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VP SARA QUITS MARCOS CABINET; RIFT DEEPENS: Unity Team breaks up ahead of midterm elections

By ALFRED GABOT and CLAIRE MORALES TRUE

Editor in Chief and Managing Editor

MANILA/DAVAO CITY – Only days after claiming the “Unity Team” that catapulted to power President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and her as Vice President  were forged only for the 2022 presidential and national elections, Vice President Sara Duterte resigned from the Marcos cabinet without any clear reason as the relations between their two families have become tense and soured and slowly turning into a public rift as the nation approaches the May 2025 midterm elections.

Malacanang said Marcos readily accepted the resignation of Duterte as secretary of the Department of Education and also as vice chairman of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict only hours after the Vice President personally submitted her resignation to the President.

“She [Duterte] declined to give a reason why. She will continue to serve as Vice President. We thank her for her service,” a Malacanang official said who confirmed Marcos accepted Duterte’s resignation from the Cabinet which takes effect on July 19 to be able to prepare for a smooth transition to the next DepEd official.

Marcos appointed Duterte as education secretary upon their assumption to office on June 30, 2022.

Marcos and Duterte ran and won by landslide under the Unity Team Coalition in the 2022 election over the opposition tandem of then Vice President Leni Robredo and Senator Francis Pangilinan. Most senators of the Unity Team led by neophyte Sen. Robinhood Padilla and only one from the opposition, Sen. Risa Hontiveros, won also in that election.

The Marcos-Duterte rift started when the vice president’s father, former president Rodrigo Duterte took a potshot at Marcos during a Davao City public rally, including branding the president as a “drug user” based on what he said a confidential government memo shown to him by law enforcers.

Marcos vehemently denied the accusation but the rift deepened as First Lady Loise Marcos and the president’s cousin, Speaker Martin Romualdez who is known to be nurturing a desire to succeed Marcos in 2028, joined the fray.

Political observers and pundits said they expected Duterte’s leaving the Marcos Cabinet as both families attempt to shore up their rival support bases and secure key positions ahead of the mid-term elections in May 2025 and presidential polls in 2028. Filing of certificates of candidacies for the 2025 elections start in three months.

In the same Davao City rally in January, Mayor Sebastian Duterte asked Mr. Marcos to resign.

In a press conference at DepEd main office in Pasig City after leaving Malacanang, Duterte said she met with President Marcos and informed him about her resignation effective July 19.

Ano mang kwento, kahit gaano kaganda ay sadyang nagtatapos rin (Whatever story, no matter how good, still comes to an end.

“Even if I will not be the head of the department of education, I will continue to be a mother who will watch and stand for the rights of every teacher and every student in the Philippines,” she added.

“I have given my 30-day notice to ensure the proper and orderly transition for the benefit of the next secretary,” she added.

She thanked the teachers, local governments, partner agencies and the national government and private stakeholders as she pushed for reforms in the education sector.

As Vice President, Duterte vowed to continue advocating for the rights and welfare of all teachers and learners in the country.

First Lady Louise ”Liza” Araneta-Marcos had admitted having ill feelings towards the Vice President after Sara’s father, former President Rodrigo Duterte, called the President “bangag” or high on drugs.

The First Lady said she took offense when she saw the Vice President laughing over the former President’s remark at a Davao City rally in late January to oppose efforts to amend the 1987 Constitution.

Last February, the Vice President said she and Marcos have no issue with each other even after her father and brother, Davao City Mayor Sebastian ”Baste” Duterte, criticized the Chief Executive.

Despite his wife’s ill feelings, Marcos had said he did not see any reason why Duterte needs to be replaced in his Cabinet.

In late May 2023, Duterte posted a photo of herself with the  cryptic caption, “Sa imong ambisyon, do not be tambaloslos. (In your ambition, do not be tambaloslos.)”

Among Visayans, “tambaloslos” referred to a greedy mythical creature that had a large mouth and leds people astray.

The post was made a few days after the Vice President announced her irrevocable resignation as member of the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) party, the party under which she ran in the previous elections.

Under Duterte’s leadership, the DepEd has launched its MATATAG Agenda to address challenges in the quality of the education sector.

The MATATAG Agenda stands for MAke the curriculum relevant to produce competent and job-ready, active, and responsible citizens; TAke steps to accelerate delivery of basic education facilities and services; TAke good care of learners by promoting learner well-being, inclusive education, and a positive learning environment; and Give support to teachers to teach better.

Duterte’s stint at the DepEd was marked by ongoing efforts to improve the country’s educational system, considered one of the important tools in combating local communist insurgency, NTF-ELCAC executive director Undersecretary Ernesto Torres Jr. said.

“She spearheaded various programs aimed at improving the quality of education and making it more accessible, thereby addressing one of the key factors contributing to local conflicts,” Torres said. “Her leadership has also emphasized the importance of education as a vital component in combating insurgency.”

Torres thanked Duterte for her “invaluable contributions and leadership,” saying dedication to the task force has resulted in numerous successful initiatives and operations that have strengthened the resolve and capacity of communities to stand against insurgency.

“We wish her success in her future endeavors and are confident that she will continue to serve the Filipino people with the same passion and dedication,” Torres said.

Sena Senate President Francis ”Chiz” Escudero said he respects the decision of Duterte; but he said Duterte’s resignation was inevitable amid the attacks made by the Dutertes. 

”I believe her resignation was inevitable from the time her father, FPRRD, and her siblings and allies started attacking PBBM and members of the First Family,” Escudero said in a statement. 

”Its inevitability became more pronounced when she was already silent and not expressing her support on certain policy issues such as the West Philippine Sea, the Bagong Pilipinas Hymn, the Quiboloy cases and attempted arrest, etc.,” he added. 

Escudero said that Duterte, as the Vice President, has every right to have policy differences with the President. 

”I believe that people love and respect her precisely for that… for having and fighting for what she believes in and for her own beliefs,” he said. 

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate Committee on Basic Education, said Duterte’s resignation as DepEd secretary “is a big loss” as the “political will” of the vice president is important in putting the directions of the education sector in “one direction.”

Ang isang pangunahing dahilan kung bakit itinalaga [ni President Marcos] si Vice President Sara dahil binibigyan ng priority yung (One of the main reasons why [President Marcos] appointed Vice President Sara is because he prioritizes the) education sector,” Gatchalian said during the Kapihan sa Senado.

Gatchalian said he is hoping that existing programs and policies being implemented by the DepEd will continue despite her resignation.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said President Marcos should appoint a new DepEd chief who has “experience and good track record” in the education sector.

“This person must be someone who has worked with or in the department for decades. Someone familiar with how tSenhe department works as well as with the problems of the education sector and educational system. Someone who has dedicated his or her life to education and can show the track record for it,” Pimentel said in a Viber message to reporters.

Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa said Duterte’s decision was “well thought of.”

“I believe it was a choice that took into consideration the best interest of our people, as has always been characteristic of her. I fully trust that she will continue to fulfill her mandate as the Vice President of the Philippines and help uplift the lives of every Filipino. After all, beyond her titles, it is her integrity that defines her leadership, and it is this integrity that she shall always uphold,” dela Rosa said.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman expressed hope that the issues hounding Philippine education will be resolved as a result of Duterte’s resignation.

Lagman also hoped that Duterte’s replacement would come from the ranks of “experienced and dedicated educators who can efficiently steer and professionally manage” the country’s educational system.

He noted that Duterte’s departure from a prime position in the President’s Cabinet signifies the end of the “increasingly tenuous partisan relations” between the Marcos and Duterte political power blocs.

ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro expressed optimism that President Marcos would appoint a DepEd secretary with experience in the field who would truly serve the education sector.

GABRIELA Party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas said Duterte’s resignation as DepEd secretary highlights the urgent need to appoint a genuine public servant who will prioritize uplifting the long-neglected education sector.

“From the very start, the Vice President had no real intention of addressing the crisis in our education system,” Brosas said.

Brosas described Duterte’s exit as a political move in preparation for the 2025 elections to “set the stage for a potential power struggle” between the Duterte and Marcos factions.

Manila Rep. Joel Chua said the breakdown of Duterte’s alliance with President Marcos under the UniTeam exposed the Vice President’s “false façade of unity” that was merely maintained for “election purposes”. 

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