Now we have the e-mail paper trail – well screen shots anyway. Embattled Philippine Vice President, Leni Robredo, her key sponsor, would-be Queen-maker, Filipino-American millionaire socialite, Loida Nicolas-Lewis, her sister, the equally self-entitled Imelda Nicolas, and human-rights activist cum anti-Duterte media columnist attack dog, Ted Laguatan, now have their plans to subvert and sabotage the government of President Rodrigo Duterte plastered right across cyberspace.
Ignominiously caught, in flagrante delicto like weasels in their sleep, their shady covert attempt to pervert the course of democracy has become dazzlingly overt. “The administration is well-advised to stop seeing ‘plots’ …” Robredo had advised in a statement she released just a couple of days ago – we’d like to know what her advice to the administration is now. Perhaps it’s time for her to resign and allow the country to have a VP that can actually function in the job; one that’s prepared to work for the people and not some select group of power-hungry carpetbaggers.
Needless to say, this bunch which normally thrives on publicity and self-promotion has suddenly gone deafeningly quiet – with the exception of a cursory dismissal from Robredo who describes the revelations as “ridiculous”. They’ve headed for the hills till it all blows over. Normally you wouldn’t be able to take the mikes and the loud hailers and the cameras away from them. Suddenly they’re all suffering from laryngitis. For all their superficial trappings of sophistication, beneath the surface they appear callow and naïve. They’re guilty of the worst offence in clandestine, darkroom politics – getting caught. And by now the denials are starting to wear thin.
Meanwhile, as we await their predictably awkward explanation, we don’t expect to be gleaning any griping or insightful analysis on this latest political scandal from the Philippine Inquirer or ABS-CBN, both of which are heavily in the tank for Robredo and the Liberal Party cause. Indeed, representatives of these two organisations – the Inquirer‘s Laguatan and ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau correspondent, Gene Alcantara – are close to this group’s centre of power. So much for journalism. Don’t expect too much coverage from the foreign mainstream media either; if any – they’re even more self-censoring and have virtually managed to politicise themselves into irrelevance anyway.
These plotters are members of the high-sounding Global Filipino Diaspora Council (GFDC) which, when you boil it down in the context of these email exchanges is nothing more than a Yahoo Group – they have those for every fetish known to man. Others members include Liberal Party stalwarts, former Ayala Corp MD, Vicky Garchitorena-Arpon, former communications-management company exec, Yolanda Villanueva-Ong, Jesuit priest and President of Ateneo de Manila University, Fr. Jose Ramon Tizon Villarin, and Surigao del Norte-born long-time resident of Denmark, civil society leader, Filomenita Mongaya-Hoegsholm. In short, a Who’s Who of Philippine society blue blood – just the people the country needs right now. At least that’s what they believe.
But let’s call them what they really are: treacherous, unrepresentative – apart from within their own small rarified world – opportunists with an inflated sense of self-entitlement. What they seek is power; and by any means. The democratic means failed; their flag carrier, Mar Roxas, got wiped out in the May election. The court’s also still out on Leni’s result.
But this blundering collusion begs the question: if this crowd can’t adequately manage their own furtiveness, what hope have they of running the country? The Philippines needs political strategists of their calibre like Ethiopia needs another drought. Running a country is grown-up work; it’s not for preppy dilettantes and ageing socialites. The Philippines is a country; it’s not a play thing. From drugs to Islamic extremism, deplorable or non-existent infrastructure to poverty, multi-social-strata corruption to lagging foreign investment, the last thing it needs right now is to put that ‘to-do’ list in the hands of an incompetent, self-serving elite. That’s what’s got us here in the first place.
Of course, the GDFC’s publicly viewable message board – inadvertently left open to all and sundry while group members discussed their disruption tactics – has since been switched off. That’s called closing the stable door when the horse has bolted. But that’s in keeping with the other recent Robredo blooper when she swanned off for Christmas in New York – Loida’s home town for nearly half a century – as her provincial compatriots back in Bicol were slammed by a typhoon that saw around 400,000 of them displaced from their homes as the system tore through the region leaving a path of destruction and a PHP4 billion agriculture bill. Leni and the optics of Nina
Her less than adequate explanation of that was that she was synchronising operations on the ground from Manhattan or somewhere; that between her and the Office of the Vice President (also part of the GDFC inner circle) back in Manila, relief efforts had been effectively coordinated. Tell that to the poor rice farmers who lost their homes and their crops. It’s not surprising that Robredo’s net satisfaction rating is flat lining at 37% while Duterte’s is up at 83%.
Back to the GDFC exposed. One of the revealed emails, purportedly from Laguatan, claimed, gloatingly: “This plan is going even better than I expected. We, on our part outside the Philippines are doing our part in holding rallies everywhere”. (There’s nothing better than self-praise).This was a reference to coordinated demonstrations protesting the burial of former Philippine president, Ferdinand Marcos, at the Hero’s Cemetery in Manila – something Robredo just a couple of days earlier had claimed she had no part in.
The writer of this email asked fellow GDFC members to further bolster public opposition to Duterte by co-opting the student councils of the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila, De Le Salle University and other colleges to inject student power into the cause. A student uprising is what he had in mind – after all, no revolution is complete without one of those. And, let’s face it, students are easy to radicalise, rally and manipulate if you feed them with a righteous moral cause. They won’t question it; they’ll turn up. Political elites have been using students to do their dirty work from time immemorial.
He also called for the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the official episcopal assembly of the country’s Roman Catholic Church, to mobilise its priests and nuns – hoping, presumably, for a re-enactment of the People Power Revolutions of 1983-86 in which the CBCP played a prominent role in toppling Marcos. No uprising in the Philippines would be complete without the priesthood’s participation. And in anticipation of their troop support – and to stir them to the task – he thanked them “for fighting a genuinely sacred fight”. When we see the dog collars and the habits back on the streets, we’ll know his call’s been answered.
But the CBCP has too much to lose here to be used as a pawn in a political game by a less-than-adroit gang of plotters. For while Filipinos remain totally devoted to their faith and their love of God, they are dedicatedly loyal to their president. Indeed, many believe he was sent by God. The CBCP is fully aware of this fact and will not want to create any further divisions among its flock, Mass attendances have dropped considerably over the past decade – particularly in the urban areas – so the bishops will think long and hard before it becomes engaged in something that could precipitate a further exodus from the aisles.
Another email retrieved from the open network described a smear campaign to be waged against Marcos’s son and Robredo’s VP challenger, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (BBM). “…show unflattering pictures with controversies of BBM…” it urged. So now we’re really in the gutter.
This, then, is what passes for opposition politics in the Philippines – not policy debate but character assassination and dirt-digging, plus partisanship of the lowest common denominator. These are the worst excesses of a bitter political elite that has the heady scent of power in its nostrils.
From all of this, what’s apparent is that these elements of the Liberal Party – and we don’t believe that the entire party is corrupted – will stop at nothing to seize the crown and enthrone Robredo. For those involved in this subterfuge, ethics, honour, even the principles of democracy will be pawned if need be. This is a power grab if ever we saw one – amateur, clumsy, ill-conceived, chaotic, but a power grab nevertheless.
This matter needs to be fully investigated and if there’s clear evidence of insurrection or an attempt to destabilise the government, the offenders must be prosecuted. This is an extremely serious crime and it’s simply not enough for Robredo – the sitting Vice President of this government – to simply dismiss it as “ridiculous”. What’s actually ridiculous is her lack of gravitas and her belief that the population is stupid enough to accept that as an appropriate explanation. Run the country? We wouldn’t want her running a Jollibee.