Political dance     

By Artchil B. Fernandez

Something strange occurred during a Pasidungog (Tribute) held at a hotel in Manila this week. It was a thanksgiving event organized by the Office of the Vice President for its partners.

At the start of her speech, Vice President Sara Duterte thanked Bongbong Marcos (BBM) for supporting her office but added a cryptic remark. “Hindi ko na banggitin ang middle initial niya… Mahal ko si apo BBM (I will not mention his middle initial… I love apo BBM).”

Why did Sara Duterte suddenly become allergic to the middle name of BBM which is “Romualdez?” What did the Vice President find irritating in “Romualdez” that it become an unmentionable name for her?

Current House Speaker Martin Romualdez, first cousin of BBM, was at the center of political storm in recent weeks with the sudden and unceremonious demotion of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) from senior deputy speaker to just deputy speaker. The ruckus in the House was provoked by a coup rumor allegedly being hatched by the group of GMA.

Sara Duterte in an act of solidarity and support to the beleaguered GMA promptly resigned from Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (CMD) whose party president is Speaker Romualdez. GMA is Lakas-CMD president emeritus. Duterte cited “political toxicity” and “execrable political power play” as reasons for her irrevocable resignation.

Immediately after leaving Lakas-CMD, Sara Duterte lambasted a certain person for being a “tambaloslos.” In Visayan myth, a “tambaloslos” is a creature with a large mouth and penis believed to confuse or mislead people. The word is Visayan or Cebuano slang for someone who is all talk, inept or stupid, usually used as an insult against a male.

Sudden public aversion of Duterte to the “Romualdez” name is a surprise. Didn’t the personalities involved in latest House drama bury the hatchet with a public display of unity? During the installation of new Senior Deputy Speaker Dong Gonzales, GMA’s replacement, she and Speaker Romualdez smiled for a photo op.

It appears the image of unity is just a mirage. Hidden beneath the very public display of affection among key personalities involved in the power play is simmering tension. All is not actually well within the ruling “cartel of dynasties.”

Few days after Speaker Romualdez’ public “mano po” with GMA during the “reconciliation” spectacle, the demoted GMA issued another statement related to the rumored coup, this time involving the First Lady. GMA denied she was duped into believing the coup she is said to be hatching had the blessings of the other half of BBM.

“A report is going around that I was ‘duped’ by a congresswoman into thinking that the alleged House coup had the blessings of the First Lady. I am truly sorry that she should even be dragged into this political fantasy of a House coup – it is disrespectful to her and to her intelligence,” GMA wrote. “Whoever is spreading these pathetic rumors are the ones duping the Filipino people, and they should now move on to the serious business of making positive contributions to national progress,” she added.

Here, GMA is protesting too much. If the coup rumor was a “misunderstanding” and it was already cleared with all the partners in the ruling coalition, why is she making these belated additional clarifications? If “all is well that ends well” as the “cartel of dynasties” projects why are the parties involved continue to make noise in public – either by being defensive, on the offensive or overly nice to each other?

Speaker Romualdez consolidated his grip in the House with Lakas-CMD signing ‘alliance agreements’ with House power blocs even after he and GMA publicly “made up.” The parties that signed the agreements are: PDP-Laban, Nacionalista Party, National Unity Party, Nationalist People’s Coalition, and Party-List Coalition Foundation Incorporated along with smaller parties Centrist Democratic Party and Partido Novoteño.    Aside from agreeing to support the legislative agenda of the administration, the parties also pledged their “full and unqualified support” to BBM and Speaker Romualdez.

BBM for his part described himself as the “official BFF (best friend forever)” and “number-one fan” of Vice President Sara Duterte during the launch of Pier 88 in Cebu where he was guest of honor and speaker. The event happened after the high drama in “cartel of dynasties” was publicly resolved. Both the Speaker and the Vice President were present in that occasion.

It is apparent the key actors in the ruling coalition are engaged in a carefully choreographed political dance. Through the political dance, they are trying to present a united front, a façade of unity to the public. The delicate political dance is designed to project harmony within the “cartel of dynasties” to hide the cracks in the fragile alliance.  The public niceties betray the tension within.

At this point, the “partners in crime” are not willing to risk an all-out war among them. They recognize that it’s too early to part ways and still need each other to advance their respective agenda and selfish interests. BBM needs the support of the Dutertes and GMA to push his political agenda. GMA and Sara Duterte on the other hand know they must have the resources of the government to consolidate their forces in preparation for 2025 and 2028 elections. Breaking away from the administration will deprive them of the main source of precious patronage and the drying up of much needed resources.

The interesting question is – who will be the first to be out of step in the political dance?  While maintaining the “cartel of dynasties” at this time is practical for the cahoots, when or what is the tipping point? Greed makes people nervous, tense, and edgy.