In Philippines, Marcos-Duterte rift gets ugly with drug accusations

Jason Gutierrez
2024.01.29
Manila
In Philippines, Marcos-Duterte rift gets ugly with drug accusations Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. delivers a speech during the kick-off rally for the New Philippines movement at Quirino Grandstand in Manila, Jan. 28, 2024.
[Jam Sta Rosa/AFP]

In a snide counterattack, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said Monday that the extended use of the opioid painkiller fentanyl by his immediate predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, might have caused the former leader to accuse him of being a drug addict.

Marcos hit back at Duterte in a feud simmering between the country’s top two dynastic political families, which had allied together in the last election. Duterte’s daughter, Sara, is the vice president under Marcos.

The rift first took an ugly turn when Duterte, at a rally on Sunday, called Marcos a “son of a bitch.” In addition, but without presenting evidence, the famously foul-mouthed 78-year-old said that the current president and namesake son of a former Philippine dictator was hooked on illegal drugs.

When reporters questioned Marcos on Monday about Duterte’s drug allegations against him, the Philippine president referred to a 2016 admission by the former president, who, according to various news reports, had said that he had used fentanyl to relieve pain.

“I think it’s the fentanyl. Fentanyl is the strongest pain killer that you can buy. It is highly addictive and it has very serious side effects, and [Duterte] has been taking the drug for a very long time now,” Marcos, 66, told reporters before embarking on a two-day visit to Vietnam.

“When was the last time he told us that he was taking fentanyl? About five, six years ago, something like that. After five, or six years, it has to affect him and that is why I think he is acting that way. So, you know, I hope his doctors take better care of him than this.”

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Former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte addresses supporters at a rally in Davao City, in Mindanao island, Philippines, in this video grab, Jan. 28, 2024. [Ferdinandh Cabrera/AFP]

Earlier on Monday, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency said that Marcos had never been on a watchlist for persons linked to illegal drug use. Duterte had once used the so-called watchlist to scare opponents and critics in accusing them of protecting drug syndicates.

The ex-president’s lawyer, Salvador Panelo, also weighed in on Monday, saying that Duterte had stopped taking fentanyl before he became president in 2016, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Duterte, who has been widely criticized by human rights advocates for his administration's bloody war on drugs during his 2016-2022 tenure, had never targeted Marcos back then. While he was in office, Duterte had thanked the current president’s family for funding his presidential campaign.

But on Sunday, the gloves came off.

“I am telling you, Bongbong Marcos was high before. Now that he is the president, he is still high,” Duterte said, using the president’s nickname.

“You in the military, you know that, especially those in Malacañang [presidential palace]. The Armed Forces of the Philippines, you know. We have a drug addict president. Son of a bitch.”

The feud between the two powerful families is now out in the open.

A scant two years ago, the two sides had joined forces for the presidential election, with Sara Duterte agreeing to run as Marcos’ vice president on a “unity team” ticket. In addition to serving as vice president, she is also the education minister.

On Sunday, the two political camps held separate rallies, putting Sara Duterte in an awkward position. 

She briefly appeared at Marcos’ rally in Manila, held to introduce a new slogan “Bagong Pilipinas,” which means “New Philippines,” but later in the day, she flew to Davao city to address the crowd in her and her father’s southern hometown.

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Philippine Vice President Sara Duterte speaks during the kick-off rally for the New Philippines movement at Quirino Grandstand in Manila, Jan. 28, 2024. [Jam Sta Rosa/AFP]

Duterte supporters said their rally was a protest against a Marcos-backed campaign to amend the constitution, ostensibly to allow in more foreign investment, but critics say may also remove presidential term limits.

The former president’s supporters are also upset that a team from The Hague’s International Criminal Court had been in the country last month to gather evidence for its case against Duterte’s deadly drug war.

But after the news emerged last week, Marcos firmly said that his administration “would not lift a finger” to help the ICC investigation, which was a threat to the country’s sovereignty.

Meanwhile in a statement on Monday, Sara Duterte said she would remain at her cabinet post unless Marcos fires her.

“I do not deserve the despicable treatment that I am receiving from sectors within the circle of the president,” she said without elaborating.

However, it is common knowledge that Duterte’s daughter is feuding with a cousin of Marcos, House Speaker Martin Romualdez, who has shown an interest in running in the 2028 presidential election.

Sara Duterte has said she would contest the same election, but has not specified for which position, although she is widely expected to run for president.

Presidents in the Philippines are restricted to a single six-year term.

The Marcos and Duterte clans therefore appear to be on a collision course, ahead of both the mid-term polls for the Senate and Congress next year, and the 2028 presidential election.

Marcos ‘will weather this feud’

One political analyst said that the episode that started at the weekend may have been “the beginning of a fallout and political war” between the Marcoses and the Dutertes.

The feud has broken out as the Marcos administration is dealing with big geopolitical problems, such as balancing relations with the U.S. and China amid regional and territorial tensions over Taiwan and the South China Sea, and as the two rival superpowers compete for influence in Southeast Asia. 

Marcos and Duterte could be seen as acting as warring proxies for the U.S. and China, respectively, according to Chester Cabalza, president of International Development and Security Cooperation, a local think-tank.

“Though the intrusion of foreign powers in local politics is not new to the rising middle power, what is certain is that the U.S. will not withdraw its support for President Marcos given his clear vision for a peaceful, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region,” Cabalza told BenarNews.

“What is disturbing is how China will influence the Dutertes to cripple the Marcos administration and its legitimacy,” Cabalza said, indicating that Beijing would side with the former president because Marcos was questioning China’s expansive claims in the disputed South China Sea.

Marcos has realigned the Philippines back with the United States, its traditional defense ally, earning Washington’s full backing. Duterte, with his anti-West policy, fully embraced China and praised Russia during his term.

Marcos has also allowed American forces to access more Philippine military bases, while boldly speaking out against China’s alleged harassment in the disputed South China Sea.

Cabalza said the Marcos side has the upper hand in the feud with the Dutertes, because the president is currently enjoying a surge in popularity due to his firm stance on China.

Cabalza predicted that the Marcos administration “will weather this feud.”

Gerard Carreon in Manila contributed to this report.

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