Sara Duterte exits ruling party; Arroyo denies House ‘coup’
Vice President Sara Duterte on Friday parted ways with the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) party in an unexpected move seen setting off the first major political tremor in President Marcos’ year-old administration.
Duterte’s decision to leave Lakas-CMD, where she served as cochair, followed the sudden demotion of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as a House leader on Thursday.
From being the Senior House Deputy Speaker, considered the chamber’s de facto No. 2 position, Arroyo is now just one of nine Deputy House Speakers. Replacing her in the senior position was another Pampanga congressman, Aurelio Gonzales Jr.
In a statement issued late Thursday night, Arroyo denied rumors that she was plotting to unseat Speaker Martin Romualdez, the Lakas-CMD president and a cousin of President Marcos.
Becoming Speaker for a second time was no longer part of her “political objectives,” she said, adding that some of her actions may have been “misconstrued,” like her “recent trip with a delegation of congressmen to Korea for some official meetings.”
Arroyo said her “disavowal” should now “preempt any needless politicking” so that the Speaker and President Marcos could continue doing their jobs “with minimum distraction.”
In a statement explaining her departure from Lakas-CMD, Sara Duterte made no direct reference to the developments at the House, only saying that she would not allow “political toxicity” and “execrable political power play” to affect her work.
“Nothing is more important to me than being able to meaningfully serve our fellow Filipinos and the Philippines—with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. leading the way,” said Sara Duterte, who was Mr. Marcos’ running mate in the 2022 elections under the UniTeam coalition.
Just here to ‘help out’
Duterte took her oath as a member of Lakas-CMD on Nov. 11, 2021, just hours after resigning from Hugpong ng Pagbabago, the regional party that she headed. Two days later, she filed her certificate of candidacy for Vice President under Lakas-CMD.
On Nov. 17, 2021, barely a week after becoming a party member, Duterte accepted the offer to serve as its chair.
On Feb. 5 this year, Lakas-CMD reelected Duterte as party chair, Romualdez as president, and Arroyo as chair emeritus.
In her statement denying the coup plot, Arroyo maintained that she only had three political objectives: to represent Pampanga’s second district, to support the legislative agenda of Romualdez and President Marcos, and to use her experience as former President to “help out when I am called upon to do so.”
Alluding to her previous turnaround in 2004 when she decided to run for President despite earlier declaring that she was no longer interested in the post, Arroyo said that “later events with serious national security and political implications” convinced her to change her mind, among them “our war on terrorism following 9-11 and the continuing attempts at destabilization at that time.”
Arroyo admitted she had initially aspired for the speakership when President Marcos won in the 2022 elections, “(b)ut it soon became apparent that he was most comfortable with then Congressman Martin Romualdez as Speaker.”
“This relationship of deep trust between the Speaker and the President has been beneficial in smoothly enacting the legislative agenda of the President,” she said.
A source privy to the Vice President’s decision, who asked not to be named for lack of clearance to speak to the media, said her resignation from the party was “obviously influenced” by the action taken by Romualdez’s allies against Arroyo.
“The Vice President is very close with the former President. They regularly talk about their work as senior government officials,” the source told the Inquirer, adding that Duterte and Arroyo spoke on Thursday night.
Another source, from a group belonging to the ruling coalition, also described Duterte’s decision as an offshoot of Arroyo’s demotion in the House: “It’s a chess game. This is a power play, plain and simple.’’Loyalty pledges
Meanwhile, several Lakas-CMD officers and members reiterated their support for Romualdez and President Marcos.
“Through the darkest of storms and greatest of tribulations, we have proven time and again that our unity will never be torn down,” Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr., the party cochair, said in a statement.
Agusan del Norte Rep. Jose Aquino II, the Lakas-CMD secretary general, said the ruling party was thankful to Duterte for “helping us build a Unity Team aimed at bringing meaningful change to Philippine society.”
Aquino echoed Duterte’s call “for all political leaders to unite in support of President Marcos and for all of us to work for the success of this administration for the benefit of our people.”
The Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), another administration ally, also assured the President and the Speaker of the support of its 43 members in the House.
The assurance was conveyed through the media by NPC chair and former Senate President Vicente Sotto III.
Also among those who expressed support for the President and the current House leadership were Deputy Speaker Kristine Singson-Meehan and Rizal Rep. Michael John Duavit of the NPC.
The Partylist Coalition Foundation Inc., led by the House appropriations committee chair, Rep. Elizaldy Co, expressed the group’s commitment to “remain a staunch partner of the supermajority … in addressing (the) issues and concerns of its constituents as part of its legislative functions.”
The National Unity Party, chaired by former Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno, vowed “to continue working in close partnership with the House Speaker,’’ saying his leadership had led to “an unprecedented number of priority bills passed on third and final reading in less than a year in office.”
—With A REPORT FROM Inquirer Research