Political zarzuela

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

All’s well that ends well, or so it seems. But it’s too early to jump to that conclusion. Methinks though, it’s another episode of the ongoing zarzuela in the country’s current national scene. It’s all for the drama show that Filipinos love to watch. But to the present generation, it is called tele-novela, referring to TV drama series.

The high point of the drama unfolded last week. The main characters are, of course, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) and the First Family, wife, First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos (FLAM) and their eldest son, Ilocos Norte Rep. Sandro. And on the other end, Vice President and concurrent Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Sara Duterte and her family, led by erstwhile president Rodrigo Duterte, Davao City Mayor Baste.

FLAM let out a mouthful on what were previously suppressed “hurt” feelings in an exclusive YouTube Channel interview program of veteran broadcaster Anthony “Tunying” Taberna. She narrated how it all started in December last year when ex-president Duterte called out PBBM as “bangag” (high on illegal drugs) during a prayer rally in Davao City.

FLAM cited in that interview VP Sara has already “crossed the line” when asked if any apology was made after the “bangag” incident. “Bad shot na sya sa akin. Unless she says sorry, or whatever. Maybe she will, maybe she won’t,” FLAM retorted.

FLAM admitted she intentionally “snubbed” the VP during the send-off rites for PBBM’s state visit to Vietnam in January this year. She publicly displayed her snubbing the VP that was caught on camera because the send-off rites were televised.

The political rumor mills ground faster than usual. Intrigues fanned out and zeroed in on the much vaunted UniTeam of PBBM-VP Duterte cracking wide open from the top. At this early stage, the less than two-year-old administration of PBBM is seen  losing fast its UniTeam.

But last Monday, VP Sara finally broke her silence three days after the FLAM interview went viral in social media since Thursday night. In a pre-taped video released last Monday by the Office of the Vice President, VP Sara offered no apology to FLAM. She dismissed as “personal” FLAM’s public sentiment on her. A lawyer like Mrs. Marcos, VP Sara argued such “personal” matters have nothing to do with her mandate as the country’s second highest elected official.

“As a person, the First Lady has the right to feel bad and angry… For us to move forward, we will leave the next steps to whatever outcome my private conversation with President Marcos would be,” VP Sara declared.

To her credit, VP Sara renewed her call for the Filipino people to rally behind the “nation-building” that she and PBBM  started as UniTeam. Their team-up represented the “solid north” of the Marcoses and the “solid south” of the Dutertes in Mindanao during their campaign in the May 2022 election.

A day earlier, VP’s father, ex-president Duterte, sought to dispel reactions he is fighting PBBM. “I am not an opposition. I am also not against Marcos,” Mr. Duterte swore in his speech at a public gathering in Davao City. Although daughter Sara was VP runningmate of PBBM during the last elections, Mr. Duterte recalled: “It’s not that I don’t like him. It’s just that I am friends with many of the presidential candidates. So to prevent others from getting hurt, I did not support him.”

At the same gathering, the former Davao City mayor also told the people he would ask his daughter to prioritize land reform should she become president. Was Mr. Duterte talking about succession in office, or winning the next May 2028 presidential elections? The 79-year-old former president is known to talk and rant in wild swings from topic to topic. So we leave this question hanging.

In fairness, FLAM, too, renewed her appeal to the Filipino people to unite and drop the “red,” the “pink” or “yellow” tags during that same interview. FLAM already doused cold water on her being speculated as allegedly eyeing to run for the Senate. And she strongly took exception to Mr. Duterte’s scenario that eldest son Rep. Sandro is wishing to become the next prime minister of the country, purportedly “to perpetuate themselves in power.”

The present crop of the political opposition unfortunately failed to capitalize on this potential fall-out between the country’s two political dynasties. This, despite a clear opening provided no less by FLAM in that controversial interview. Expounding on why she got angry with VP Sara, FLAM pointed out: “You will go to a rally, your President will be called a drug addict, you’re going to laugh. Was that the right thing to do? Even (former vice president) Leni (Robredo) never did that.”

The ranks of the political opposition have seemingly weakened after their candidates miserably lost in the last elections. The UniTeam of PBBM and VP Sara routed the team-up of former VP Leni Robredo and Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan with their senatorial bets falling way below the “magic 12” in the Senate race.

At any rate, PBBM already stepped in yesterday to prevent the catfight between the two feisty women in his circle of advisers from getting out of hand. The Chief Executive announced VP Sara will stay on as DepEd secretary, who was being dared to resign from the Marcos Cabinet. He believes VP Sara can relate with the feelings of FLAM and can understand the latter’s outburst as a “protective” wife and mother to their children.

Before anyone adds more color to the situation, the First Couple have lately been showing public displays of affection to each other. After all, they just celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary last week.

With political allies like the Dutertes but who are also acting as opposition stalwarts, we might see more of the same zarzuela in the national scene in the remaining four years of the PBBM administration. While the Marcoses and Dutertes are clawing and fawning at each other, the public attention to opposition stalwarts has relegate them to the sidelines.

And this strategy seems to be working effectively.

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