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Gloves off in Marcos-Duterte circus

in Countercurrent

The Marcos and Duterte camps have split and the divorce did not take long to happen.

What once looked like a formidable “uniteam”—purportedly to entrench the Duterte dynasty at the national level in traditional politics and attain the Marcos family’s overarching goal of complete political rehabilitation from its ignominious ouster from Malacanang in 1986 by a peaceful popular uprising—is now exposed as just another alliance of bureaucrat capitalists that can easily dissolve due to corrupt self-interests and innate contradictions.

One might be forgiven for having expected that the alliance would last at least until the midterm elections next year. Cobbled together by the sly political operator Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the alliance included a slew of groupings from Lakas-Christian-Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD), Partido Federal ng Pilipinas (PFP), Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), Hugpong ng Pagbabago, and Partido Democratico Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban). All are now participants in what can be kindly described as a political freak show.

Ironically, it was Macapagal-Arroyo who got hit by the first punch thrown in the ongoing and still escalating public brawl. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, apparently Bongbong Marcos’ most favored cousin, maneuvered to snatch the speakership of the House of Representatives (HOR) that the former president had wanted for herself after the 2022 elections.

Romualdez created the position of senior deputy speaker for Macapagal-Arroyo, with several deputy speakers. A surprise move, since he distrusted her because of her history of ousting the long-term sitting Speaker Jose de Venecia during her presidency, as she likewise did with Pantaleon Alvarez during the Rodrigo Duterte presidency.

After just a few months, however, Romualdez unceremoniously stripped her of that post. Vice President Sara Duterte, Arroyo’s ally, reacted swiftly by resigning as chairperson from the Romualdez-controlled Lakas-CMD party, spitefully coining the Visayan word tambaloslos (wide-mouthed) to describe the two allied women’s new nemesis.

Those swift moves and countermoves became the signal fires of an unravelling rarely seen even among the most rotten of political opportunists the country has ever had.

Fight over funds

Quick as always to switch sides to whoever they think holds the purse, many HOR members promptly jumped from the PFP, Hugpong, and PDP-Laban parties into Lakas-CMD, rendering the latter to amass a “super-majority” in that chamber.

The party switchers opportunistically hijacked the progressive Makabayan bloc’s exposure of and staunch opposition to Sara’s demand for—and quick spending of—huge confidential funds for her two offices (VP and education secretary). They used this as ammunition to fire broadsides at her, seeing her as a potential foil to Romualdez’s 2028 presidential ambitions.

Sara got the comeuppance after she admitted having spent the Php 125-million confidential funds she had requested from and was granted by Marcos Jr—all of it in just 11 days in December 2022.

Sara had to accept the consequence: there would no longer be a Php 650-million windfall in the form of confidential funds for her two offices in this year’s national budget. Marcos Jr approved and signed the 2024 national budget law affirming that fact.

So devastating a hit was this to the Duterte dynasty. As face-saving excuse, former president Rodrigo came out with the canard that his vice president daughter, as concurrent education secretary, only intended to use the confidential fund to revive the Reserved Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program in basic education.

Similarly effete was Duterte’s counter punch against the House of Representatives. Speaking on the hate-speech TV channel SMNI, the former president described the HOR as “the most rotten of all government institutions.” In a classic pot-calling-the-kettle black scenario, Rodrigo urged that Speaker Romualdez’s discretionary funds be audited, alleging that the latter was buying off all HOR members. Doubling down on the counter-attack on SMNI, drug-personality-turned-red-tagger Jeffry Celiz alleged, without showing proof, that Romualdez spent Php 1.8 billion in travel funds in 2023 alone.

Romualdez’s counter move was swift. House committees, in November, started investigations on SMNI’s tandem anchors Celiz and Lorraine Badoy. For making statements that couldn’t be verified, the duo were ordered arrested and detained in the HOR premises for several days in December. Upon their release shortly before Christmas, the HOR investigations quickly shifted to SMNI’s real ownership, replicating the Senate investigations on alleged sex offender Apollo Quiboloy, Rodrigo’s so-called spiritual adviser.

Aside from directly responding to the tirades from Davao, Romualdez completely stripped Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of any position in the HOR, along with Duterte ally and Davao City 3rd District Rep. Isidro Ungab who was also removed as deputy speaker. On the same day, close Romualdez ally and HOR appropriations committee head, Rep. Elizalde Co, alleged that Rodrigo’s son, Davao City 1st District Rep. Paolo “Pulong” Duterte, had accumulated Php 51-billion pork barrel funds over just three years (2019-2022).

Refusing to back down, Rodrigo tried to rally former and current military officers who he thought were his loyal backers to be on guard against what he claimed as Marcos Jr’s dictatorial tendencies. He even warned the latter that he may suffer the same fate as his dictator father. Moreover, Rodrigo blurted that he wanted Mindanao to secede from the rest of the Philippines. To his dismay, even his close allies such as national security adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. and Senator Ronald dela Rosa sought to distance themselves from such proposition.

In an event aimed at countering the current regime’s launching of a Bagong Pilipinas (New Philippines) campaign in January 28, 2024, Duterte repeated his pre-election accusation that Marcos Jr was a cocaine addict.

Normally silent on attacks against his person, Marcos Jr countered by citing an earlier admission by his predecessor about regularly taking fentanyl, a highly-addictive pain killer now wreaking havoc in many parts of the world as the new narcotic of choice among drug dependents.

Irascible, as all Dutertes are, Davao City Mayor Sebastian “Baste” Duterte (Rodrigo’s younger son) did not wish to be left out of the political fisticuffs. In the same event, he accused Marcos Jr of being lazy, lacking in compassion, soft on criminality and, ludicrously, cozying up to Communists. In his outburst, the younger Duterte son called for Marcos’ resignation (which he later withdrew).

Resumption of GRP-NDFP peace negotiations

On her part, after avoiding direct conflict with her former “Uniteam” partner, Sara Duterte seized the opportunity to manifest her first-ever public disagreement, with censure to boot, over what she deemed an unacceptable Marcos Jr. policy decision to resume the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations that her father had arbitrarily suspended in 2017.

The issue arose from a simultaneous public announcement, at the end of November 2023, by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). A joint statement said the two sides had reached a consensus to resume formal peace negotiations on social, economic and political reforms towards attaining a just and lasting peace and the ending of over five decades of armed conflict.

The brief joint statement embodied the meeting of minds between representatives of the two parties during several informal and formal discussions held in Oslo, Norway, facilitated by the Royal Norwegian Government, since the first quarter of 2023.

Having taken a hard line opposing the continuation of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, Sara chided Marcos Jr for having initiated or acceded to resume the peace talks. Scurrilously, she declared that negotiating with the revolutionaries would be like dealing with the “devil”.

The idea of resuming the peace talks have rankled within the Duterte camp since November 2017, when then President Duterte arbitrarily suspended the GRP-NDFP formal peace negotiations. Fact is that at the start of his term in August 2016, he proudly resumed the peace talks and vowed to complete them in order to fulfill his electoral campaign promise to do just that.

When he suspended the peace talks, the negotiations were proceeding close to adopting the final draft on a comprehensive agreement on social and economic reforms (CASER). Had he not suspended the talks and the final draft was signed, it would have hugely benefitted the Filipino people.

Instead, adopting the hardline stance of the militarists, Rodrigo Duterte vowed to pursue the total defeat of the revolutionary forces through military means.

Impending ICC warrant of arrest

On another controversial issue, former senator Antonio Trillanes IV joined the fray.

Announcing his bid for the Caloocan City mayorship, the former military puchist disclosed that International Criminal Court (ICC) investigators had already been allowed into the country. He added with relish that a warrant of arrest against the former president and his cohorts, including VP Sara, was not far behind.

It is commonly believed that Trillanes made the disclosures at the behest of the Marcos camp. And it produced the intended effect as his revelations obviously riled the Dutertes and their remaining allies such as Senator “Bato” dela Rosa.

Ramping up the quarrel, more legislators filed resolutions in both houses of Congress urging the government to cooperate with the ICC in its investigations on Duterte’s probable crimes against humanity committed in the course of the killings of tens of thousands suspected drug users by his “war on illegal drugs”.

Instead of sticking to his original line that the Philippines is no longer a signatory to the Rome Statute and would not cooperate, Marcos told reporters he wanted Congress to study the possibility of the Philippines’ rejoining the ICC. Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra and Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla were forced to drop their outright opposition to rejoining the ICC and echoed the new line of possible cooperation.

Not a few pundits have said, not incorrectly, that the ICC issue is the biggest cause of the dissolution of the Marcos-Duterte partnership. However, it’s much more palpable that the combination of all the foregoing incidents and issues, which the people have witnessed, collectively drove the quickest meltdown of what once appeared to be a formidable tandem.

Dancing the Cha-cha again

The revived attempt to change the 1987 Constitution, however, has practically become the biggest dispute between the warring camps. Initiated and bankrolled by Romualdez, the charter change drive was initially presented as a “people’s initiative” and promptly challenged by majority of the senators, including those identified to be in the Duterte camp such as Senator Imee Marcos.

The Dutertes now also parade long-time Marcos Jr friend and former executive secretary Vic Rodriguez, who goes around the country speaking against ongoing moves to change the constitution.

Rodrigo, who during his presidency had himself attempted charter change, has made known his opposition mainly because it was Romualdez who started the “cha-cha” drive and would benefit the most should term limits of elected public officials be lifted or the current government be changed into parliamentary form to suit Romualdez’s agenda to become Marcos Jr’s successor. It would then prove more difficult for the Dutertes to politically maneuver to pursue their own ambitions.

Meanwhile, both camps have virtually taken over the local social media landscape with their paid vloggers slinging mud to no end at the other camp with mutual accusations of smuggling, drug abuse, corruption, sexual deviancy, puppetry to China or to US imperialism.

And while it is sometimes fun to watch the bureaucrat capitalists going at each other’s throat, the growing section of the Filipino people committed to fundamental political and social change is not keen to find out which faction of the ruling classes would prevail in the reactionary electoral contests. They have long been waging the historical national democratic revolution to bring about the oppressive and exploitative ruling system’s defeat and collapse and pave the path for their own liberation. (Pat Gambao and Leon Castro)###

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