Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

[Newsstand] Duterte vs Marcos: A rift impossible to bridge, a wound impossible to heal

John Nery

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[Newsstand] Duterte vs Marcos: A rift impossible to bridge, a wound impossible to heal

Marian Hukom

The latest interview with the First Lady signals a new stage in the unraveling of the UniTeam

For the second time, First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos has appeared in a candid and controversial video. Unlike the first one, which came out in January 2023 and which she herself recorded on the grounds of the presidential palace, the second video was an extended interview; it was released Friday and hosted by Anthony Taberna.

The most talked-about portion of the interview was her direct answer to the question about her relationship with Vice President Sara Duterte, her husband’s running mate. She said Sara was now a “bad shot,” Philippine English for someone who’s in disfavor. She explained that she was hurt when the vice president attended a political rally in Davao City last January and was seen laughing when the former president and Sara’s father Rodrigo Duterte called President Marcos Junior a drug addict. (Mrs. Marcos used the term Duterte used, “bangag” or stoned.)

“You went to a rally, then your President gets called a drug addict, right, and you’re going to laugh? Is that right?” she asked in a mix of Filipino and English. Then she added in English, for good measure: “Even Leni [Robredo] never did that.”

As people say these days, “Shots fired!”

Why did Mrs. Marcos agree to do the interview – and why now? To answer that, we need to understand whether the alliances headed by the running mates can still be reconciled, and what options her husband the President retains.

Paths to reconciliation

Anything, famously, is possible in politics. In his last year in office, President Duterte said many unflattering things about Marcos Junior – and yet that did not stop Marcos from teaming up with Sara. 

Marcos continues to this day to be not only civil but friendly with his vice president. At most, he has acknowledged that their relationship is “complicated,” and he has sought to tamp down any speculation about the meaning of the Vice President’s studied silence on West Philippine Sea issues by asserting that the younger Duterte is part of the administration’s stand.

Can the Marcos and Duterte families still reconcile? Can the UniTeam recover unity?

There may be only four paths to peace between the dynasties.

Marcos takes the lead. President Marcos may read the signs of the times and conclude that it would be in his and his family’s best interests to remain allied with the Dutertes. This conclusion will lead him to insist that his family and their allies make peace with Davao. The most important step in peace-making is forcing his cousin, Speaker Martin Romualdez, to give up his presidential ambitions and, with the rest of the clan, support Sara Duterte for president in 2028.

Romualdez steps aside. On his own, Romualdez can make a grand gesture and set aside his presidential ambitions, not necessarily to the extent of supporting Sara in 2028 but only removing himself from the equation. This will calm turbulent waters.

Imee brokers a deal, again. Senator Imee Marcos remains very close to the Dutertes, and is politically wily enough to broker a deal similar to what she helped craft in 2022: a winning tandem for president and vice president, this time with a Duterte as the standard bearer. Without necessarily depending on how she will do in her reelection campaign in 2025, she might offer herself as Sara’s running mate in 2028, with the backing of the Marcos clan.

The Dutertes step back. The Vice President may read the signs of the times and conclude that, with the emergence of Senator Raffy Tulfo as a potential presidential candidate, it would be in her and her family’s best interests to remain allied with the Marcoses. This conclusion will lead her to insist that her family, including her father but especially her brother the mayor, to apologize profusely to President Marcos for their many impertinences and insults.

The road not taken

But how likely is it that the two dynasties take any of these possible paths?

The short answer is not at all.

The long answer is that the Dutertes have already come to the conclusion that the Marcoses (and the Romualdezes) not only cannot guarantee their long-term safety, but are in fact an actual threat to their dynasty’s long-term viability as a national, rather than merely a local, power.

Several factors serve together as cause.

Romualdez’s stealth campaigns to change the Constitution was conducted so efficiently and so suddenly it caught Duterte and his original allies, who tried to change the Constitution themselves, completely off guard. (Having failed so badly at their own attempt, former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and others like him must surely have recognized the risk that Romualdez, who came so close and is still not done, presents to the political class.)

The President’s re-pivot to the United States undid the Duterte administration’s pro-China policy, exposed the former president to accusations of treason (which may yet gain traction, though one can never tell when it comes to the most popular politician ever surveyed), and (in Duterte’s view) undermined the true basis of regional stability: alignment with Beijing. Not least, Mrs. Marcos’ influence on the President continues to unsettle the Vice President and her family’s allies, in part because they thought they only needed to deal with Sen. Imee Marcos, and in part because Mrs. Marcos, when she intervenes, has proven to be decisive (for instance, removing the first executive secretary) and strategic (the Taberna interview).

The usual suspects in the alternative information infrastructure on social media have taken sides, as per usual. Those who have turned against the President (whom they call “kuting,” or kitten, a deliberate signal of their contempt for the “junior” Marcos) predictably said the interview had reaped a whirlwind of criticism. But even if that were true, that wasn’t the point of it.

With her interview, Mrs. Marcos was signaling to the Marcos allies that the point of no return has been crossed. I think she has recognized that the Dutertes will never step back; that the insults from the Duterte men can never be unsaid, and will in all likelihood be followed by more insults; that the Dutertes no longer trust the Marcoses; above all, that the Dutertes see President Marcos Junior as fundamentally weak – a “kuting,” no match against the Duterte tiger. 

The reference to Robredo was deliberate, not so much a ploy to win sympathy from Leni supporters in the Marcoses’ battle with the Dutertes, but a twist of the knife stuck into one side of the Duterte base. The one politician that base sees as even weaker than Marcos Junior is Robredo. 

Damoclean swords

As Duterte demonstrated when he was president, the powers of the presidency remain overwhelming even under the many constraints of the post-EDSA Constitution, if you wield them with a combination of political will and a lack of concern with niceties. In this sense, President Marcos enjoys a clear advantage over the Dutertes – but he has not deployed all his weapons against the Dutertes yet. 

Remove the VP from the Cabinet. The vice president remains on the Cabinet, as secretary of the largest department, education. It is a challenge, even for her closest supporters, to argue that she is doing an outstanding job in that position; the President can replace her at anytime, with a much more qualified (read: non-political) appointee.

Disband the Vice Presidential Security and Protection Group. In an astonishing display of political muscle-flexing, the then newly-elected vice president lobbied for the creation of a much larger close-in protection unit to serve her office, separate (as its predecessor unit was) from the Presidential Security Group. Citing operational or financial reasons, the President can disband the unit or restore the Vice Presidential Security Detachment of yesteryears, which was about a fifth of the current size.

Isolate China supporters. President Marcos can retract his blanket statement offering cover for the Vice President on China issues, painting her, her family, and her allies into a corner. Philippine public opinion since at least 2012 has been consistent and clear: The majority of voting-age Filipinos want the Philippines to be more assertive in its relationship with Beijing, especially as far as our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea are concerned. The former president’s China pivot was always one of his weakest links.

Arrest Duterte. Allow the arrest by the national police of former president Duterte and others implicated in the drug-related extrajudicial killings if and when the International Criminal Court issues an arrest warrant. 

It is possible that the interview with Mrs. Marcos was designed to clear the path for any of these acts. Any one of them, however, will turn the war of attrition between the dynasties into a war of annihilation. – Rappler.com

Veteran journalist John Nery is a Rappler columnist, editorial consultant, and program host. “In the Public Square” airs on Rappler platforms every Wednesday at 8 pm.

1 comment

Sort by
  1. ET

    Sir John Nery has provided many scenarios. However, the critical factors are as follows: 1) President Marcos Jr. is developing a trait of being the “great pretender,” and 2) Speaker Martin Romualdez will not back down. This war of attrition will turn into a battle of annihilation. It is all because of “a rift impossible to bridge, (and) a wound impossible to heal.”

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!