Duterte on strategic retreat?


Two weeks after attacking BBM in a Davao rally, accusing him of being a cocaine addict and threatening to mount a movement to oust him and/or seceding Mindanao from the Philippines, Duterte has backtracked on all his words. In a rally in Cebu, he said BBM was just taking painkillers and tranquilizers, that he is not against Charter change, and he is not advocating for secession in Mindanao. These are all documented in video, audio and in print with the latest IT technologies. These are verifiable, irrefutable and cannot be erased and deleted.

VP Sara Duterte, after posting encouragement of the EDSA anniversary celebrations, also had to take it down from all social media, as if ordered to remove them to avoid offending BBM. The rhetoric of Davao Mayor Pulong Duterte has been toned down and nothing was heard from the other brother, Congressman Duterte. These moves look like a “retreat”. Whether this is a temporary strategic retreat or a total surrender is the question.

Going into the second year of the BBM administration, there is an ongoing erosion of the Duterte political power and influence. The removal of the financial perks for the OVP Sara, the replacement of the Duterte appointees, the threat of the ICC investigation of Duterte and the accused allies, the investigation of Duterte’s cronies and their businesses (Quiboloy is an added burden), and BBM’s utter lack of deference to Duterte are telltale signs.

It does not help that the Duterte camp was laden with abuses of power and extralegal excesses that made them vulnerable to the BBM camp’s actions. Add to these, the personal attacks of Duterte and son on BBM and his family that are hurting, we can say that “personalan na ito” and surely, “hindi na close ang Duterte to the Marcoses”.

After the Davao rally, while anti-charter change still resonates with the people because of the civil society/middle class distrust of politicians, most of the political leaders/politicians including from Mindanao dissociated from Duterte’s secession proposal. In the Cebu prayer rally, only Cebu City Mayor Rama joined, not any of the Cebu congressmen, mayors, Visayas governors, and other government officials. Politicians’ disloyalty is endemic and epidemic, as they are only loyal to their own interest, but the speed with which they abandoned Duterte is amazing. Even in the adjacent provinces in the Visayas, they are transferring to other political parties. Maybe this was because their temporary alliance with Duterte was due more to fear than to aligned sentiments and ideologies. Moreover, the current and potential financial benefits to the politicians are coming from another direction.

Surely, the Duterte camp is aware of the political, social, and economic implications of these developments. In his speech in Cebu, Duterte’s final words were to ask the audience to support VP Sara. This could only mean that knowing his frail and declining physical and mental health, he hopes to have remaining political clout by having Sara as a presidential candidate and a threat to the Marcoses. This is easier said than done, as the Duterte power base, after his term, is now limited to Davao and will erode over time. As Erap said, politics is “weather-weather” lang. Nothing is forever.

The Duterte back down, to be considered a strategic retreat with a Plan B, should have involved more burning socio-political issues like poverty and uneven wealth distribution, inflation, government mismanagement, and corruption. He did touch on corruption months earlier but dropped this as this was also happening in his administration, and VP Sara was vulnerable on this issue. Unless the Duterte camp can reinvent their strategy the Duterte retreat is a case of folding too early, like in poker.

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