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Politics in 2024: The Dutertes make Marcos palatable

Marites Dañguilan Vitug

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Politics in 2024: The Dutertes make Marcos palatable
As we have seen, the big split has begun. The year ahead will partly be defined by this great unraveling in national politics, an open conflict between the Duterte and Marcos camps that could turn strident.

As we enter the new year, there’s one political phenomenon that we will see deepen. It is a continuation of what I call the state of relativity: we view things in reference to others and say, “Yes, where we are is okay. After all, we came from hell.”

This is what has unfolded before us. The son of the late dictator has grudgingly looked good among his non-supporters. He didn’t have to do any heavy lifting to woo those who didn’t vote for him: he just showed himself to be different from his predecessor.

It was a service former President Rodrigo Duterte handed to Marcos on a silver platter, providing the stark contrast such that Marcos’s rule has become acceptable. The resistance to the strongman Marcos’s son, while still lingering, has been put on snooze.

The reality is: the Marcos presidency has given us some breathing space, restoring normalcy to our democracy, no matter how flawed. We no longer feel the heavy hand of a former leader who perpetuated violence and throttled our freedoms. 

Looking back, Duterte shattered our expectations of what a good leader is. So, even the ordinary stuff Marcos does – properly reading his speeches, coming to meetings on time, getting up from bed early (7 am, he once said), not holding long-winded Cabinet meetings that last till the small hours, not imposing incoherent late-night addresses to the nation, not blurting out brittle, threatening curses – have been magnified as if they were feats of leadership.

So far, however, Marcos has done well on foreign policy, returning us to our geopolitical bearings. He has asserted our country’s sovereign rights, assailing China for its aggressive behavior in the West Philippine Sea. He has strengthened alliances with the West and friendly countries. 

These days, when anti-Marcos friends gather, we hear this common remark: “I can’t believe I am saying this but Marcos has been saying the right things.” This is quietly said, in a tone of hesitant acceptance, as if we were talking about a taboo.

Sara’s turn

Now, it’s Vice President Sara Duterte who is doing Marcos the same favor. Out of her lips come pronouncements that echo her father’s red-baiting views, a shared obsession with the dying communist insurgency as the existential threat to the country.  She’s ideologically stranded, stuck in an old paradigm that paints the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) as the main security threat at a time when the world has changed.

She called Marcos’s decision to restart peace talks with the National Democratic Front and the CPP an “agreement with the devil.” Her father pursued the same tack and dove even deeper. He went to bed with the CPP, appointed representatives of the Left to his Cabinet – until their relations went sour. 

Sara was all praise for two hosts of the Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) who, like her father, routinely red-tagged people and peddled fake news. SMNI, owned by preacher and US fugitive Apollo Quiboloy, also a close ally of the Dutertes, “disguises propaganda as news, and uses its platforms to attack journalists and activists,” a 2022 investigation by Rappler showed.

Her regard for the rule of law is weak, as if it were pliant, something she could bend in her favor. Thus, she opposed the clamor of some members of Congress that the Philippines cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the probe of her father’s drug war saying that it would “degrade” our courts. 

Marcos, for his part, has shifted his stance on the ICC from complete rejection of any form of cooperation to studying the option of returning to its fold.

On China, which hardly anyone could miss as the big bully harassing our Coast Guard and Navy ships, our fishermen in our very own Exclusive Economic Zone and rampantly violating international law – Sara’s silence is booming.

While there exists some tension between father and daughter over family issues, it has become clear that their minds come from the same mold. This is a scary prospect for the 2028 presidential election should Sara make a bid for it.

Ugh, I know, being an audience to these two political dynasties, leaving us with little choice, makes us so bereft.

The great unraveling in 2024

Think about it, Bongbong and Sara actually share a number of similarities. They’re scions of two well-entrenched political families, members of the political elite, children of  strongmen, products of money and patronage politics, both with a sense of entitlement. 

Sara owes her popularity to her father, a populist and authoritarian leader who came to power as a backlash to 30 years of liberal democracy, bookended by the Aquinos. While there had been economic and social progress, inequality persisted.

Bongbong also owes his popularity to his father, whipped up by a manufactured nostalgia over his regime – backed by a deluge of disinformation on his martial-law rule as the golden age of the Philippines – as well as fading memories as a young generation of voters came to the fore.

Such was the basis of their hollow unity, a convenient getting together of political clans. But their views on certain issues have diverged, with Sara on the right and Bongbong moving to the center.

As we have seen, the big split has begun. The year ahead will partly be defined by this great unraveling in national politics, an open conflict between the Duterte and Marcos camps that could turn strident.

Taiwan elections

Before I close, just a heads-up. The first election of 2024 that will have an impact on us and our national security will happen on January 13 in Taiwan. So far, it’s a close call. The ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party leader William Lai is leading by a whisker over his main challenger from the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang, Hou Yu-ih.

The election will take place amid declarations from China that it will take over Taiwan. Our geography – we are uncomfortably near Taiwan – puts us in the crosshairs of a potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait.

Many await the results with bated breath.

In the midst of this suspense, I wish you all a happy new year!

Let me know what you think. You can email me at marites.vitug@rappler.com

1 comment

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  1. GB

    WoW! superb in-depth article which brings me up to date on Duterte-Marcos tandem. I will follow Philippine news with great interest. very proud to be a subscriber for Rappler!!
    Keep up the good independent journalist work!

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Marites Dañguilan Vitug

Marites is one of the Philippines’ most accomplished journalists and authors. For close to a decade, Vitug – a Nieman fellow – edited 'Newsbreak' magazine, a trailblazer in Philippine investigative journalism. Her recent book, 'Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case Against China,' has become a bestseller.