody can beat the toughness of my heart as a Filipino,” Duterte, who wore a green traditional gown, said in a speech after she took her oath before a Supreme Court associate justice, her hand resting on a Bible held by her mother.
“The voice of 32.2 million Filipinos was loud and clear — with the message to serve our motherland,” Duterte said, referring to the votes she got, to an applause from thousands of supporters.
Fondly called by supporters as “Inday Sara,” the mother of three called for national unity and devotion to God and asked Filipinos to emulate the patriotism of the country’s national hero Jose Rizal. She cited longstanding social ills facing Filipino children, including poverty, broken families, illegal drugs, bullying and online misinformation and asked parents to ingrain in them the values of integrity, discipline, respect for others and compassion.
President Rodrigo Duterte, 77, led the VIPs in the heavily guarded ceremony at a public square near city hall in the port city of Davao, where he had also served as a mayor starting in the late 1980s. His family, hailing from a modest middle-class background, built a formidable political dynasty in the restive southern region long troubled by communist and Muslim insurgencies and violent political rivalries.
Duterte’s presidency has been marked by a brutal anti-drugs campaign that has left thousands of mostly petty suspects shot dead by police or vigilantes. The drug killings are being investigated by the International Criminal Court as a possible crime against humanity.
The electoral triumphs of Sara Duterte and Marcos Jr. have alarmed left-wing and human rights groups because of their failure to acknowledge the massive human rights atrocities that took place under their fathers, including late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte campaigned on a vague platform of national unity without clearly addressing activists’ calls for them to take steps to prosecute the elder Duterte when he retires from politics.
One of the president’s sons, Sebastian Duterte, will succeed his sister as Davao mayor, and another son, Paolo Duterte, won a seat in the House of Representatives in the May 9 elections. The outgoing president’s late father was a former Davao governor.
Philippine elections have long been dominated by politicians belonging to the same bloodlines. At least 250 political families have monopolized power across the country, although such dynasties are prohibited under the constitution. Congress — long controlled by members of powerful clans targeted by the constitutional ban — has failed to pass the law needed to define and enforce the provision.
While Sara Duterte, 44, refused calls by her father and supporters to seek the presidency, she has not ruled out a future run. She topped pre-elections surveys for the president last year and won with a huge margin like Marcos Jr.
Aside from the vice president, she has agreed to serve as education secretary, although there were talks that her initial preference was to head the Department of National Defense, a traditional springboard to the presidency.
Still, the education portfolio would provide her first national political platform, especially with plans to resume physical classes soon after the country was hit hard by two years of coronavirus pandemic outbreaks and lockdowns.
She thanked her Davao supporters on Saturday and said she decided to hold her inauguration in one of the country’s most developed cities to show her pride as a southern provincial politician who rose to a top national post.
Duterte finished a medical course and originally wanted to become a doctor but later took up law and was prevailed upon to enter politics starting in 2007, when she was elected as Davao vice mayor and mayor three years later.
In 2011, she drew national attention when she was caught on video punching and assaulting a court sheriff who was helping lead a police demolition of a shanty community despite her plea for a brief deferment. The court official sustained a black eye and face injuries and was taken by her bodyguards to a hospital.
Despite her public feuds with her father, Sara Duterte had her hair shaved a year before the 2016 elections as a show of support for his candidacy.
He won the single six-year mandate by a huge margin on an audacious but failed promise to eradicate illegal drugs and corruption in three to six months and constant public threats to kill drug dealers.