Is Marcos too soft vs Dutertes?

When you attack the king, you must kill him,” advised the great American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. Far from a mindless endorsement of violence, what Emerson emphasized were the stark options facing anyone seeking to overthrow a political order entirely. There are no intermediate points. There is no room for hesitation. There are no perfect means and no room for compromise. Once you directly challenge a monarch, you cannot doubt yourself.

After all, history is replete with examples of failed coups, half-successful regicides, and premature revolutions, unleashing an unfathomable torrent of revenge from a beleaguered monarch. Consider the fate of Wagner's former boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who foolishly dared to march his army of disaffected soldiers to the gates of Moscow, facing surprisingly minimal resistance along the way, only to raise the white flag at the last moment. As virtually everyone expected, the former chef turned mercenary general did not last long after his supposed “truce” with Russian President Vladimir Putin to avoid a civil war in the capital last year.

In the last two months alone, there have been multiple public and direct challenges to President Marcos from none other than his predecessor. In a series of public speeches, Rodrigo Duterte not only called his successor a “drug addict,” but even threatened a popular revolt and the secession of his native island of Mindanao. Not to mention the call from his son, Sebastian “Baste” Duterte, who is clearly being groomed as an alternative successor, for the current president to step down.

In any case, the former president has asked the country's armed forces to reconsider their loyalty to the president. Lest we forget, Marcos was forced to undertake a major reshuffle of senior defense and security officials to nip any brewing civil-military relations crisis. Amid rumors of agitations by former generals, none other than the head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, General Romeo Brawner Jr., publicly warned: “Some of them [are] former AFP officers, and I have spoken to some of them...Once we discover that any of our active personnel are involved in this, we will act quickly.”

Well-informed people have told me that there are persistent threats of coups by elements loyal to the former president. In any functional political system, whether democratic or authoritarian, the ruler's response would have been swift and decisive, whether through the rule of law or the full force of the State.

For some reason, however, the furthest Marcos has gone in response to such a brazen challenge was simply to suggest that his predecessor was too deranged to be taken seriously. And this raises an important question: Is Mr. Marcos too soft and timid in the face of direct and repeated challenge from one of the country's most powerful dynasties? Or is he simply being strategic in biding his time, especially with the 2025 midterm elections approaching?

Needless to say, behind the scenes there are moves and counterattacks underway. For starters, there are supposedly ongoing “purges” of Duterte-era appointees in key government agencies. Furthermore, key international allies appear willing to provide assistance in tracking and tracking potential “sharp power” operations by China, which is clearly banking on its proxies in the Philippines.

However, Marcos, the commander in chief, has three important cards to play. Tactically, the ruling establishment has the option of forcing Dutertes into rearguard action by supporting his rivals in the deep south, especially before next year's elections. At some point, the former president or the current vice president might be forced to resume the mayorship of Davao City to avoid any strong challenge from his former rivals at home.

Additionally, they may also start supporting viable contenders for the 2028 elections, notably Senator Rafael “Raffy” Tulfo, who is reportedly already leading several unpublished but authoritative polls on future “presidential” candidates.

But Marcos's main asset is the imminent arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Duterte-era officials allegedly involved in crimes against humanity. However, the ICC issue is fundamentally about justice and the rule of law. William Shakespeare once said, "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness imposed upon them." It's time for the incumbent to finally achieve something great on his own terms.

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