Drug Accusations in Philippines’ Marcos-Duterte Rift

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has defended his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, for his extended use of the opioid painkiller fentanyl, a drug that has caused accusations of drug addiction.

The feud between the country’s top two dynastic political families, which had allied together in the last election, has escalated since Duterte called Marcos a “son of a bitch” and without presenting evidence, accused him of being hooked on illegal drugs. Marcos referred to a 2016 admission by Duterte that he had used fentanyl to relieve pain. Marcos said that the drug had been taking him for about five to six years, and he hopes his doctors take better care of him.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency clarified that Marcos was not on a watchlist for individuals linked to illegal drug use, and Duterte used it to intimidate opponents. The ex-president’s lawyer, Salvador Panelo, also argued that Duterte had stopped taking fentanyl before he became president in 2016.

Duterte, who has faced criticism for his drug war during his 2016-2022 presidency, has publicly criticized the drug-addicted president, Bongbong Marcos, and his family for funding his presidential campaign. Duterte criticized Marcos for being high and criticized the military, particularly the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The feud between the two powerful families is now open, with Sara Duterte running as Marcos’ vice president on a “unity team” ticket.

The two political camps held separate rallies, putting Duterte in an awkward position. She briefly appeared at Marcos’ rally in Manila, introducing a new slogan, “Bagong Pilipinas,” and later flew to Davao city to address the crowd in her and her father’s hometown. Duterte supporters claim the rallies were a protest against a Marcos-backed campaign to amend the constitution, which may remove presidential term limits. Duterte’s supporters are also upset that a team from The Hague’s International Criminal Court had been in the country to gather evidence against Duterte’s drug war.

The Philippines’ President, Marcos, has vowed not to support the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation, a move seen as a threat to the country’s sovereignty. Meanwhile, Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte, has stated that she will remain in her cabinet post unless fired by Marcos. Duterte’s daughter is also feuding with House Speaker Martin Romualdez, who has expressed interest in running in the 2028 presidential election.

The Marcos and Duterte clans are on a collision course ahead of the mid-term polls for the Senate and Congress next year and the 2028 presidential election. The feud has emerged as the Marcos administration faces geopolitical issues, such as balancing relations with the US and China amid regional tensions over Taiwan and the South China Sea. According to Chester Cabalza, president of International Development and Security Cooperation, Marcos and Duterte could be seen as acting as warring proxies for the US and China. The US will not withdraw its support for President Marcos, given his vision for a peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.

China is expected to support the Marcos administration in the Philippines, according to Cabalza. The Marcos administration has realigned the Philippines with the US, earning Washington’s full backing. Duterte, with his anti-West policy, has fully embraced China and praised Russia. Marcos has allowed American forces to access more Philippine military bases and has spoken out against China’s alleged harassment in the disputed South China Sea. Cabalza believes the Marcos side has the upper hand in the feud with Dutertes due to his popularity and firm stance on China.

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