Philippine VP Duterte exits Marcos cabinet as their alliance crumbles

Economic briefing following Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr's first State of the Nation Address

By Mikhail Flores and Karen Lema

MANILA (Reuters) -Philippine Vice President Sara Duterte resigned on Wednesday from the cabinet of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and another key post, not a surprise move given that her alliance with Marcos had long been expected to collapse.

Marcos has accepted Duterte's resignation from the posts of education minister and vice chair of an anti-insurgency task force, Presidential Communications Secretary Cheloy Garafil said in a statement, adding that no reasons were given by her for stepping down.

Duterte, who will remain vice president, said in a press conference that her "resignation is not because of weakness but because of true concern for teachers and the youth."

Her resignation affirmed what political observers had predicted all along that the alliance between their families that brought Marcos and her into power in 2022 was bound to collapse because of their political and policy differences.

"It is the break we have all been waiting for," Jean Encinas-Franco, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines, said of the vice president's decision to step down from her cabinet post, suggesting that it would now give her more power to go against Marcos.

Duterte, daughter of former president Rodrigo Duterte, was tipped to win the presidency in the 2022 elections, based on independent opinion polls, but she ran alongside Marcos, allowing the son of the late authoritarian leader to tap the Duterte family's huge support base and seal a comeback for the disgraced Marcos dynasty.

But the cracks in the alliance were laid bare several months into Marcos' presidency after he reversed many of his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte's policies from the South China Sea to the war on drugs as well as initiated potential peace talks with communist rebels.

Marcos has also considered rejoining the International Criminal Court (ICC) which Duterte officially withdrew from in 2019 after the court's prosecutor then announced a preliminary examination into thousands of killings in Duterte's war on drugs.

In January, Rodrigo Duterte accused Marcos of using drugs, while his son, currently the mayor of Davao city, called on Marcos to resign, which Sara Duterte did not object to.

"This resignation is not off the cuff," said Aries Arugay, visiting senior fellow, ISEAS Yusof-Ishak Institute. "This has something to do with widening distance of their positions in policy and politics."

Arugay believed Sara Duterte's resignation will give her the political space to oppose Marcos, which could potentially polarise the country. "It is dynasty versus dynasty."

University of the Philippines' Franco also sees a possibility that Sara Duterte, who still enjoys high trust ratings, would contest the presidency in 2028, and endorse her set of candidates for the 2025 mid-term polls.

Right now, Sara Duterte's role as the vice president, who is elected separately from the president, is largely ceremonial without a cabinet position.

Marcos, on the other hand, is not eligible to run again for the top job as the constitution sets a single-six-year term limit for president.

The Philippines will hold mid-term elections in 2025 to choose half the Senate, elect congressmen, and local officials.

"The 2025 elections could be a referendum on which dynasty is stronger," said Arugay. "It will be an indication where the winds are blowing."

(Reporting by Mikhail Flores and Karen Lema; Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Ed Davies and Shinjini Ganguli)