Keeping enemies close

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

If Vice President Sara Duterte has fallen out of favor or become “bad shot” with First Lady Liza Marcos, is the sentiment shared by President Marcos?

BBM, who must have been aware of that raging question following the bombshells dropped by his wife last week, was surely sending a message when he showed up hours later to preside together with the VP at the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) graduation rites in Cavite.

With government cameras rolling, the two were shown in a beso-beso (air kiss, cheek touching) before staying together on stage for the commencement exercises.

Both have not commented on Liza’s public venting against the VP (some folks in the Duterte camp describe it as a hissy fit), with hints of a rift with the President’s Ate Imee, a staunch ally of VP Sara and friend of Rodrigo Duterte.  

First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos is widely regarded as the President’s closest adviser and key strategist in the long game that he played to win the nation’s highest office. Their marriage looks solid.

It seems improbable that the First Couple would have radically divergent views on the Vice President and her relatives, who are calling BBM a cokehead who should resign.

People are wondering whether the first lady gave her husband a heads-up about the broadsides that she launched against the VP in the interview with Anthony Taberna. Did BBM give the green light? Did Liza, a headstrong lawyer, need to get such a green light? Is the First Couple playing good cop, bad cop in dealing with the equally headstrong VP and her loose cannon father?

Regardless of the answers to those questions, and regardless of that beso-beso and show of solidarity at the PNPA rites, the fracture in the UniTeam – and with it the super coalition – has become undeniable. 

Was the unity ever based on genuine friendship or simply forged out of expediency? Who can say, and who really cares? As it has often been pointed out, in politics, there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests.

*      *      *

In 2022, both the Marcos and Duterte clans had the same permanent interest: the presidency. 

Rodrigo Duterte wanted his super alalay, Bong Go, to be his successor, with Inday Sara as running mate. Daughterte, who does not mask her dislike for Go, would have none of it, and teamed up instead with the Solid North. 

Digong reportedly wanted to shift to Plan B, which was to have Inday Sara run for president, since she was leading in the surveys. Again, Daughterte went against her father’s wishes and instead agreed to be the running mate of BBM.

It was a coup for BBM, reportedly engineered by his Ate Imee and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo with Sara. The Duterte camp now lets on that tension between Sara and Liza was already present at that point.

Hints have been dropped that part of the deal for Sara to slide down to the VP race was a commitment from the Marcos camp to install GMA as speaker.

After the landslide victory, however, BBM had other ideas, and backed instead his favorite cousin, Martin Romualdez, for the top post in the House of Representatives. The super majority of course went along with BBM’s choice.

Romualdez, who is also at odds with cousin Imee, is believed to be eyeing the presidency in 2028, reportedly with the blessings of BBM and the first lady. The Speaker’s push for Charter change is suspected by the Duterte camp to be meant to install him as BBM’s successor and sideline Sara. 

We know what happened next: GMA, allegedly with Sara’s backing, was suspected of planning a coup against Romualdez, and was promptly stripped of her post as senior deputy speaker. Later, GMA lost even her post as one of several deputy speakers.

*      *      *

The VP quit Romualdez’s party the Lakas-CMD and posted that message advising an unnamed tambaloslos to rein in his ambition. The House responded by stripping her of P650 million in confidential funds for 2024, and Davao City where her brothers are mayor and congressman of P500 million in funding.

At the same time, the Marcos administration changed its tune about the International Criminal Court’s probe of possible crimes against humanity committed in Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs. The ICC probe reportedly includes Sara when she was Davao City mayor, Digong’s chief tokhang enforcer Ronald dela Rosa and Sen. Bong Go.

The government has yet to announce the outcome of its “study,” as declared by BBM, of the country possibly rejoining the ICC.

With Marcos 2.0 hitting the Dutertes where it hurts, and now going after their key supporter Apollo Quiboloy, the Dutertes led by the patriarch are hitting back. Once Digong gets going with his tirades and insults, there’s no stopping his mouth. His two sons and certain supporters are following his lead. 

Duterte says he’s not part of the opposition – but maybe he misunderstands the word in the same way that he misunderstands “gentleman’s agreement.” He probably equates “opposition” with the forces associated with his VP Leni Robredo, whom he detests. But he has effectively become the leader of anti-administration forces under Marcos 2.0. 

Like the views of the first lady that can’t be dissociated from her husband’s, people are also incredulous that VP Sara does not share the views of her relatives, who after all are defending her. Already there are growing calls for her resignation from the Cabinet.

With the increasingly bitter fight between the UniTeam clans, political realignments are rapidly taking shape across the country, especially with the midterm elections just a year away. 

Was that beso-beso at the PNPA meant to show that you can’t choose your relatives? Perhaps both BBM and VP Sara are merely following the admonition to keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.

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