2023: breakup year

By Artchil B. Fernandez

A breakup year or a year of breakups best describes 2023. In the world of showbiz many prominent couples, some in relationship for more than a decade called it quits sending their fans broken hearted.

The KathNiel tandem is the most prominent among these breakup couples whose separation shook the nation.  It is an interesting sociological phenomenon how people were affected by a relationship they are not part of much more do not even have personal access to. This could be a case of how the personal becomes social.  Public reaction to the breakup also reflects the collective mindset of Filipinos or their mentality which is talking about people instead of events or ideas indicating a small mind.

Aside from KathNiel, there is an equally prominent breakup that reverberated throughout the nation and reconfigured the political landscape. Unlike the KathNiel love team, this partnership lasted a little over a year.

The breakup of SaBong or Sara-Bongbong team caught pundits by surprise not because it is unexpected but for its short lifespan. Political observers thought the breakup will happen after the mid-term election when political blocs will be maneuvering for the 2028 presidential election. The unraveling of SaBong also marks the end of UniTeam.

Political scientist Cleve Arguelles in an interview with CNN Philippines’ The Source, called the “rapid deterioration of the relationship within the Uniteam coalition” as surprising. “Usually the president is able to keep his coalition intact until after the midterm elections and we’re still years away from midterm elections,” he added.

The rapid deterioration of SaBong is unsurprising. The love team was forged for political expediency and was not founded on any principle or ideology. In fact, there was no official statement on the basis of unity or principle when the cunning Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) arranged the political marriage of convenience. SaBong also did not issue an official five-point/ten-point agenda or a single-point agendum once it wins the 2022 elections. Beating the “pinklawans”, the re-branded “dilawans”, is the only raison d’etre of the love team. This alone already planted the seed of its own demise.

Aside from devoid of principle/ideology, another seed in the destruction of SaBong is the absence a key figure in the alliance – Du30. The former president was never on board on the first place. In fact, the elder Duterte viewed the creation of UniTeam as a stab in the back, an act of betrayal.

Du30 had his own succession plan and was carefully orchestrating its execution. Along came GMA with a “brilliant” idea of forming an “unbeatable” team – SaBong in the 2022 election which scuttled and torpedoed Du30’s scheme.

Under Du30’s plan, his daughter who was consistently leading in the presidential polls should succeed him. In carefully choreographed moves, Du30 kept his cards close to his chest throwing the competitions off-balance. However, Du30’s best laid plan was undermined by the principal figure in his ploy, daughter Sara.  Instead of going along with her father, Sara Duterte followed GMA, her political mentor and believed her scheme was much superior to the elder Duterte.

Obliteration of his succession plan bitterly hurt Du30.  GMA may have calculated that the elder Duterte will have no choice but to accept the new political love team.  Du30 did not and never join the UniTeam bandwagon, choosing instead to stay in the sidelines nursing his wounds. Not only Du30 refused to openly endorse Bongbong Marcos (BBM), he even attacked the latter to express his displeasure of being outmaneuvered.

BBM is a weak leader Du30 thundered. There is a presidential candidate hooked on cocaine Du30 told the nation. BBM on the other hand turned the other cheek, meekly enduring Du30’s blistering and snide comments without a word. These expressions of personal pique foretold the future and early indications of the inevitable clash between House Duterte and House Marcos.

Victory should have healed election wounds within UniTeam and between House Duterte and House Marcos. The opposite happened. Just two days after the election and with winning certain, Sara Duterte publicly said she wanted to be defense secretary. “Our incoming vice president has agreed to take the brief of Department of Education,” BBM responded on the same day, his first appointee announcement. Even before taking office, cracks in UniTeam was showing, another early sign SaBong is headed for breakup.  House Marcos was telling House Duterte who is the boss.

Months after taking power, SaBong continued to crumble as BBM started removing from positions people connected to the Dutertes. Du30’s solicitor general Jose Calida was appointed Commission on Audit (COA) chair only to be removed from the post three months later. Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez, another official reportedly with ties to Bong Go, Du30’s personal assistant, was ousted. First Lady Liza Marcos is said to be the power behind the cleansing of Duterte people in the administration.

Open warfare broke out in the second quarter of 2023 when House Duterte tried to strike back through Congress.  House Marcos held on, consolidated its control of Congress and Duterte acolytes there were stripped of their positions including the wily GMA who was demoted twice in an ultimate act of humiliation. Indeed “revolution,” in this case “political love team” devoured its own children, nay its chief architect.

2023 ended with the skirmishes between House Marcos and House Duterte worsening.  Current target is SMNI, the propaganda machine of the Dutertes.  Quiboloy’s network is under suspension, its franchise facing uncertain future.

Breakup is unpleasant and nasty.  In the case of political love team, the breakup can be bloody, both figuratively and literally.