Cheap shot

The broader view - Harry Roque - The Philippine Star

The gloves are completely off in the worsening feud between the Duterte and Marcos families. Hell appears to have also frozen over in the Marcos-Robredo political rivalry.

With First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos firing the first verbal shot against Vice President Sara Duterte, the once-strong alliance between President Bongbong Marcos Jr. and Inday Sara might have reached a point of no return. On two previous occasions, the presidential spouse publicly snubbed the most popular government official in the country.

I recall this unfortunate and embarrassing story during the last national campaign season. A reportedly inebriated Atty. Marcos missent a video with anti-Sara comments to Inday herself. The video showed then vice presidential candidate singing a karaoke song with her siblings. Anyone who has read the nasty remarks will never mistake it for a joke. It contradicts the claim of Liza that she has always been kind to Inday.

At the time, FLLAM has already harbored bad blood against Inday. It does not matter if the hostility stems from her alleged insecurity over Sara’s excellent rapport with PBBM or her deep friendship with Senator Imee Marcos. What is imperative is to keep reminding the First Lady that she does not have the mandate of the people. On the other hand, Sara was elected by 32 million Filipinos, the most votes garnered by a nationally-elected official in 2022. She is too busy performing her sworn duties as a public servant with three concurrent posts. To my knowledge, the VP has been polite and cordial towards the First Lady. However, it is not her job or responsibility to fawn over a non-elected personality in Malacañang.

Nasty comments

In the words of FLLAM, “bad shot na iyan (Sara) sa akin.” She was referring to Sara’s supposed amused reaction when former president Rodrigo Duterte called PBBM “bangag” (impaired by or high on drugs) at a Mindanao prayer rally. She even claimed that former VP Leni Robredo never offended PBBM in such a manner. Never did I imagine that the First Lady would one day compliment her husband’s fiercest detractor at the expense of Inday.

How could Liza conveniently forget the vitriolic remarks of Leni against her husband in the 2016 and 2022 national elections? How could the First Lady ignore the fact that Inday Sara gave way to PBBM’s presidential ambitions? The younger Duterte defied the wishes of FPRRD (hurting and outraging her father in the process) when she chose to run for the vice presidency. How could she refuse to recognize that the Cebuano and Waray-speaking Duterte supporters in the Visayas and Mindanao enabled Marcos Jr. to become the first majority-elected President in decades?

Publicly dissing Sara’s alleged offensive behavior might end up a fatal miscalculation on Liza’s part. The VP has shown nothing but respect and deference to PBBM. She has never insulted him or any of the Marcoses. She refuses to join her father and brothers in attacking the President’s character or leadership skills. 

This public relations stunt, staged at a time when PBBM is facing allegations of drug abuse and attempting to extend his term, is not only a diversionary tactic. It is a cheap shot against a competent and efficient Cabinet member. The Marcos family should be better prepared for the political fallout, particularly from the Duterte diehards in the country and overseas. They should also keep in mind that the trust and approval ratings of Marcos Jr. nosedived in the Duterte bailiwicks in the first of quarter of 2024.

Despite a dip in her trust and approval ratings, the VP remains the nation’s most popular leader. The Filipinos widely acknowledge Sara’s bravery, concern for Filipinos, love for her countrymen, and sense of responsibility (Publicus Asia). The Department of Education, which she heads, is the most trusted and best-performing government agency (OCTA Research).

In surveys conducted by reputable polling firms, Duterte has consistently rated higher than even her boss. She is also the most preferred contender for the 2028 presidential election. It is but a continuing reflection of Sara’s spectacular 2022 victory.  

Over the past year, her critics have stopped short of throwing even the kitchen sink at her. Hoping there will be a substantial erosion of public confidence in the VP, to no avail. It has been a constant source of dismay and stress for Sara’s detractors within and outside the Marcos administration. It must also be frustrating for the anti-Sara faction among the family members and closest allies of PBBM. Indeed, no evil machinations can bring a good, hardworking woman like Sara down.

No secret deal

The President is ill-advised to insist that the Manila-Beijing verbal agreement during Digong’s time to maintain the status quo in the West Philippine Sea is a secret deal. In August 2017, local and international media reported the non-expansion agreement, to wit: GMA News (Phl says China has agreed to no new expansion on South China Sea), Reuters (Philippines says China agrees on no new expansion in South China Sea) and South China Morning Post (China has agreed to no new expansion in South China Sea, Philippine says). In a Lower House budget hearing, former Defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana also explained the nature of the agreement.

There was already an existing bilateral agreement during the time of president Noynoy Aquino that the Philippines could only deliver food and water to the Filipino troops manning the BRP Sierra Madre. A 2013 Inquirer article reported that then-Defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin assured former Chinese ambassador Ma Keqing that the Philippines would not violate the agreement by constructing new structures in Ayungin.  

I also beg to differ with his contention that the said agreement has compromised our sovereign rights over the Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal. Digong did not surrender any territory or relinquish our economic rights to China. Not a single Filipino soldier perished in the disputed zone, in keeping with FPRRD’s demands to the Chinese foreign ministry officials. The agreement relatively maintained the peace and stability in the WPS during the Duterte presidency.  

Again, Digong never brokered any secret or sinister deal with the Xi Jinping government.

However, I cannot help but question whether PBBM has entered into a compromise agreement with the Biden administration. For instance, a quid pro quo for the four additional Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement locations to preposition American soldiers and armaments against China? Could it be related to their hidden wealth in America? As executor of the Marcos estate, PBBM is facing a $353-million contempt judgment in the US for failing to provide information on ill-gotten assets related to the compensation for martial law era victims. In his first few months in office, Marcos Jr. consistently said China is an important partner of the Philippines. After his second visit to America, he adopted a more assertive and less conciliatory posture against the Asian superpower. I hope the Chief Executive will shed light on this.


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