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Ferdinand Marcos Jr. placed at the heart of political turbulence in the Philippines

Photo: Aaron Favila archives Associated Press This Filipino motorcyclist sports a tattoo depicting Ferdinand Marcos, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and President Rodrigo Duterte, in Mandaluyong, May 10, 2022.

Fabien Deglise

February 7, 2024 Analysis

  • Asia

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s flight plan aimed at leading the country to the “Bagong Pilipinas”, the New Philippines, is currently going through a major zone of turbulence which risks compromising the renewal promised by the son of the ex-dictator.

At issue: the former president of this Southeast Asian country, Rodrigo Duterte, who for several days has been increasing attacks and outbursts against Marcos, threatening among other things to get the Mindanao region, dominated by his family for years, to secede.

A deleterious climate, with insurrectional overtones, which could deal a severe blow to the reform projects of one of the most protectionist economies in the region, initiated by the new president, but also to his attempts to break away from the influences of China to better get closer to the Western camp, with the United States and even Canada in the lead.

“A mutiny, coup or uprising will be devastating for the economy,” Ronald M. Llamas, former political advisor to President Benigno Aquino III, was quoted as saying by the business daily on SundayBusiness World of Manila. “Even if this attempt fails, it will be damaging to the Marcos government. »

The rag is burning between the current president and his predecessor, whose daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, is nevertheless part of the current government after being elected in May 2022 to the post of vice-president.

Last week, at a political rally in Davao City, his stronghold, Rodrigo Duterte announced that local political forces were coming together to launch “a signature campaign” for the separation of Mindanao from the rest of the Philippines. The statement marked the culmination of a series of attacks launched by the ex-president against the current occupant of the Malacañang, the Philippine presidential palace, whom Duterte accuses of being a “drug addict” seeking reform the Constitution of 1987 to remain in power beyond the single mandate allowed by the laws of the country.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr. wants to modify the Constitution to, he says, attract more foreign investment to the Philippines, whose hyper-constraining economic framework mainly favors a handful of large families – ultra-billionaires nicknamed the Magnificent Seven – who share resources and production capacities. The Duterte family fiercely opposes these reforms, which are at the origin of a schism between the vice-president and Marcos Jr.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr. placed at the heart of political turbulence in the Philippines

Photo: Francis R. Malasig archives Agence-France-Presse New President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (L) and outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte (R) during MARcos' inauguration ceremony at the Malacanang Presidential Palace in Manila on June 30, 2022.

“Rodrigo Duterte began uttering his insults and threats after his daughter's political relations with the ruling coalition began to deteriorate,” summarizes political scientist Dennis Coronacion in an interview, contacted this week by Le Devoir at the Santo Tomas University of Manila. “But we must not lose sight of the fact that these tensions are induced by the fact that the Dutertes feel that they have been used by President Marcos to ensure his electoral victory in 2022 and that they are preparing their revenge as the approach midterm elections”, which are to be held in 2025.

According to the specialist in local politics, the ex-president's threats of secession have no legitimate basis and risk not going beyond the framework of verbal jousting. “If Rodrigo Duterte wanted to carry out his plan, he would have to do it illegally, by forming an armed group that would fight for his cause,” Coronacion says. So far, only the armed Muslim rebel groups of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have waged war against the Philippine government for the independence of Mindanao.” Ironically, Duterte then declared martial law, in 2017, as president of the country, to block their autonomist projects.

The ex-president does not seem to have the support of the country's security apparatus either. Last week, the National Security Council pledged to suppress any attempt at secession. In a press release, he affirmed that he “will not hesitate to use his authority and his forces to repress any attempt to dismember the republic” and to “guarantee the sovereignty and integrity of the national territory”.

Personal interests

The tensions between the Dutertes and the Marcoses also find their fuel in the ambiguities of the current president in the face of the investigation launched by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into the war on drugs led by his predecessor. This dark period in the country's history is said to have led to the deaths of nearly 30,000 people, a tiny part of which was attributable to the police forces. The majority of victims, mostly drug sellers or consumers, fell under the bullets of “shadow forces” put in place by Duterte in an extrajudicial framework.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr. had ruled out cooperating with the court, but he appears to have allowed investigators from The Hague to travel to the Philippines. The arrest warrants that the ICC could issue, at the end of its investigation opened over a period between November 1, 2011 and March 16, 2019, could target both the ex-president and his daughter, who was mayor of Davao in those years.

The current political crisis in the Philippines, if it harms the new power in place, certainly serves the interests of China, which has deplored since 2022 the change in the country's foreign policies, oriented towards Beijing under Duterte, but which now rather seek to weave links with Westerners. Earlier this year, the Philippine navy conducted joint patrols with that of the United States in the South China Sea, where Manila regularly has to defend itself against the regime of Xi Jinping, which contests the sovereignty of a series of islands and reefs claimed by the Philippines.

The divisions that Rodrigo Duterte seeks to deepen, even if they are a source of entertainment for the Filipinos, should not be taken lightly, since they could also encourage Marcos Jr. to take advantage of a revision of the Constitution to reduce the capacity to harm his political opponents. “Filipinos need to be vigilant and closely monitor the actions of their political leaders during this period,” says Dennis Coronacion. Yes, there is a need to modify an economic framework that protects our oligarchs from market competition. But this must not become an opportunity to set aside the political guarantees provided for by the Constitution” on the single presidential mandate aimed at preventing the establishment of a new dictatorship, as well as on the separation and independence of the seats of the executive, legislative and judicial to prevent abuse of power. Which would bring Ferdinand Marcos son closer to his father.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116