Political Intrigue Deepens As Philippine VP Sara Duterte Quits Party
By Gerard Carreon and Basilio Sepe
Philippine Vice President Sara Duterte on Friday added to intrigue surrounding the country’s ruling party by announcing she was resigning her membership over concerns about “political toxicity.”
Duterte’s surprise resignation followed the demotion of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a former Philippine president and fellow party member, from senior deputy speaker to deputy speaker in the House of Representatives. Duterte and Arroyo are widely considered the two most powerful women in Philippine politics.
Both women were instrumental in removing a former House Speaker eventually replaced by Arroyo. Reports also surfaced this week about Arroyo allegedly plotting some kind of political coup against the current House Speaker, who is the cousin of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
“This is to announce my irrevocable resignation as a Lakas-CMD member effective today,” Duterte announced in a statement without giving a specific reason for her decision, but she hinted at a possible power play at the Lakas-CMD party ahead of congressional elections two years from now.
Duterte retains her posts as vice president and education secretary.
“I am here today because of the trust of the Filipino people in me to lead and serve them and the country, and this cannot be poisoned by political toxicity or undermined by execrable political power play,” she said without elaborating.
Duterte thanked party members for their support, but said politics would not distract her from doing her job.
“Nothing is more important to me than being able to meaningfully serve our fellow Filipinos and the Philippines – with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr leading the way. Trust that my word, my commitment will be immutable,” she said.
Despite leading in presidential popularity surveys ahead of the 2022 national election, Duterte gave way to Marcos who won the race while voters elected her vice president. In the Philippines, the president and vice president are elected separately.
Duterte, 44, is the daughter of Rodrigo Duterte, the former president whose six-year term ending last year was marked by widespread killings of alleged drug addicts and dealers.
President Marcos has been under pressure from local and international human rights groups to allow International Criminal Court prosecutors to enter the Philippines to investigate the thousands of deaths under his predecessor.
Analysts have said that Marcos, a member of the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas party who was backed by Lakas-CMD, had promised Sara Duterte that he would not hand over her father to international investigators, clearing the way for Marcos’ successful presidential run.
Former President Duterte, meanwhile, has been a member of Partido Demokratiko Pilipino (PDP)-Laban.
Sara Duterte announced that she was quitting the party two days after the congressional demotion of Macapagal-Arroyo, the party’s chairwoman emeritus.
“The power play and intramurals in Lakas may result in further resignations by Arroyo and Duterte loyalists” ahead of the 2028 presidential election, said Edcel Lagman, an opposition congressman.
“These political developments will have repercussions in the revamp of the Marcos cabinet,” he said.
Arroyo claimed that she was demoted over fears that she posed a threat to House Speaker Martin Romualdez.
“When I learned that there were reports that I was suspected of plotting a ‘coup’ against Speaker Romualdez, I decided I must speak out to clarify my political position,” Arroyo told reporters Friday.
She said she was content to represent her district in the lower house while supporting the legislative agenda of Marcos and Romualdez.
“Third, (is) to use whatever experience I have as a former president to help out when I am called upon to do so,” she said.
In December 2019, the Philippines’ anti-graft body under former President Duterte cleared Arroyo of corruption charges filed in 2016 over allegations she misused more than 73.6 million pesos (U.S. $1.3 million) in funds from the state-run lottery agency.
The case against Arroyo, 76, and several officials of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office stemmed from allegations of misuse of funds from 2004 to 2007. The office raises funds for health programs and medical assistance through daily lotteries.