At the weekend, Vice President Leni Robredo – the Liberal Party’s great hope to win back power in the Philippines by somehow prising the presidency from Rodrigo Duterte, the man chosen by the Filipino people to lead them – was making yet another appearance at yet another theatre, protesting her innocence of having ambitions for the highest office in the land. Her opponents got it wrong, she claimed, she’s merely been trying to frame discussions in the context of policies that would benefit the people.
“I do not want to wish anything ill of our president,” she said after pointing out that there have been concerns for the president’s health recently – but, if anything were to happen to him, she added, “I should be prepared to lead”.
After all, as she also pointed out, that was the mandate she’d received from the people – “I cannot forget my mandate” – unless of course it wasn’t and that mandate was actually given to former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos who is currently pursuing her through the Supreme Court with allegations of serious electoral irregularities.
In last year’s May elections, according to the results, Marcos lost to Robredo by the second-slimmest margin in the history of the race; a margin of just 219,127 votes.
Last Saturday evening, Robredo was performing at St Theresa’s College in Quezon City, Metro Manila in a production entitled “Get to Know Leni” presented by the School Administration and Alumni Association. Coincidentally, St Theresa’s is also the alma mater of Liberal Party fundraiser and staunch Robredo supporter, Loida Nicolas-Lewis, the Fil-Am millionaire socialite who has repeatedly called on Duterte to step aside. “Resign now. Let Vice President Leni become president and she will do it for you,” she said in a piece of TV theatre of her own last December.
We don’t have the full script of ‘Get to Know Leni’ but here are a few of the lines the woman in the title role delivered to her fans who had turned up to see her.
“Historically, Filipinos would always want to give the president a chance … [But] many are not contented with what is happening. That is why I am always saying that we have to be united, to be engaged”. Meanwhile, she protested: “I am being accused of destabilisation plots. There are no destabilisation plots”.
Elsewhere, she protested that she had no “ambition for the position” – meaning the one currently held by Duterte. She protested it was not true that she was engaged in a power grab; she protested that it was untrue her party was unable to accept the results of last May’s election which left the Liberal Party standard bearer, Mar Roxas, a distant second to Duterte – 6,269,636 votes behind. She protested that it was false to say her party was unable to move on.
All that calls to mind another play – a great one; Hamlet by William Shakespeare – and a particular line from that play: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”.
In Hamlet, as in so much of his works, the playwright delves into the darker side of his characters’ souls. Deceit and treachery in the pursuit of power were abiding features of the royal courts of Europe as they are of today’s political fabric. And certainly they’re entwined in the political fabric of the Philippines where rumour mills and dream factories work overtime spinning new yarns.
Guile, distraction, lies, fake sincerity, sham protest and righteous indignation are the skills of the ambitious political actors and their perfidious supporting cast – those lesser-part thespians who seek reward for their roles in these real-life plays of betrayal. The plots keep mostly to the same line and offer the same promise. They work on the assumption that the audiences can be easily fooled. Often well-staged and captivating, they play to audiences that want to believe – audiences often desperate for a happy ending.
During her delivery in Get to Know Leni, the vice president said her great fear was the “death of democracy and the weakening of institutions”. Strong institutions, she said, were essential “to make sure that it is the voice of the people being heard”. And the people should “not allow the bad to prevail over the good”. The message, then, was an easy one for her fans sitting in the auditorium at St Theresa’s – Leni Robredo is the best person to uphold democracy in the Philippines; she is listening to the people’s voice; she will lead them in good’s righteous fight to vanquish evil. [Curtain, exerunt].
The cold, hard unscripted facts of the dynamic political drama being played out in the Philippines right now, however, are that the Liberal Party has discussed the fall of Duterte and its assumption to power; its members and associates have called for Duterte to step down; there is a dark cloud hanging over the vice president’s legitimacy in that position; there has been a concerted attack orchestrated from the global Liberal movement of which Robredo’s party is a member, to defame and destroy Duterte; there is an army wearing the yellow livery of Robredo’s Liberals constantly bombarding the Internet with propaganda about the president and members of his administration, and using unlawful and unprincipled methods to silence any who dare defend him.
Indeed, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”.
Such then is the regard Robredo and those around her show for the core principles of democracy. Such is their treatment of the Philippine Constitution which enshrines the freedoms of speech, expression and the press. At every end and turn they have sought to sow disharmony where Duterte has sought to bring his country together in a common cause to defeat a common enemy. It is a great plot, one worthy of Shakespeare’s treatment
For, despite all that, Rodrigo Duterte has stayed true to his task – not least in his thankless War on Drugs – though at times he must have contemplated the words of Prince Hamlet in that play: “To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?” If he did, we know how he answered.
But there are other lines in Hamlet which the audience might think about in terms of the Philippine drama – “God hath given you one face, and you make yourself another … [Thus] One may smile, and smile, and be a villain. [Therefore] Though this be madness, yet there is method in it … [and so] perchance to dream”.
And others that might be food for thought for the Leni we’re getting to know: “[But be warned] There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy … [for] When sorrows come, they come not single spies. But in battalions”.
While Shakespeare presented his many works at the Globe Theatre (photo) in Southwark, London, this political work is being performed in the global theatre of the mass media with a support cast of international actors – Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Criminal Court among them. In fact, it’s just like the great playwright observed in As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage”.