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MANILA: Thousands of supporters of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte gathered for rival rallies on Sunday, putting on a public display of a deepening rift between the powerful clans.

In the nearly two years since Marcos swept to victory with the help of his vice presidential running mate Sara Duterte — the former president’s daughter — their so-called “Unity Team” has fractured.

As thousands of flag-waving people massed at a seaside park in the capital Manila hours ahead of an early evening rally headlined by the president, his predecessor’s youngest son Sebastian Duterte was openly daring Marcos to step down.

“If you don’t show love and aspiration for the country, better resign,” Sebastian told supporters in his family’s southern stronghold of Davao, blaming Marcos for the drug and communist insurgency problems in the region.

His sister, Sara Duterte, briefly appeared at the Marcos rally in Manila, saying the education department that she also heads was “one with all the other government agencies in pushing for a New Philippines”.

Afterwards, she attended the Davao rally where she addressed a smaller crowd of Duterte fans.

Relations between the families have deteriorated as they seek to shore up their respective support bases and secure key positions ahead of next year’s mid-term elections and the 2028 presidential race, which Sara Duterte is widely expected to contest.

In the latest rift, Marcos has backed a campaign for the 1987 constitution, introduced after his dictator father and namesake was ousted from power, to be changed to allow in more foreign investment — something the Dutertes have publicly opposed.

Critics warn the effort could pave the way for Marcos to get another six-year term, which is currently prohibited.

“Our constitution is fine... why do we give ourselves a headache when we know all along that this is in order to, you know, you want to stay in power,” ex-president Duterte said in a recent interview.

Marcos has said the constitution’s political provisions, including term limits for public officials, should be tackled later.

Marcos launched his “Bagong Pilipinas” (New Philippines) campaign at the Manila rally, but did not mention the constitution in his speech.

“We face a complex and changing world that calls for a united vision that would make our nation strong, our economy sound and our children’s future secure,” Marcos told the crowd.

The Duterte patriarch appeared at the Davao rally organised by opponents of constitutional change.

An ever-shifting coalition of powerful families has long ruled the Philippines, holding onto power for generations. Left-wing political party Akbayan branded the rallies as a “dynastic war among ruling elites” that did not serve the interests of regular Filipinos.

Police estimated 400,000 people were at the Manila rally, many of them government workers, while more than 40,000 were at the Davao event. “This would be the most public and deliberate way of letting the people know that the Unity Team is no more,” University of the Philippines political science professor Jean Franco told AFP.

In Manila, some members of the crowd told AFP they believed in Marcos, although they said they knew next to nothing about the constitution controversy.

“If he runs again why not, for as long as he is doing a good job for the country,” Manila resident Dennis Ardea, 53, told AFP.

“The Dutertes belong to the past. We should go with another (leader),” Ardea added.

The unlikely alliance between the two families began to unravel soon after the 2022 election, with Marcos giving Duterte the problem-plagued education portfolio instead of her preferred post of defence secretary.


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