2025 Philippine elections

One year before 2025 Philippine elections: Proxy wars, and where alliances stand

Dwight de Leon

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One year before 2025 Philippine elections: Proxy wars, and where alliances stand

CIVIL. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Vice President Sara Duterte during the distribution of land e-titles to qualified beneficiaries in Davao City on February 7, 2024.


Major signs of discord within the broad administration coalition offer a preview of a midterm elections showdown between President Marcos and Vice President Sara Duterte, who on paper remain allies. Here's the lay of the land one year before the polls.

MANILA, Philippines – One year before the 2025 elections, apparent divisions within President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s super majority coalition raise the possibility of a head-to-head battle between the factions in the upcoming midterm polls.

Marcos has insisted that the UniTeam electoral alliance he built with his number two – Vice President Sara Duterte – remains intact, but critics believe their supposed marriage of convenience for the 2022 polls has reached its bitter end.

How is the line drawn a year before election day?

Infighting slipping through the cracks

The President and Vice President have kept it friendly and professional in public, as they remain allies on paper.

However, major signs of discord among their closest allies have created an impression of a proxy war between the country’s two highest leaders.

Even prior to the start of the Marcos presidency, political onlookers have witnessed a number of key moments that fueled observations that there is a falling out within the UniTeam:

Marcos gearing up for 2025

On May 1, Marcos told new members of the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas, which he chairs, that party leaders were preparing for the midterm polls, a vote that would test his popularity as president.

PFP, Marcos’ home party that rose from obscurity after he used it as vehicle for his 2022 campaign, has beefed up its membership after the 2022 elections by recruiting local officials across the country, including governors and mayors.

PFP has partnered with Romualdez’s party Lakas-CMD, which is the most dominant bloc in the House, in building a stage for the administration’s senatorial slate in 2025.

It is expected that other key blocs in the Marcos administration’s super majority coalition, such as the National Unity Party, Nationalist People’s Coalition, and Nacionalista Party, will also forge an alliance with PFP and Lakas-CMD heading to the midterms.

Kilusan ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino, which in 2023 tried to launch itself as the next party of Marcos for 2025, failed to take off after its accreditation languished at the Comelec, and after most of its inaugural members jumped ship to more established political formations.

Waiting for Sara and the Dutertes

The question that hangs in the air is how the Vice President will position herself for the midterm elections.

There have been calls for the President to remove the country’s second-in-command from the Cabinet, but the so-far risk-averse Marcos has insisted on keeping her, saying he has no reason to fire her because she was not incapable nor corrupt.

It is important to note that reputable surveys have constantly named Sara as the most trusted government official. She has a commanding grip on Mindanao, where the President has seen his approval scores tumble in recent months.

Sara herself has faced calls to just voluntarily step down from the DepEd, but doing so would be an outright declaration of war against the Marcos administration.

Key figures of the alliance between PFP and Lakas-CMD are coy about the possibility of including Hugpong ng Pagbabago – Sara’s regional party – in the administration coalition. Romualdez and PFP president South Cotabato Governor Jun Tamayo said they are not closing their doors on HNP, but admitted there have been no formal talks to invite them to the alliance.

Former president Duterte, for his part, has sent mixed signals, saying he was done with politics, but also that he would run in the future should he find a compelling reason to do so. Whispering in his ear are his most loyal political operators, in addition to former Marcos supporters who have jumped ship after losing favor with the incumbent chief executive.

The threat of arrest in connection with the ICC probe against his bloody drug war may be keeping the former president awake at night, leaving a 2025 senatorial run in the list of options he could explore.

Davao City’s political kingpin and his children have mastered the art of keeping their enemies and the public on their toes, so it would be unwise to count them out.

Genuine opposition

And then, there is the decimated opposition.

The Liberal Party – the political vehicle of the late former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III – has struggled to regain its numbers after Duterte’s rise to power.

The “hostile political climate,” as former senator and party chairman Francis Pangilinan once said, relegated the party to the sidelines. In 2022, Albay lawmaker and party president Edcel Lagman promised a comeback for the 2025 midterms, but the party’s diminishing size in Congress indicates that it has yet to regain momentum.

The LP, however, has been among the first to partially unveil its 2025 lineup, saying that Pangilinan and former senator Bam Aquino will try to reenter the Senate, along with lawyer Chel Diokno, who is giving the upper chamber a third shot.

What about former vice president Leni Robredo?

The charismatic opposition figure who came in distant second in the 2022 presidential race is being convinced by LP stalwarts to give the Senate a chance in 2025, but her move to transfer her voter registration records to Naga City has fueled speculations that she’s gunning for a mayoral seat.

A bid to lead city hall in her bailiwick is the much safer route, compared to a senatorial campaign that already promises to be expensive and exhausting before she can commit to it, with recent surveys putting her outside the Magic 12 a year before the polls. She can, however, reignite the passion of the millions of voters who chose her to be president in 2022, and who would want to see her brand of politics in a national setting.

Twelve months before Filipinos go out and vote, the stage is set for a showdown between the Marcos and Duterte families, emblems of traditional politics in the Philippines. Will the viable alternative please stand up? – Rappler.com

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Malacañang, and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.