Sara Duterte disowns text message telling lawmakers to defy dad’s choice for Speaker

Mara Cepeda
Sara Duterte disowns text message telling lawmakers to defy dad’s choice for Speaker
(3rd UPDATE) Anak Kalusugan Representative Michael Defensor apologizes to Sara Duterte, saying it was wrong of him to drag the Davao City mayor's name into the matter

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte denied that her camp sent a text message to legislators saying they should vote whoever they want for Speaker, defying the wishes of her father, President Rodrigo Duterte.

“Not mine and not true. Kung manawagan ako, sasabihin ko kung sino ang suportahan at hindi basehan sa kagustuhan lang ng botante,” Sara Duterte told Rappler in a text message on Tuesday, July 9.

(Not mine and not true. If I would issue a call, I would tell them whom to support and not to base their decision on the whims of the voters.)

The presidential daughter was asked to react to a text message shown to reporters by Anak Kalusugan Representative Mike Defensor during the “apppreciation dinner” hosted by lawmakers for former House speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at the Manila Hotel.

Defensor said he received a text message from someone “very close” to Sara, claiming the President was “set-up by greedy Cabinet members” allied with speakership candidate and Taguig City-Pateros Representative Alan Peter Cayetano, whom Duterte said will share terms with Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Velasco.

“‘Kaya nananawagan siya ngayon sa lahat ng mga congressmen na bumoto ayon sa kanilang kagustuhan dahil ang kaniyang ama ay na set-up lamang ng mga gahaman na Gabinete na kaalyado kay Cayetano.’ – Mayor Inday,” read the text received by Defensor.

(So she is now urging congressmen to vote whoever they want because her father was just set-up by greedy Cabinet members who are allied with Cayetano. – Mayor Inday.)

Defensor said several other legislators supposedly received the same message on Tuesday.

He is part of the House bloc backing Leyte 1st District Representative Martin Romualdez, who has already dropped out of the speakership race and who has agreed to follow Duterte’s suggestion that he be the Majority Leader instead.

‘Stop sowing intrigue’

In a separate statement sent to reporters on Wednesday, July 10, Sara told Defensor to “stop sowing intrigue” and to name the source of the text message.

“Give us the name of the neophyte member of the House of Representatives from whom you received a text message with a supposed message coming from me. A responsible individual would have asked me if there is truth to the text,” she said.

She said Defensor had tried to repeatedly reach out to her through lawyer Charo Munsayac to get her stand on the heated speakership issue – from making “last minute requests for Representative Romualdez” to “trying to light a fire about the term sharing decision” of her father.

“I reiterate for Representative Defensor to name his source because I have a reputation to protect and I have the right to confront a person who is spreading disinformation. Otherwise, we can all say that you are your own source,” said the mayor.

Blame lawmakers opposed to term-sharing

Sara also told Rappler said she was not the type to instruct emisarries to deliver her messages for her.

She suspected legislators opposed to the term-sharing scheme to be behind the text message.

Wala po ma-achieve ang ganyan na panawagan na walang objective. Hanapin ‘nyo ang hindi masaya sa term-sharing na congressmen. Malamang galing sa kanila ‘yan,” Sara said.

(This kind of call that does not have any objective will not achieve anything. Look for the congressmen who aren’t happy with the term-sharing. It probably came from them.)

According to Sara, she personally texts and calls legislators when she needs to talk to them.

Hindi ako nanawagan. When I talk to congressmen, I text them directly or I talk to them. I do not give out general panawagan pakipasa ng mensahe system (I don’t make a call through other people. When I talk to congressmen, I text them directly or I talk to them. I do not give out general calls then order others to spread it around),” she said.

She and her brother Davao City 1st District Representative Paolo Duterte are backing another candidate for Speaker: Davao City 3rd District Representative Isidro Ungab.

The Duterte Coalition – the bloc the presidential siblings formed to boost Ungab’s bid for the highest post in the House – has so far remained silent on the President’s endorsement of the Cayetano-Velasco term-sharing agreement.

Sara previously claimed Cayetano had made a “veiled threat” against her should she decide to support the speakership bid of Velasco.

Defensor apologizes 

Defensor was quick to apologize to Sara Duterte, saying it was wrong of him to drag the Davao City mayor’s name into the matter.

“I apologize to Mayor Inday Sarah if I have in anyway offended her with my statement. I did not say it came from her or a congressman. In fact, I should not have shown it because reading it again it had Inday Sarah’s name. I did say though that there was another person who got the same message. I apologise Ma’am if I have offended you,” he said in a statement.  

The party-list congressman, however, admitted that he had tried to reach out to Sara Duterte several times through Charo Munsayac. 

“As for [continually] asking Mayor Inday Sarah through Atty Charo Munsayac, I admit to this fact. I didn’t want to bother Atty Charo, whose my lawyer and a good friend of the Mayor, as regards political concerns but the turn of events on the speakership fight has left me and many of my colleagues confused and nonplussed on the matter,” said Defensor.

He reiterated his apology to her for showing reporters a copy of the text message, which featured Sara Dutere’s name.

“Again, I apologize to the good Mayor Inday Sarah. I should not have shown the text with her name. It was wrong of me to drag her name unfairly on this matter,” said Defensor. – with reports from Pia Ranada/

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at or tweet @maracepeda.