Marcos Jr versus Duterte: Behind the clash between the Philippines’ two main dynasties

Marcos Jr Duterte

1. The confrontation between the Marcos Jr and Duterte camp is not just a clash between two powerful political dynasties. It is also being propelled by the Filipino oligarchy and the capitalists who support either camp.

2. President Bongbong Marcos Jr (BBM) has only been in office for a year and a half, but the infighting has already exploded. Former president Rodrigo Duterte and his son, “Baste” Duterte, the mayor of Davao City, unleashed a fiery tirade during their supporter’s rally in Davao City on January 28.

3. One issue that has had a personal impact on Duterte is the International Criminal Court probe, which BBM allowed due to his position of supporting Western powers. The removal of vice-president Sara Duterte’s confidential and intelligence fund is another personal issue.

4. The Duterte faction opposes the BBM camp’s charter change (Cha-cha) not because they do not want to remove “protectionist economic provisions” in the 1987 constitution; the issue is who should lead and direct the changes. Almost all past administrations since Corazon Cory Aquino (1986-1992) have sought to enact Cha-cha: Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and even Duterte.

5. All except, of course, for Noynoy Aquino (2010-2016), who considered the Cory constitution sacred, even though his regime promoted many economic liberalisation laws, such as the executive order on public-private partnership, among others. Duterte wanted economic liberalisation to go hand-in-hand with the establishment of federalism, which would have benefitted his dynasty’s allies in major regions of the country.

6. The immediate cause of the conflict is the 2025 midterm elections. Each side wants to control Congress and local government units. This is a trial run for the ultimate battle, which will occur at the 2028 presidential elections, where Sara Duterte will run as president to restore the spoils of the Duterte dynasty. In the other camp, House Speaker Martin Romualdez — BBM’s cousin, who is leading the People’s Initiative campaign for Cha-cha — will run, seeking to ensure the permanence of the Marcos-Romualdez dynasty.

Why the need for Cha-cha?

1. BBM insists this is necessary to align the Philippine economy with the globalisation of capital. He says the country has been left behind in terms of development because of this. But for them, “development of the country” means nothing more than “development of profits” for the ruling classes in the country.

2. The trend among the ruling class in this new era is for almost none of them to defend national industrialisation of the country. For them, the only path is to connect and subsume their capitalist operations into huge foreign investments.

3. Almost all representatives of the political dynasties want Cha-cha. Those who are opposed do so not because they “love the people”, but because their rival — the Marcos-Romualdez faction — is set to be at the helm, and the main beneficiary, of Cha-cha.

The kinship of political dynasty and economic oligarchy

1. But Cha-cha is not only driven by political dynasties or ruling class representatives in government. It is driven primarily by the oligarchy, the wealthy individuals and clans that run and control our economy. Their role should not be overlooked.

2. Historically, political dynasty is the sister of economic oligarchy. They were twins born from the principalía (noble) class that ruled the Philippines during the Spanish era. They acquired vast lands that should have gone to every Filipino family. They colluded with foreign imperialists (the United States after the Philippine Revolution; Japan during World War II; and the US again after the war) and acted as merchant capitalists attached to imperialist business and trade. They constituted the comprador-bourgeoisie at that time.

3. Eventually, this comprador-bourgeoisie acquired the capital they required to set up capitalist ventures and initiate commercial and industrial enterprises in the country. They are no longer mere compradors. They are the Cojuangcos, Ayalas, Zobels, Lopezes, and the like.

4. This oligarchy supported the growth of political dynasties, the families and clans that control politics in the country. For a long time, they built loyal followers among the wealthy clans who supported their capitalist interests inside the halls of power.

5. Today, almost the entire country is in the grip of political dynasties. In 2019, they held 29% of local seats in government, 80% of gubernatorial seats and 67% of seats in Congress. Every election, the political dynasties grow even more. In the party-list system, which was created to open up Congress seats for marginalised sectors, almost all the representatives who won in the past election represent political dynasties. The “hijacking” of party-list representation by political dynasties started after the Supreme Court interpreted that the law allowed representatives that did not belong to marginalised sectors to be party-list nominees in elections.

6. The big oligarchies of the past are still the oligarchies today. They were augmented by new ones, many of which emerged during the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. This new blood, also called the nouveau riche (new rich) or crony capitalists, was blessed with the dictator’s stolen wealth. Cronies include Henry Sy, Danding Cojuangco, Ramon Ang and Lucio Tan, among others.

7. A new characteristic of the oligarchy is that it not only monopolises an industry but builds conglomerates that, like an octopus, have tentacles in different industries. This is done through “holding companies” that form a network of different “independent” corporations in which holding companies have controlling stocks or shares.

8. Notice for example that, for a long time, the top 50 multi-billionaires in the Philippines have reported “diversified businesses” instead of the usual monopolies in selected industries. Their tentacles are spread across various sectors.

The oligarchy that supports BBM

1. The oligarchy has no loyalty other than to its own interests. Many members of the oligarchy who support BBM today were Duterte supporters when the latter was in office. Their loyalty is based on who can provide the most profit and benefits for their businesses. Each election, they bet on almost every candidate to make sure the president will be in their pockets, no matter who wins.

2. The Marcoses themselves are part of the oligarchy, with their businesses and cronies spread across many corporations. Besides them, the following are just some members of the oligarchy that BBM is associated with today. Many individuals listed here have been part of Marcos’ economic team during meetings with global economic institutions, such as the World Economic Forum:

(i) The Romualdez family, which holds RYM Business Management. It is a holding company that has interests in several industries, such as banking (Philippine Veterans Bank), media (Prime Media Holdings), construction (EEI), mining (Benguet Mining and Marcventures Holdings) and finance (formerly AG Finance).

(ii) Ramon Ang of San Miguel Corporation, a conglomerate whose business is not only beer production, but a broad range of food & beverage products; power, infrastructure, and airport building; battery energy storage systems; and more.

(iii) Iñigo Zobel of San Miguel Investment Holdings and Ayala Corporation, with interests in real estate, finance, telecom, and healthcare.

(iv) Sabin Aboitiz of Aboitiz Equity Ventures, a conglomerate with interests in power (renewables), banking (Union Bank, Citibank consumer banking), financial services and others.

(v) Enrique Razon of International Container Terminal Services (ICTSI), the leading port operator in the country who also has investments in Bloomberry Resorts, which owns Solaire Resort and Casino.

(vi) Lance Gokongwei of Gokongwei Group and JG Summit with interests in airlines (Cebu Pacific), telecom (Sun Cellular), banking (Robinsons Bank and BPI merger), food (Universal Robina Corp.), power and electricity (Meralco) and real estate (Robinsons Land Corporation).

(vii) Kevin Andrew Tan of Alliance Global, a holding company with investments in food and beverage, liquor (Emperador), gaming and real estate (Megaworld).

(viii) Teresita Sy-Coso, daughter of the late Henry, of SM Investments and SM Prime, one of the largest conglomerates in Southeast Asia, with investments in department stores (SM), supermarkets, banks (BDOs), hotels, real estate and mining.

(ix) Manny Villar, a former supporter of Duterte, with investments in real estate conglomerates (Vista Land, Premiere Island Power REIT), malls, supermarkets, media, casinos and theme parks.

3. Those listed above were all among the top 50 rich individuals/families in 2023.

Duterte’s capitalist allies

1. What about Duterte? The Davao Group still belongs to Duterte. This includes the Floirendos, Lagdameos, and Dennis Uy. “Tonyboy” Floirendo, heir to a large banana export plantation in Davao, donated P100 million to Duterte’s campaign fund during the 2016 election (including a donation to Duterte’s PDP-Laban [Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan or Philippine Democratic Party–Strength of the People]).

2. Dennis Uy of Udenna, a conglomerate with investments in telecommunications (Dito Holdings Corp), petroleum (Phoenix Petroleum), oil and gas, shipping and logistics (Chelsea Logistics & Infrastructure), real estate and education. During the Duterte era, Uy acquired a controlling interest in the Malampaya gas field in the West Philippine Sea, but sold it in 2022 to Enrique Razon.

3. Duterte seems to be on the losing end when it comes to support from the oligarchy, although the oligarchy, forever opportunistic, is still on the watch — if BBM’s ship capsizes, they are ready to jump to the other side.

Proxy battle

1. In the Marcos Jr versus Duterte clash, the former’s biggest support comes from US imperialism. Since BBM shifted to supporting the US and renouncing Duterte’s commitments to China, US government representatives have indicated several times that they will support him if necessary.

2. Duterte is not giving up on advancing China’s interests in the Philippines. This includes the entry of Chinese businesses into the Philippines, such as in infrastructure projects, telecommunications (China Telecom has a 40% share in Dito Holdings) and other areas. Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s dynasty, seemingly aligned today with Duterte, was the first to sign deals with China when she was president.

3. Hence the Marcos Jr versus Duterte clash is almost a “proxy battle” between the US and China. BBM aims to restore US imperialist supremacy in the Philippines. The reason for this includes ensuring protection for the stolen wealth the Marcoses keep stored in the US.

4. Even though the Philippines is struggling with a lack of both foreign direct investments and connections into global value chains (it lost its manufacturing leadership in the semiconductor and microchips industry in the early 1970s), Marcos Jr and his oligarchic allies want to land choice contracts in the US’ multi-billion military-industrial complex. This ambition is not far off, as the Marcos Jr regime has committed to aligning itself with the US in the event of a US-China war in the Asia-Pacific.

5. On the other hand, the Duterte faction has long enjoyed and promoted the entry and connection of its crony businesses with Chinese investments and projects in the Philippines.

What is to be done?

1. The reign of political dynasties and the oligarchy in the country must end. Although the centre of the fight is focused on the capitalist state, we need to start exposing its main crutch: the oligarchy.

2. As Karl Marx expounded in The Communist Manifesto: “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” The political dynasties in power serve the interests of the entire oligarchy in the country.

3. The oligarchy in the Philippines has reached such a level of concentration of capital and capitalist operations that it no longer focuses on the monopolisation of one industry but on the formation of conglomerates that cover different industries. There is no other way for conglomerates to grow but to attach themselves to big global multinationals.

4. The competition of different conglomerates in the world today, emanating from rich and poor countries, is also what impels the oligarchy in the Philippines to further open up the Philippine economy, so that they can expand their capital with the support of global capital. However, conglomerates in the Philippines cannot match the enormous capital of global multinational corporations.

5. This coupling of the oligarchy’s businesses to global value chains is nothing more than the subjection of local capital to imperialist corporations and imperialist countries. Global value chains are networks controlled by big multinational corporations in imperialist countries that allow some production and manufacturing lines to spread to poor countries in order to exploit their cheap labour and sell goods to middle-class consumers.

6. In short, to those thinking about who we should ally with in the Marcos Jr versus Duterte clash, let us be clear: no alliance should be made with any of the competing dynasties vying for power. The current situation is characteristic of an opportunistic oligarchy waiting to see which of the opposing camps can provide more spoils.

7. Let us adopt the characteristic of the proletariat, of the broad working class, which strengthens itself while the ruling class becomes mired in its contradictions. Let us expand and strengthen our ranks, advance the mass struggle and prepare ourselves for the seizure of political and economic power from the two main enemies of the working class: the dynasty and the oligarchy.