After a series of political plot twists in his camp that culminated in a lack of a presidential ticket, President Rodrigo Duterte still keeps his foes guessing on his next move: to endorse or not any successor for Malacañang.
But his options are not looking plenty with him publicly attacking nearly all of the leading presidential aspirants.
He called his daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio's running mate and survey frontrunner Bongbong Marcos a "weak leader," Sen. Manny Pacquiao "punch drunk," threw "call boy" shade at Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, and of course, who could forget his litany of insults against opposition head Vice President Leni Robredo over the past six years?
With only a few months left before the elections, should Duterte even endorse anyone for president?
"It is already too late at this point and endorsing someone among the remaining candidates at this point shows desperation and weakness on the part of the President and the administration as well as the candidate he will be endorsing," University of the Philippines political science professor Maria Ela Atienza told reportr.
Duterte failed to pressure his daughter Duterte-Carpio to run for president, with the Marcoses winning one over him by convincing her to slide down to the vice presidential race. His longtime aide, Sen. Bong Go, seen as his last shot at setting the terms of his succession, bowed out of the presidential race too.
Among those aspiring to succeed Duterte, Senators Panfilo Lacson and Manny Pacquiao, and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno have expressed openness to an endorsement from the President even after the 76-year-old's public attacks.
"It does not reflect well of him (Duterte) as he is a poor institution builder with not much effort to bring together a strong candidate backed up by a unified party and other allies," Atienza added.
What's at stake for Duterte?
Duterte's endorsement, should he decide to make one, might no longer even matter in the elections given the lack of a standard-bearer of his own political party, PDP-Laban, said UP political science associate professor Alicor Panao.
"If we follow the logic of political capital, a single term president whose party does not have a standard-bearer has little in terms of shaping the elections," Panao told reportr.
What a presidential aspirant can benefit from a Duterte endorsement however is getting the vote of the President's "solid base of supporters" according to political analyst Ramon Casiple.
"Even though people would say he is now a lame-duck president, he still has a solid base of supporters who really listen and follow him. That support can be used by the candidate he chooses to endorse," Casiple told reportr.
What's in it for Duterte? His legacy and the continuity of his programs are at stake, analysts Atienza and Casiple said.
"His legacy, while it is not entirely dependent on his successor, could be validated if the one who wins the elections is someone he endorsed," Casiple said.
Should Duterte endorse the candidate who eventually wins, public opinion of Duterte could also improve according to Panao.
"Before the public at least, this will legitimize controversial policy decisions and exonerate policy mishaps. This will also bolster public opinion in favor of Duterte, minimizing the risk of public accountability after his term," he said.
Should Duterte endorse a successor?
With no candidate of his own, seeking a compromise and endorsing a candidate from other political parties for the presidency at this point could do more harm than good, analysts said.
"It looks desperate for him and his supporters to now compromise and now make deals to endorse another candidate," Atienza said. "It also does not look good for the candidate he will endorse, if he indeed still endorses one since they did not originally present themselves as administration candidates."
Should Duterte abandon plans to endorse a successor, such move could be deliberate according to Panao who noted that presidents are not required to endorse anyone in the first place.
"Presidents are not required to endorse anyone. Neither is an endorsement a sure ticket to the presidential race. Some even call it a kiss of death," he said.
With Filipinos awaiting Duterte's next move before he leaves Malacañang, what's clear is that he has lost the opportunity to set the terms of his succession by not fielding his own presidential ticket and is now left to settle on an endorsement.
"In both cases, these show poor leadership and statesmanship and that he has no strong intention to have his hallmark policies and programs continue in the next administration," Atienza said.