Battle lines drawn as Philippine V-P quits, severs Marcos-Duterte union ahead of 2025 mid-term polls

Philippines vice-President Sara Duterte (right) resigned from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s Cabinet on June 19. - PRESIDENTIAL COMMUNICATIONS OFFICE

MANILA: The much-vaunted alliance of the Philippines’ two most powerful political dysnasties is no more.

Vice-President Sara Duterte’s resignation from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s Cabinet on Wednesday (June 19) is the final nail in the coffin that will break up the Marcos-Duterte union less than a year before the May 2025 mid-term polls.

It is also the first shot signalling Sara Duterte’s bigger political ambitions going forward, political observers say. The possibilities include Sara becoming an opposition leader fielding her own slate against Marcos in the mid-term election next year and further afield, gunning for the presidency in 2028.

With her resignation, Sara is now free to position herself as an opposition figure against her erstwhile ally, said ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute fellow Dr Aries Arugay.

“Their power-sharing agreement was not feasible because of many factors, like significant policy differences. But this also has something to do with the Marcoses not being able to really give the concessions that the Dutertes thought they earned or they deserved because they helped catapult the Marcoses into power,” he told The Straits Times.

Marcos and Sara may end up endorsing different sets of candidates in next year’s mid-term polls, when Filipinos vote for half of the members of the Senate and other local posts down to the village level, added Dr Arugay.

Sara could possibly upset Marcos’ agenda in his last four years of office if more candidates allied with her win during the mid-term polls next year, political science professor Dr Jean Encinas-Franco from the University of the Philippines told ST.

Duterte resigned from her posts as education secretary and vice-chair of an anti-insurgency task force, without providing a reason. Her resignation is effective July 19 and she will remain as vice-president until her term officially ends in 2028.

“My resignation was not borne out of weakness but brought about by genuine concern for our teachers and Filipino youth,” she said in a 12-minute media briefing later in the day, where she declined to take questions.

“I may no longer be your education secretary, but I will remain as a mother – a mother watching over and fighting over the rights of every teacher and student in the Philippines. This is for a stronger Philippines,” she added.

Instead, much of the briefing was spent recounting her achievements as education chief for the past two years, including introducing new learning material to kindergarten up to junior high school levels, and providing internet access to over 2,000 schools in far-flung areas in the country.

The Marcos and Duterte families joined forces in 2022 for the presidential election, with Sara standing as Marcos’ vice-presidential running mate, allowing Marcos to tap the Duterte family’s huge support base and seal a comeback for the disgraced Marcos dynasty.

In the Philippines, the president and vice-president are elected separately. Hence, candidates for the two highest posts in the land may run as a team or on opposing sides.

The Philippine vice-president holds a mostly ceremonial role in the constitution but is the first in line of succession if the president dies or becomes permanently disabled. The incumbent president traditionally appoints the vice-president to the Cabinet and assigns the latter various official government functions.

Thus, it is not unusual in the Philippines for vice-presidents to eventually leave the Cabinet, either to distance themselves from the incumbent president’s faulty policies or in a bid to rebrand themselves in anticipation of a greater political goal.

Sara was once the top contender in the 2022 presidential race, but gave way to Marcos and instead formed their so-called “UniTeam” alliance. The scions of two well-entrenched political clans in the nation swept the polls, with Marcos getting 31 million votes and Sara garnering 32 million votes.

But that alliance was quick to crumble in the aftermath of their electoral victory.

Marcos began dropping key policies of his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, Sara’s father, including the bloody drug war that is now being investigated by the International Criminal Court. Marcos also reversed Rodrigo Duterte’s appeasement of Beijing on its sweeping claims over the South China Sea.

Marcos’ allies in Congress later rejected Sara's request for millions of confidential funds for the vice president’s office and the education ministry this year.

The Dutertes then pushed back against Marcos, leading protests in their hometown Davao City in southern Philippines against attempts by the president to amend the constitution in early 2024. Marcos and Rodrigo even accused each other of using illegal drugs.

Therefore, political pundits believe Sara's resignation as vice-president clearly signals her interest and intent for the presidential race in 2028.

However, University of the Philippines’Franco said that Sara's resignation will place her in a more politically vulnerable position, even if she enjoys high approval ratings among Filipinos for now.

“Because she [Sara] no longer has a Cabinet portfolio, she will no longer have as much of a budget as she used to before. That will prevent her from moving around the country. Her activities will be limited,” she added.

Meanwhile, the political effect from Sara's resignation remains to be seen. In the near term, Dr Arugay at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute thinks Marcos has the upper hand, as the incumbent president.

“Expect more attacks and criticisms against the Dutertes now. As far as Marcos and his allies are concerned, she’s fair game now,” he said. - The Straits Times/ANN

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