SENATOR Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa, a known ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, caught Filipino voters by surprise as he filed his certificate of candidacy (COC) for president within the last hour of the last day of the COC filing period Friday, October 8, 2021.

Dela Rosa arrived at the Sofitel Harbor Garden Tent in Pasay City at past 4 p.m. Friday to file his COC under the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino - Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), which earlier fielded Senator Christopher "Bong" Go - a former long-time aide of Duterte - as vice presidential candidate.

Dela Rosa was wearing a green Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) shirt under a red jacket, giving rise to speculations that he would eventually withdraw and presidential daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio would be his substitute candidate. Duterte-Carpio founded the HNP, a local political party.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has given political parties until November 15, 2021 to replace their candidates. But only a partymate of the candidate who withdrew voluntarily can be accepted as substitute candidate.

Duterte-Carpio is not a member of the PDP-Laban. Her rumored campaign manager, former Cabinet secretary Leoncio Evasco, recently took oath as member of the People's Reform Party (PRP), the party founded by the late senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

Her local party HNP had an alliance with the PRP in the 2019 elections. The PRP leadership has also expressed support for Duterte-Carpio should she run for president in the May 2022 elections.

As of Friday, however, Duterte-Carpio has maintained that she will not run for president and will seek reelection as Davao City mayor. She filed her COC in Davao City on October 2.

Her supporters have remained hopeful, considering that President Rodrigo Duterte himself employed the substitution strategy for the 2016 elections.

Asked to comment on the speculations that Duterte-Carpio would eventually replace him, Dela Rosa said, "Eh, di mas maganda."

But he acknowledged that Duterte-Carpio is not a member of the PDP-Laban.

"I don't know how we will do it kung ganyan ang mangyari. Basta ako, tatakbo talaga ako para maging presidente, maging pangulo natin," he said.

Dela Rosa said it was the PDP-Laban's decision to field him because there's no one else who can continue President Rodrigo Duterte's fight against illegal drugs, criminality, corruption and terrorism.

"This is a party decision. This is not my personal decision," he added.

The senator assured that it was not an abrupt decision and was only kept under the wraps.

"It was a party decision for me to run. It was decided long ago but we just kept it a secret. It's part of our strategy. If you announce early, they will come after you. So, we hid the decision," said dela Rosa.

Asked if his candidacy is a "mockery of the elections," Dela Rosa said, "Why? Do I look like a mockery to you? I won as a senator. Number 5 po ako last election. Is it mockery for the 19 million Filipinos who voted for me as senator of this republic?"

Dela Rosa was the first police chief under the Duterte administration and was tasked to implement the war against illegal drugs, which has killed thousands. (Marites Villamor-Ilano with HDT / SunStar Philippines)