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Internal Struggles: Cracks Emerge in UniTeam

MANILA, Philippines — When Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a former president and current representative from Pampanga and a close supporter of Vice President Sara Duterte, was demoted from her post as House senior deputy speaker to deputy speaker, there were rumors that there were cracks within the UniTeam. Sara left the Romualdez-led Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats party after Arroyo was demoted.

After the Office of the Vice President and Department of Education transferred P650 million in confidential funds to organizations protecting the West Philippine Sea, the House of Representatives—which is controlled by supporters of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.—started to spread rumors of a rift among UniTeam members. Her father, former president Rodrigo Duterte, was incensed by the decision to deny these agencies—led by Sara—intelligence funding. He labeled the legislature the “most rotten” institution and charged Speaker Martin Romualdez with stealing discretionary money.

House members denied the allegations and passed a resolution affirming the chamber’s honor and integrity. Two Duterte allies who did not sign the resolution – Arroyo and Davao City Representative Isidro Ungab – were subsequently removed from their deputy speaker posts.

As a result of Duterte’s accusations that Marcos is a drug addict during a profanity-filled speech in Davao last January, the issue turned more personal. Nevertheless, Marcos laughed off the accusation. In addition, Duterte warned Marcos that his removal would occur, just as it did for his late father and namesake in 1986, if certain administration allies tried to modify the Charter through a people’s initiative signature drive. Duterte’s usage of the highly addictive narcotic fentanyl is connected to Marcos’ outbursts, the president said.

According to Marcos, the UniTeam remained “vibrant” and unbroken despite the verbal spat.

The vice president’s laughter at her father’s remark that Marcos was “bangag,” or high on drugs, during a Davao City rally caused First Lady Liza Marcos to reveal that she now views Sara adversely, which took the political scene by surprise. Liza’s personal feelings were unrelated to her job duties in the government, Sara said.

In addition, Marcos stood up for Sara against those who demanded that she be removed from the Cabinet, claiming that the matter had no bearing on his collaboration with his running mate for the 2022 election.

This month, Sara gained notoriety for declaring that the UniTeam’s mission had been accomplished.

During the elections of 2022, the UniTeam was a tandem. She made these remarks on June 12 during Davao City’s 126th Independence Day celebration: “The elections are over, we won, and we are grateful to those who supported us.” She continued, saying, “We are not candidates anymore.”

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