The Marcos-Duterte Rift Widens in the Philippines

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The Marcos-Duterte Rift Widens in the Philippines

For the first time, First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos has spoken out about the growing tensions between the two political clans.

The Marcos-Duterte Rift Widens in the Philippines

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos attends a ceremony commemorating the 503rd anniversary of the victory in the Battle of Mactan, at the Liberty Shrine in Lapu-Lapu city, Central Visayas, the Philippines, April 27, 2024.

Credit: Facebook/Bongbong Marcos

The Marcos and Duterte political families in the Philippines have been publicly criticizing each other over the past four months, threatening to further undermine the “unity government” headed by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

In January, former President Rodrigo Duterte led his family and supporters in opposing the Charter Change plan of the government and accused Marcos of being a drug addict. The Dutertes later joined “prayer rallies” in February and March not just to oppose Charter Change but also to castigate the policies of the Marcos administration. One of Duterte’s sons has even called for the resignation of the president. Despite the critical statements of her father and siblings, Vice President Sara Duterte continues to serve as education secretary in Marcos’ Cabinet.

In a media interview last month, First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos broke her silence by expressing her sentiments against the vice president. “You crossed the line. I’m many things but I am not a hypocrite,” she said in the interview. She cited Sara Duterte’s presence at anti-Marcos public rallies.

She added: “I was hurt because my husband will do everything to protect you. You ran together. You’ll go to a rally, and your president will be called stoned. You’re going to laugh? Is that right?”

She admitted that she snubbed the vice president on several occasions and that she has been waiting for an apology. The first lady’s remarks prompted some of the Marcoses’ political allies to issue statements calling for the resignation of Sara Duterte from the Cabinet.

“The Vice President should show some decency by resigning from her (Department of Education) post at the very least. Her family unleashed a barrage of insults and attacks directly to the President and yet she does nothing and is still enjoying the perks of being part of the official family,” a Manila congressman said in a statement.

Two mayors in Western Visayas released separate statements echoing the call for Duterte’s resignation. “Vice President Sara’s presence at events where the leadership is criticized has raised concerns. Adhering to the principle of delicadeza, it may be wise for her to consider stepping down to preserve the integrity and unity of the administration,” the mayor of Bacolod City said.

In response, Duterte said she is focused on fulfilling her mandate. “As a human being, the first lady has a right to [harbor] ill feelings and anger. But her personal feelings have nothing to do with my mandate as an official of the government,” Duterte said.

In a mixture of the English, Filipino, and Bisaya languages, she reminded the people that the country faces a lot of problems such as inflation, hunger, poverty, inadequate water and power, criminality, terrorism, insurgency, and the “proliferation once again of illegal drugs.” She was obviously referring to the hardline “war on drugs” waged by her father and the seemingly different approach adopted by the Marcos government.

Marcos recently took a swipe at the brutal anti-drug campaign of his predecessor after a successful police operation. “I would like to point out that this is the biggest shipment of shabu (crystal meth) that we intercepted. But not one person died. Nobody died. No shots were fired. Nobody was hurt. We operated silently. For me, this is the correct approach to the drug war,” he told the media.

Former President Duterte did not join a “prayer rally” in April but he spoke in a press forum where he criticized the foreign policy of the current government. He also warned that Marcos was “veering towards an authoritarian rule” after the latter suspended a local official for tinkering with the Constitution.

Asked by the media about his relationship with the former president, Marcos insisted that he doesn’t consider the Duterte patriarch a political enemy. A few days later, he admitted that his relationship with the Dutertes is “complicated.” Nevertheless, he brushed aside the suggestion that Sara Duterte should resign her post as education secretary.

The rift between the two powerful families is expected to worsen ahead of the 2025 midterm elections as both will attempt to win more allies in preparation for the 2028 presidential race. The first lady’s public interview could signal an escalation of the tension and her readiness to confront her husband’s prominent critics, especially the Dutertes.

As the two dynasties maneuver for influence, an increasing number of Filipinos are outraged that these political clans are focused on gaining more power rather than doubling down on their work to address the urgent concerns of ordinary citizens.