, June 16, 2024

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Marcos Jr.’s Disengagement from Duterte Sets Stage for 2025 Showdown


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Marcos Jr.’s Disengagement from Duterte Sets Stage for 2025 Showdown

Senatorial candidates, in particular, would have to make a potentially career-altering choice: Team BBM or Team DDS?

By Joey Salgado

The previous year could be summed up, from the perspective of a political junkie, as the year President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. disengaged from the controversial policies of his predecessor, former president Rodrigo Duterte. Wether by accident or design, the disengagement led to the unravelling of the UniTeam Alliance. It also sets the stage for a dramatic clash between Marcos and Duterte forces in the 2025 mid-year elections.

President Marcos Jr. anchored his election on a nostalgic yearning for a make-believe land of peace and shared prosperity, and the perception of being Duterte’s anointed one. His critics painted him as a dictator’s spoiled son bent on rehabilitating his father’s disgraced image while continuing Duterte’s controversial policies. A year and six months after his election, President Marcos Jr. has shown that he is, other than his father’s son, not a polished Duterte clone. 

The policy reversals shifted to high gear in 2023. President Marcos Jr. talked tough on China’s incursions and rekindled strained relations with the United States. He has refused to pursue the drug war using the Duterte template. His shift from “no” to “maybe” on the issue of cooperating with the International Criminal Court (ICC), currently investigating Duterte for crimes against humanity, confounded and enraged supporters of the former president. And to rub more salt on the wounded political ties, Marcos Jr. resumed peace talks with remnants of the communist movement. 

Disengagement may be too polite a term to describe the methodical knee-capping by attrition of the former president, carried out by the most unlikely coalition allies in the House. 

Administration allies moved to weaken Duterte’s political strength by gradually raiding the ranks of the once dominant party, PDP-Laban, an effortless undertaking in reality. A key supporter of Vice President Sara Duterte, former president and Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was a major casualty of the ensuing pogrom. 

But last year’s highlight reel was the dramatic and well-orchestrated series of revelations, timed with deliberations on the national budget, that painted the  Vice President as a secret fund-obsessed brat with little noteworthy credentials other than a quick temper and a solid punch. 

Duterte the father, as expected, responded by ranting on air but on a smaller megaphone, the Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI). The network, however, was yanked off the air for 30 days by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), on the prodding of the House, a few days before Christmas. It could very well lose its franchise. To spread the word among his true believers, by now a diminished force in the eyes of administration allies, the former president now relies on a downsized network of equally cantankerous online supporters and a few media personalities. 

Strategically, the political disembowelment is aimed at consolidating the administration’s grip on Congress in 2025 and diffusing support for the Vice President in the 2028 presidential elections. 

The emasculation of Duterte, father and daughter, can be summed up simply: after the restoration, the disruption. The knee-capping was methodical and ruthless, trademark Marcos.

Realignments 

It would be interesting to see the political realignments this year, as parties and candidates gear up for the 2025 mid-term elections. Senatorial candidates, in particular, would have to make a potentially career-altering choice: Team BBM or Team DDS?

The smart money, for now, is with Team BBM. There are advantages to being a candidate of the siting president, namely resources, access to funders, and a formidable machinery. With the exception of the Arroyo regime, the mid-term elections have always been dominated by administration candidates.

The administration, however, is not without some weak spots. The economy is foremost. It is easier to stage a charm offensive overseas or berate China than deal with a public disaffected by rising prices, or the perception of declining quality of life. The biggest concern for any incumbent is for disaffection to translate to protest votes, resulting in a Senate dominated by the opposition.

Still, it would be foolhardy for Duterte’s allies to prematurely call the mid-terms in their favor. For one, the economy might weather the anticipated effects of El Niño through government intervention. For the administration, the bare minimum is to keep inflation within manageable levels and, if needed, dispense financial aid to vulnerable sectors. The people need to feel their economic situation unchanged, if not improving. 

For now, there is sufficient residual goodwill to assure Duterte of victory should he make good his threat to run for senator. But his intention to lead an “opposition” ticket could be problematic. When Duterte said he was toying with the idea of running for a national position, it was in response to the then recent House decision to deny his daughter confidential funds, and rumors of impeachment. Essentially he would be running to settle a score. And that may not swing voters his way. 

Besides, voters have been historically lukewarm to opposition candidates during mid-term elections. The lessons of the “Otso Deretso” senatorial ticket should be instructive, even for Duterte. 

This will be an exciting year for politics and political operators. Can we expect knife fights turning into all-out war or will there be a truce for the sake of, you know, unity? And can the holdouts from former Vice President Leni Robredo’s failed presidential bid summon the intestinal fortitude, and the resources, to regroup and field their own slate? Hold on to your hats. It’s going to be wild.


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