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MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Saturday he will not run for vice president in 2022 and will retire from politics, potentially paving the way for his daughter to contest the country's highest office.

Duterte, who polls show remains almost as popular as when he was swept to victory in 2016 on a promise to rid the country of drugs, is constitutionally barred from seeking a second term as leader.

"The overwhelming... sentiment of the Filipinos is that I am not qualified and it would be a violation of the constitution to circumvent the law, the spirit of the constitution" to run for the vice presidency, Duterte, 76, said.

"Today I announce my retirement from politics."

The authoritarian firebrand declared in August he would contest the country's second-highest office in the May election -- a move critics said was a smokescreen and motivated by fear that could face criminal charges after leaving office.

But a recent poll by PulseAsia Research showed Duterte well back in second place among preferred vice presidents.

A survey by Social Weather Stations showed 60 percent of Filipinos did not think Duterte's run for the vice presidency was in the spirit of the constitution.

Duterte made the surprise announcement at the venue where he was expected to register his candidacy. He did not specify when he would leave politics.

His close aide, Senator Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go, registered for the vice presidency instead.

Philippines' Duterte accepts endorsement to run as vice president in 2022

The tough-talking leader has not yet announced his preferred successor, but many expect it will be his daughter, Sara, who has been the front runner in recent polls.

She would likely protect Duterte from criminal charges in the Philippines, and International Criminal Court prosecutors probing his deadly drug war, which rights groups estimate has killed tens of thousands of people.

But the mayor of the southern city of Davao -- a position held by her father before he became president -- has said she would not run if Duterte sought the vice presidency.

The election season kicked off Friday with candidates vying for thousands of posts from president to town councillor.

The week-long registration process launches a typically noisy and deadly seven months of campaigning for more than 18,000 positions -- but the raging pandemic and economic misery caused by Covid lockdowns could dampen the party atmosphere.

Even if Sara misses the October 8 deadline for registration, she still has until November 15 to make a late entry into the presidential race -- as her father did in 2015.

Among other front runners for the top job are Duterte's ally Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, son and namesake of the country's former dictator, and ex-actor and city mayor Francisco Domagoso -- known by his screen name Isko Moreno.

Newly retired boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao registered on Friday to run for president.

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