As Philippines’ Vice-President Sara Duterte fires back at first lady Liza Marcos, will family tensions soar further?

As Philippines’ Vice-President Sara Duterte fires back at first lady Liza Marcos, will family tensions soar further?

Philippine Vice-President Sara Duterte has countered first lady Liza Araneta Marcos’ claims of “feeling hurt” by the former, saying such emotions were unrelated to her mandate as a government official.

A feud between the women erupted last week after Liza Marcos rebuked Sara Duterte for appearing to laugh at an insult her father hurled at the president during a rally in March.

In a video posted on her social media platforms, Sara Duterte opened up about the saga that has captured the attention of the public.

“It is first lady Liza Marcos’s right to feel angry and frustrated, but her personal feelings are not related to my mandate as a government official,” she said on Monday.

‘I felt hurt’: Philippine first lady breaks silence on ties with vice-president

Sara Duterte added that she would speak to President Marcos Jnr privately to draw a line under the episode, stressing “problems the country is facing” came first, as she weighed in on a raft of issues, including inflation, crime, illegal drugs and insurgency.

“The prices of food and other goods continue to rise. These further add difficulties to the hunger and poverty experienced by our fellowmen,” she said.

Analysts say the latest salvo in an ongoing war of words between the political families could further sour relations ahead of next year’s midterm elections seen as key to cementing influence for either camp before the 2028 presidential race, and shows the first lady’s role in politicking behind the scenes for Marcos Jnr.

Marcos Jnr and his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte have also been engaged in a bitter fight over the previous administration’s softer stance against Beijing’s maritime activities in the disputed South China Sea.

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What’s behind the apparent feud between the Marcos, Duterte clans in the Philippines?

What’s behind the apparent feud between the Marcos, Duterte clans in the Philippines?

Liza Marcos went into detail to describe her rift with Sara Duterte, saying her behaviour at the rally, where the politician’s father mocked Marcos Jnr and called him a “drug addict”, was the last straw.

The first lady said she snubbed the vice-president because she had “crossed the line”.

“You are getting your wages from the government, you are supposed to be the alter ego,” she said in an interview last week.

“Even Leni [Robredo] never did that,” she said, referring to the former vice-president, then widely seen as an opposition figure and Marcos Jnr’s rival in the 2022 presidential election.

Political analyst Michael Yusingco told ABS-CBN News that Sara Duterte’s remark could add more fuel to the fire.

“Vice-President Sara Duterte’s response was incongruent to the first lady’s accusation. Duterte also acted high and mighty and her answer made it appear she was taking the moral high ground,” he said.

Escalating Marcos vs Duterte family feud brings a plague on both their houses

Cleve Arguelles, a political science lecturer at De La Salle University, said Liza Marcos’s statement was the most explicit confirmation from the president’s family of straining relations with its former allies.

“The impression of political observers is that the first lady does the politicking [behind the scenes],” Arguelles said.

“[Based on the framing of] ‘I’m hurt. My family is deeply hurt’ – it appeals to traditional Filipino values. They’re trying to make it appear that Sara betrayed the trust of a family, which is a no-no for Filipinos,” he said.

Arguelles also said Liza Marcos spoke positively about Robredo in a bid to sway her supporters who were averse to the Dutertes’ “polarising” politics, in contrast to the president’s liberal tendencies such as bringing back technocrats in the government.

“There is an appeal to the [Robredo] constituency. There is a subtle approach to appeal to that crowd, not because this group likes the Marcoses but because they dislike the Dutertes, whose politics can be out of the liberal box – from the way they speak to the policies they want,” he said.

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Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr with his wife in Washington. Photo: AFP

While the Marcos camp has the advantages of a large political machinery, it may be scrambling to strengthen its bailiwicks by enticing Robredo’s backers ahead of the midterm elections to get an “upper hand” on its challengers, he added.

“The Marcoses know that this is going to be a difficult battle for them. The Dutertes are not just people that they could easily sideline,” Arguelles said.

“The first lady and all of [Marcos’s] proxies have to go public because they know that the Dutertes are always capable of turning this around.”

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Athena Charanne Presto, a sociologist from the University of the Philippines Diliman, observed that Marcos Jnr had designated people to make statements on his behalf “so that his image will be distanced”.

Aside from the first lady, other figures such as the president’s sister, Senator Imee Marcos, had spoken up for him in the past.

“How I would interpret it is because women are seen to be on the softer side of politics,” she said.

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