After the People Power Revolution ousted his dictator father and namesake four decades ago, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr finds himself in a strife with a surprising force—his predecessor, former president Rodrigo Duterte.

This tale didn’t begin with all the fury. The Marcos-Duterte alliance in the 2022 elections was forged for Marcos Jr. to regain the Malacañang seat and reserve the same seat for Sara to potentially inherit in the future.

Former president Rodrigo Duterte was all chummy with the Marcoses for their support of his presidential bid back in 2016. In fact, Duterte fulfilled what the Marcoses had "prayed and dreamed for 3 decades": the burial of the disgraced president, Marcos Sr., at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes cemetery).

Cut to 2024, and the two powerful political clans are now embroiled in a political tug of war, clawing neck and neck with allegations and word war just two years into their landslide win in the 2022 national elections effectively showing cracks in their fragile “Uniteam” coalition.

This is a seismic shift in the Philippine political landscape but it was a looming inevitability in a country with a growing divide in ideals.

In the country's capital on Sunday, January 28, Marcos's government launched the "Bagong Pilipinas" campaign, rebutting claims that the campaign is a new partisan coalition in disguise but rather a "set of ideals" for his administration's "brand of governance and leadership," which it claimed to be “characterized by a principled, accountable, and dependable government”.

Down south of the country, in the Duterte stronghold of Davao City, there is an opposing display of clan force in a "prayer rally" led by the former president himself against the push to amend the 1987 Constitution under the Marcos administration. In attendance among the strong and powerful are Vice President Sara Duterte, who appeared briefly at the Marcos rally to fly directly to Davao, and Senator Imee Marcos, who skipped the launch entirely and called it a “BBM loyalty rally” in a January 20 radio interview.

As alliances break, another forms. Presidential sister and senator Imee Marcos once said she takes after her father— loyal and willing to stand up for “true friends,” offering support to Duterte “…even if I am the only one left.”

This sibling rift started when Imee criticized her brother’s foreign policies and other programs, but it might also relate to the family power dynamics. Marcos Sr. once wrote in his diary about his pride in his eldest child, Imee, and his concern over his son, viewing him as his "principal worry." However, conforming to the conventional patriarchal norms of the time, it ultimately gave up the thought of Imee as a successor, going so far as to wish she had been a boy.

Whether Marcos Jr. proves to be a worthy successor to his father who expressed concern over his “carefree and lazy” nature, Duterte seems to share the same sentiment as he referred to Bongbong as a ‘weak leader’ riding the coattails of his father’s name. 

In the prayer rally, Duterte’s youngest son Sebastian “Baste” Duterte, now mayor of Davao City blasted Marcos Jr daring him to resign. Baste lashed out at the president for veering away from his father’s drug war, insurgency programs, and foreign policies.

Although Sara Duterte has barely dipped her foot in the tide yet, she plays a role in its doing. The “Uniteam'' seems to begin crumbling when the vice president was denied of her P650 million request of confidential funds in late 2023 after public backlash by the congress, led by the president’s cousin, House Speaker Martin Romualdez. Marcos’ friendly US-relations did not sit right with the China-friendly Sara either.

The old Duterte emerged in the crowd with a full ICC rant and profanity-laced allegations against the president calling him constantly “bangag” [high] and a “son of a whore”. In an interview, Marcos Jr. was quick to quip that the former president’s tirade was a result of what he thinks is the effect of Fentanyl, a drug used to sedate animals which is stronger than most opioids. 

Sara Duterte, careful to confront the tides at the moment, has not addressed his father’s allegations yet.

This is a taint in the relationship between domineering dynasties. Theirs was not established on a common universal good but on power. Strongmen are slaves to power and devoid of ‘real’ humanity. What remains of their relations is the sheer idea that they still need each other for their own political gains.  

At the opposing end of each rivalry are political dynasties, established political clans with bottomless armouries. Just like any political tug of war, the people are always dragged regardless of the loser—no wonder this country suffers. It grooms a norm of ignorance that portrays how this nation will circle back to electing and ‘trusting’ the same people to the highest positions in office whom have proven time and time again that they cannot be trusted with their words, nor with their actions towards each other. 

Surrounding and beneath them are wary victims, the Filipino people, unaware of the looming harm this may bring to them. Whether this is just a parade of armaments for both clans led by strongmen, we, suffer the same; there is still a massive corruption problem, our traditional jeepney drivers will be out of livelihood, the agriculture sector cripples, and the list goes on. Unlike the perpetrators, our armoury is a famine of resilience and a mere ounce of hope.

In hindsight, the 31 million Filipinos who believed this united facade are now slowly accepting how things could swiftly fall apart. It was never about unity and loyalty, but a political power spectacle that only honored greed and nothing more. Whatever shared promises that ignited during the 2022 elections, has clearly lost its flame now

All the squabbles pose an interesting power play at the coming 2025 midterms election and the 2028 national election—a classic tale of the ruling elite in a game of thrones, completely detached from the concerns of the regular Filipino. 

And the tale continues, the Philippines once again becoming a battleground of political families hungry for power— dismissing the real people in power, the Filipinos themselves, who once again are made to become not just watchers, but also victims of this cruel game of thrones— they play. 

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