Scary scenario from sudden split | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

Scary scenario from sudden split

/ 05:03 AM June 22, 2024

Everyone seemed to be in agreement that the breakup of the political alliance between President Marcos and Vice President Sara Duterte was bound to happen, but that it happened so soon and in such uncharacteristically cold manner does not bode well for the Marcos administration.

The way the resignation was announced—with a short statement from the Presidential Communications Office followed by the Vice President’s brief address from the Department of Education (DepEd) after handing in her irrevocable resignation letter in Malacañang on Wednesday—spoke of the bitter parting of ways for the victorious tandem that swept the elections just two years ago.

“Yes, accepted,” Press Secretary Cheloy Garafil said, confirming the President’s reaction to Duterte’ resignation from the Cabinet as education secretary and vice chair of the controversial National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict. Both officials have since been tight-lipped on the issue, making little effort to describe the political split in a more civil way.

Doing so would have concealed the current testy, if not acrimonious, relations between the Marcos and Duterte camps threatening to erupt for some time now. As succinctly pointed out by Senate President Francis Escudero, Duterte’s resignation became inevitable after the Vice President’s father, former president Rodrigo Duterte, and her brothers and allies openly attacked the President in the months following Congress’ removal of her office’s hefty confidential funds.

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Telltale signs

The former president had publicly chastised Mr. Marcos as high on drugs (“bangag”), while his son, Davao City Mayor Sebastian Duterte, called on the President to resign. With her complicit silence on these attacks, and for laughing when her father made the derogatory remark at a rally, the Vice President earned the ire of First Lady Liza Marcos. “Bad shot na ’yan sa akin,” Mrs. Marcos said in an interview. It was downhill from there.

And yet, even Mr. Marcos and Sara Duterte must have known that their political partnership would be short-lived. The telltale signs manifested early—starting when Mr. Marcos named Duterte education secretary instead of defense chief, as she had preferred. A few days before the tandem took office, Duterte had the military form a Vice Presidential Security and Protection Group in anticipation of “future elections,” and the possibility of “strained relations” between her and the President. Prophetic words, indeed.

But it was the stark difference in policies and political agenda that doomed the formidable alliance. As a member of the Cabinet and alter ego of the President, Duterte should have known that she can’t have her cake and eat it, too. Instead, she openly opposed some of the President’s policies while keeping silent on China’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea, an issue where the President has taken a strong stand in a complete turnaround from his predecessor’s defeatist stance. With her personal convictions defiantly incompatible with public expectations of her as a member of the Cabinet and the President’s running mate, Duterte was wise to walk away.

Political fallout

Which leaves Mr. Marcos free to pursue his policies, unencumbered by the need to maintain their UniTeam alliance, which has led him to go as far as protecting Mr. Duterte from the International Criminal Court’s probe on his crimes against humanity.The President’s task is clear—take control of the narrative and shield the work of the government from the political fallout, if any—that Sara Duterte’s resignation could inflict.

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Mr. Marcos must fix, posthaste, the mess in the DepEd by immediately appointing someone with the right qualifications and expertise to address the deepening education crisis. In hindsight, the President may have been proven correct in denying Sara Duterte’s wish to head the Department of National Defense—given the military’s central role in defending our territory against China’s incursions—but he should share the blame for her being ill-suited at DepEd and failing to fulfill expectations on the job.

A heartbeat away

With the political climate heating up ahead of the elections in May 2025, the President can expect attempts from allies and supporters of the Dutertes to undermine his government and foment instability. For one, will the Dutertes allow him to forget a major political debt when they allowed his father, ousted President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani?With so much at stake for both officials, Mr. Marcos would need to keep his erstwhile running mate and her family on a tight leash. She is, after all, just a heartbeat away from the presidency, and could take over “in case of the death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation of the President,” according to the Constitution. With their sudden and nasty breakup, Mr. Marcos can expect his ex-Cabinet official not to shy away from this scary, but not impossible, scenario.

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