Duterte attacks vs Marcos: Fearless or reckless? | Inquirer Opinion

Duterte attacks vs Marcos: Fearless or reckless?


A foreigner who reads our country’s raging political news for the first time would think that Rodrigo Duterte remains the reigning ruler of the Republic of the Philippines, and not Ferdinand Marcos Jr. This impression would stem from how audacious Duterte criticizes President Marcos, and how brazenly scathing the language of criticism he dishes out against the latter.

As early as November 2021, as incumbent president, Duterte unmistakably alluded to Mr. Marcos as a cocaine user. On Jan. 28, 2024, already as ex-president, Duterte outrightly accused Mr. Marcos as a drug addict, in profane-filled language. On April 11, 2024, Duterte repeated his accusation, and even bragged that he was the first to call Mr. Marcos a drug addict.

Even if the accusations were true, it takes an extreme level of fearlessness or recklessness to denounce this country’s most powerful leader with the kind of accusation that Duterte has dished out repeatedly. After all, Mr. Marcos controls the Department of Justice which can initiate criminal cases, with or without basis. And Mr. Marcos can command the Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, National Bureau of Investigation, and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, to persecute insolent detractors like Duterte. Besides, our current President grew up as the son of a former dictator whose misuse of these agencies to persecute his enemies, is unprecedented in our history. This is not to mention the fact that there are so many legitimate grounds that Mr. Marcos can use to neutralize Duterte.


So where is the audacity coming from? Is it calculated or thoughtless? Let us examine the probable reasons.

First, as a ruthless warlord in Davao City for decades, Duterte developed the personality of being foul-mouthed. He acquired the behavior of venting his anger and dispensing his criticisms in crude and vulgar language. And he got away with it, like a political kingpin who always had his way. When he became president, the bad manners became even more thickly ingrained in his character, because he discovered that he could bully the nation, the world, and even the universe, as he bad-mouthed or ridiculed the pope, foreign presidents, and God. He could not rid himself of the coarse behavior that has calcified in his personal nature, even now that he’s out of power.

Second, Duterte calculates that he continues to enjoy massive voters support that will solidly abide by his political commandments. By his reckoning, he lent this support base to Mr. Marcos, by default, enabling the latter to ascend to the presidency. In Duterte’s mind, he can sway this voters base away from Mr. Marcos’ candidates in the 2025 elections, and any resounding political defeat of Marcos allies, will render the incumbent a lame duck president. In fact, Duterte’s calculation of the support base he enjoys, extends to the ranks of the police and military, which explains why he and his allies have had the brazenness to publicly call on the nation’s security forces to withdraw allegiance from Mr. Marcos.

Third, Duterte considers Mr. Marcos “weak” and afraid of engaging in politically scorching confrontation. In fact, Duterte publicly voiced out this sentiment by calling Mr. Marcos a “weak leader” in 2021. This Duterte calculation may have been further bolstered by Mr. Marcos’ hesitation to remove Vice President Sara Duterte as education secretary, First Lady Liza Marcos’ statement that his family will not persecute their enemies, and Mr. Marcos’ propensity to be conciliatory when confronted with searing disparagement.


Fourth, Duterte senses that the political narrative that he has foisted on the nation is being totally reversed to the detriment of his legacy. His story line on the nation’s need for a strongman, for the necessity to resort to bloody violence against society’s “enemies,” the requisite imposition of iron-hand discipline on an “unruly” citizenry, and his preferential allegiance to China, are being invalidated. The different path that Mr. Marcos has chosen, will paint Duterte as a failed and disgraced leader in our country’s history.

Fifth, Duterte sees his daughter, VP Sara, as being eased out of contention in the 2028 presidential election. He sees this in the reversal of Duterte’s legacy policies, the move to amend the Constitution, the denial of access to the public treasury to VP Sara and Davao Rep. Paolo Duterte, and the assignment of VP Sara to a cabinet post with minimal political influence.


Sixth, at 79 years old, Duterte feels that he is on borrowed time and he can kick the bucket anytime. The Philippine justice system has exempted from accountability, aging members of the political elite like him. He has, therefore, nothing to lose. He can go guns blazing so to speak, in his fight to preserve his legacy and to assert his children’s political future.

Of all the above reasons, what has driven Duterte to go ballistic on Mr. Marcos? In my fearless and reckless estimation: all of the above.

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