Philippine Vice President Duterte Quits Marcos Cabinet, Solidifying Rift

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Philippine Vice President Duterte Quits Marcos Cabinet, Solidifying Rift

Two years after triumphing at the polls, the Marcos-Duterte “uniteam” has collapsed amid insults and acrimony.

Philippine Vice President Duterte Quits Marcos Cabinet, Solidifying Rift
Credit: Facebook/Inday Sara Duterte

Philippine Vice President Sara Duterte yesterday resigned from the cabinet of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., marking an apparent final breakdown in the relationship between the two powerful political families.

In a short statement yesterday, the Presidential Communications Office said that Duterte had gone to the Presidential Palace and “tendered her resignation” as both education secretary and vice-chairperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, effective June 19. According to the statement, Duterte, 46, “declined to give a reason” for her resignation, but would remain on as vice president.

In the Philippines, the presidency and vice presidency are elected separately, and the positions are often held by members of opposing parties.

In her own statement, Duterte said that she had submitted one month’s notice to ensure a “proper and orderly transition” for her successor.

“My resignation is not borne out of weakness, but was brought along by my concern for teachers and Filipino youth,” she said, according to BenarNews. “I may no longer be the secretary of education, but I will continue to closely monitor and stand up for the sake of the teachers and students if needed.”

While this was not explicit about her reasons for leaving the cabinet, the reason is clear enough. For the past six months, Marcos and Duterte’s father, former President Rodrigo Duterte, have been engaged in open political conflict, sniping at each other in the press.

The war of words has strained the political compact between the two powerful political clans, which joined forces ahead of the 2022 presidential election and won an overwhelming victory. Marcos won the presidency with 58.77 percent of the vote, more than 30 points clear of his nearest rival, while Duterte was catapulted into the vice presidency with 61.53 percent of votes. Her nearest rival won less than 18 percent.

But a number of incidents and disagreements over the past year have revealed the fragility of the “Uniteam” alliance. Much of the tension seems to have originated with, and been magnified by, the increasingly erratic behavior of former President Duterte. The 79-year-old former leader has been especially critical about plans to amend the Philippine Constitution, accusing Marcos’ legislative allies, including his cousin, House Speaker Martin Romualdez, of scheming to lift term limits and tighten their grip on power. (Philippine presidents are limited to a single six-year term.)

In a January speech, Duterte warned that these moves could lead to Marcos experiencing the same fate as his father, the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, who was overthrown amid a mass uprising in 1986. The speech was given at one of a number of “prayer rallies” protesting changes to the Constitution, some of which have also been attended by Sara Duterte. He repeated this claim at several subsequent rallies, including one in April, in which he criticized the administration’s foreign policy and said that any attempt by Marcos to extend his tenure would “destroy the country.”

Marcos has also criticized Duterte’s brutal anti-drug campaign, raising concerns that he might agree to hand Duterte over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague as part of its ongoing investigation into drug killings. In turn, Duterte has been critical of Marcos’ more forceful policy on the intensifying disputes with China in the South China Sea, an issue that he downplayed in the interests of good relations with Beijing.

On a number of occasions, he has also accused Marcos of being a drug addict – a standby in Duterte’s arsenal of insults. Marcos has responded by speculating that Duterte’s mind has been damaged by prolonged fentanyl use.

Up until now, Sara Duterte has pledged to carry out her duties as education secretary, and refused to exit the governing coalition. Her resignation appears to suggest that the relationship between the Marcos and Duterte clans has broken down entirely and that her continued service in the cabinet is no longer tenable.

All this has set up a bizarre situation in which the Duterte family, after scaling the pinnacle of Philippine politics, has been transformed into the de facto leader of the Philippine opposition. The clan will no doubt get to work electing its allies at next year’s midterm elections before mounting another “outsider” assault on the presidency in 2028.