Analysis-‘Open War’: Philippines’ Marcos-Duterte Alliance Collapses

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By Karen Lema

MANILA (Reuters) – The alliance between Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr and his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte disintegrated this week when they accused each other of drug use – a rift that could threaten MarcosThe country’s reform agenda risks fueling instability.

The alliance between two of the Philippines’ most influential families that brought Marcos and Duterte’s daughter Sara to power in 2022 was always expected to collapse, but analysts are surprised by the how quickly the gloves were removed.

“This is a point of no return,” said Jean Encinas-Franco, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines, highlighting the ferocity of exchanges between the two families.

Sebastien Duterteson of the former president and mayor of Davao City, called on Marcos to resign over misguided policies such as his pro-US foreign policy, which he said “endangers the lives of innocent Filipinos.”

“The opportunistic political alliance was not meant to last,” said Temario Rivera, president of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance think tank.

“The breakup seems to come rather very early.”

Marcos was quick to downplay tensions, saying Tuesday that the coalition was intact. “It still works,” he said, adding that he keeps Sarah Duterte as Minister of Education.

Marcos’ office did not respond to a request for comment. There was no immediate response from Duterte.

But political analysts say the divide could now threaten Marcos’ ambitious plans to grow the economy, create jobs, renovate infrastructure and strengthen the armed forces.

“A breakdown in the formal alliance risks fomenting new divisions within the military, leading to serious problems of governance and stability,” Rivera said.

SWEPT TO POWER

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

Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was president for two decades, ruling authoritarianly before being ousted in the 1986 “people power” uprising. Marcos Sr. and his wife Imelda were accused of amassing more than $10 billion dollars during their mandate.

But cracks in the Marcos-Duterte relationship appeared early on.

Marcos reversed Duterte’s pro-China stance and turned toward the United States, granting Washington greater access to Philippine bases amid China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea and near Taiwan.

He highlighted a 2016 arbitration ruling strengthening Manila’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, which Duterte largely dismissed in a move seen as directed against China whose overlapping sovereignty claims in the South China Sea .

Marcos also sought to revive peace negotiations with communist rebels, which his predecessor had abandoned and which Sara Duterte called a “deal with the devil.”

A major blow was dealt to these relations in November when Marcos said he was considering joining the International Criminal Court. Duterte withdrew his membership in 2018 after the court prosecutor announced a preliminary examination into thousands of killings committed in his war on drugs.

An investigation into Duterte’s internationally criticized “war on drugs” is underway at The Hague court.

Marcos has thrown his support behind initiatives to amend the 1987 constitution, saying it would ease regulations for businesses and attract investors, but Duterte accused him of using the constitutional amendment to stay in power.

Opponents of constitutional change say it aims to change the political system and remove term limits, including that of the president, who can currently only serve a six-year term.

Duterte warned that Marcos could suffer the same fate as his father – who had to flee the country – if he insisted on amending the constitution introduced after the 1986 revolution.

“OPEN WAR”

The alliance publicly disintegrated on Sunday when Duterte called Marcos a “drug addict” during a rally against proposals to change the charter. The gathering took place in the presence of his daughter.

Marcos hit back, saying Duterte’s use of fentanyl, which the former leader admitted to using in the past for pain relief, could have clouded his judgment.

Analysts said the public revolt could be linked to the 2028 presidential race, in which Sara Duterte is expected to participate and has a strong chance. A 2023 survey by the Social Weather Stations survey institute showed her as the top choice for president in 2028.

“It will be an open war this year,” said Ronald Llamas, a veteran political analyst and former presidential adviser.

The Philippines will hold midterm elections in 2025 to elect half of the Senate, elect members of Congress and local officials.

If candidates backed by Marcos lose the midterm elections, or if his supporters change loyalties, his legislative agenda could be in jeopardy, analysts said.

(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Michael Perry)

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