Marcos–Duterte Mega-Dynasty On The Rocks – Analysis


By Danilo Araña Arao

Philippine politics combines drama, comedy and tragedy. The political marriage between two powerful clans in the northern and southern Philippines resulted in the 2022 election of a former dictator’s son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, and a former president’s daughter, Sara Duterte, as president and vice president respectively.

Yet this dynasty cartel or mega-dynasty is headed towards a split. This is due to the drama of an unfulfilled promise, the comedy of a war between the former and incumbent presidents and the tragedy of pushing for a constitutional change.

That the Marcos–Duterte marriage is on the rocks has been evident since the early part of Marcos Jr’s administration. Marcos appointed Sara Duterte as Secretary of Education even though she wanted the defence portfolio — a position that can boost her presidential ambitions for 2028, just as the late president Fidel Ramos did three decades ago. 

Duterte’s forced withdrawal of her request for confidential funds from the 2024 budget, amounting to 650 million pesos (US$11.4 million), further damaged her relationship with Marcos Jr and his allies in Congress. This even angered Sara Duterte’s father, former president Rodrigo Duterte — he branded the House of Representatives ‘the most rotten institution’ in the Philippines.

There is also the comedy involving former president Duterte and Marcos Jr. Rodrigo Duterte accused Marcos Jr of having a cocaine addiction. In response, Marcos Jr claimed that Duterte’s supposed use of fentanyl may have affected his judgment. In addition to a war of words, Duterte even stressed the need for Mindanao to separate from the Philippines, a statement rejected by the government and which Marcos Jr said is doomed to fail.

Meanwhile, the push for changing the Philippines’ 1987 constitution, better known as ‘cha-cha’ or charter change, strained further the relations between the Marcos and Duterte families. This is the case even if Marcos Jr’s sister Senator Imee Marcos remains allied with Vice President Sara Duterte, and Sara Duterte saying that she does not always see eye to eye with her own family. While constitutional change is claimed to be about opening the economy to more foreign investment, there is also the possibility of lifting term limits and even changing the Philippines’ system of government.

Broad constitutional reforms would be in the best interest of the Marcos family and their relatives, who plan to stay at Malacañan Palace beyond 2028 — something Rodrigo Duterte has previously claimed. Then again, the Marcos family is expected to be more cautious given the recent decline in both trust and approval ratings of Marcos Jr and Sara Duterte because of their cha-cha political dance.

The Duterte family took exception to Marcos Jr’s ambivalence regarding the International Criminal Court’s authority to investigate former president Rodrigo Duterte for the thousands of deaths from his ‘war on drugs’. 

The possibility of Rodrigo Duterte’s arrest and detention pushed his supporters to take a more critical stance. This includes Duterte’s spiritual adviser and self-appointed ‘son of God’ Apollo Quiboloy, who is currently in hiding due to several arrest warrants.

A notable charge is for failing to appear in a Senate investigation of the Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI), whose broadcast franchise was revoked by the House of Representatives for spreading false information about House Speaker Martin Romualdez, Marcos Jr’s first cousin. Quiboloy and the SMNI further added to the unfolding political drama — Vice President Sara Duterte decried their persecution, even if she still claims to support the Marcos administration.

Midterm national and local elections are set for 2025. The next set of congressional and local government leaders are expected to play a significant role in the 2028 presidential and vice-presidential polls, assuming that term limits are not lifted due to constitutional changes.

Given that anti-dynasty bills only gather dust in Congress, political clans are expected to emerge victorious in 2025, just like in the previous election cycles. After all, elected officials of the same political families have dominated Philippine politics since the 1960s.

Amid cracks in the Marcos–Duterte mega-dynasty, their supermajority in Congress remains in the Marcos clan’s control. Some Mindanao-based legislators rejected Rodrigo Duterte’s idea of Mindanao secession. The House of Representatives passing the Resolution of Both Houses No.7, a measure which seeks to push constitutional change, is also proof that the House of Representatives serves the Marcos family’s interests.

But nothing is impossible in Philippine politics. Permanent interests result in the most outrageous political realignments. Just like other estranged marriages, reconciliation remains a possibility, even if a Martin Romualdez–Sara Duterte presidential showdown is widely anticipated four years from now.

The drama, comedy and tragedy that shape Philippine politics are expected to continue even beyond 2028. As the national situation remains depressing, laughable and even maddening, the suspense is literally killing critical voices who dare speak truth to power. There is no forever when it comes to a destructive political marriage.

  • About the author: Danilo Araña Arao is Associate Professor at the Department of Journalism, the University of the Philippines Diliman, Special Lecturer at the Department of Journalism, the Polytechnic University of the Philippines Santa Mesa, Associate Editor at Bulatlat Multimedia and Editor at Media Asia.
  • Source: This article was published by East Asia Forum

East Asia Forum

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