“I, Maria Leonor Santo Tomas Gerona Robredo, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfill my duties as Vice-President of the Philippines, preserve and defend its Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate myself to the service of the Nation. So help me God.”
That was the oath which Leni Robredo took on 30 June last year when she was sworn into office to become the 14th Vice President of the Philippines. Sadly, applying the spirit of that oath has proved to be beyond her capabilities. Her track record to date reveals a woman who is far less interested in upholding the virtues of that office than using it as a stepping stone to gain an even higher position in the assembly of state.
In practice, from what we’ve seen so far, the part where she will “do justice to every man, and consecrate [herself] to the service of the Nation,” seems to have been lost in translation. To do justice to every man would surely include the Filipino majority who voted for President Rodrigo Duterte and who continue to solidly back his policies and his vision. And yet, from her rhetoric and her actions, it’s plain that the only constituents she’s interested in ‘consecrating her service to’ are those who oppose those policies and that vision. Or in Liberal Party-speak does such national service exempt her from serving non-Liberal constituents? Because to many that’s exactly what it looks like. She’s certainly not listening to the rest.
She has publicly opposed the president over his decision to allow the burial of former president, Ferdinand Marcos, at the Libingan ng mga Bayani – the Hero’s Cemetery – the national burial ground at Taguig, Metro Manila. Supporting street demonstrations opposing the burial – and decrying the decision by the head of state to allow the burial to go ahead – Robredo purposely sought to exploit feelings and anxieties within the population to further her claims to legitimacy. To put down her marker on the throne – even though she has repeatedly declared she has no presidential aspirations.
Her open criticism of Duterte’s alleged complicity in extrajudicial killings linked to his war on drugs is another attempt to turn controversy to her favour. It matters not to her that no proof exists of those claims; what matters is that she can coalesce anti-Duterte factions – at home and abroad – to build a power base from which to launch her own personal ambitions. It’s hard to recall any Filipino politician – certainly in her position – who has been more Machiavellian.
And again, through her open opposition to Duterte’s handling of the South China Sea dispute with China, she has sought to galvanise the worst traits of nationalism – the Chinese-flag burnings of the past, approved of by the Liberal Party – in an effort to paint the president as an appeaser of China who doesn’t have the interests of the country at heart. Nothing could be further from the truth. Duterte has been shrewd in his dealings with the Mainland and the country is already benefitting from the warm relations which he has forged with Beijing.
Better that than the stagnant bilateral standoff he inherited from Robredo’s party – a standoff that depended on military support from the Obama government in Washington which was never going to materialise. Indeed, it was Obama’s hollow promise of that support that saddled the Philippines with 10 more years of a US troop presence under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement which her former boss, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, was duped into. Something else that has to be unraveled.
These aren’t the actions of someone sworn to uphold democracy; they’re little short of incitement to insurrection. And they are most certainly a flagrant attempt to seize power by trampling the will of the people into the ground.
Even more concerning is the mounting conspiratorial atmosphere surrounding the VP; her call for Duterte’s ousting and the company she keeps with vehemently anti-Duterte personalities. No matter that she says: “The administration is well-advised to stop seeing ‘plots’ behind every unflattering news report, irate citizens’ assembly, or angry Facebook post”. The fact is that she and her political cronies are the ones responsible for the unflattering news reports, irate citizens’ assemblies, and angry Facebook posts.
Her claim that “criticism is not conspiracy” is similarly fallacious. When such criticism is orchestrated and disseminated by a tame media and through street protests – when it’s harnessed in that manner, it becomes conspired. And its purpose, to anyone with two brain cells to rub together, is plain. It is an attempt to build popular support for the cause of removing Duterte from power.
Holding such views privately – even expressing them one-on-one with the president himself – is one thing, but taking to the public arena to denounce the president is quite something else; it’s an act of treachery, an attempt to gather a mutiny and seize the ship of state.
Robredo’s political predilections and party loyalties are immaterial; they became so once the May election results were made known – results which were a full repudiation of Liberal Party rule. Someone needs to tell her that the 2016 election campaign is over; that she is now in the service of the nation and not that of the Liberal Party. The will of the people is what’s important, not the political fantasies of herself and her party planners at the Araneta Center back in Edsa Cubao, Quezon City.
As VP, Robredo is supposed to be a part of the government – though the role is largely ceremonial and holds little actual power per se. Her job is to rise above partisan differences and show the nation (and the wider world for that matter) that the government is united. It is not supposed to be a position which can be exploited for personal and party-political advantage.
That she would even contemplate – much less proclaim – that she will head an opposition to the government of which she’s a part is outrageous. Brazen disloyalty of that magnitude should preclude her holding any sort of public office, let alone the highest in the land. If she can’t serve her president, how on God’s Earth can the people expect her to serve them?
For Robredo, the abbreviation, VP, has come to mean Virtual President. Her supporters also see her that way. Just before Christmas, one of her main backers, Filipino-American millionaire socialite, Loida Nicolas-Lewis, urged Duterte to step aside and hand the reins of government to her acolyte. Seriously? Is that how remote this political elite has become from the masses?
And that is why Robredo cannot seriously be considered as a president-in-waiting. She can never gain a mandate from the nation – the people have told her that repeatedly. Plainly put, she’s not fit. A figure of division, she could never gain the people’s trust. For the Philippines, its economy and its people a President Leni Robredo would be a disaster.
She bungled her job as the head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council and for all practical purposes was relieved of her duties there before she resigned. Robredo’s conspicuous absence from her home province of Bicol over Christmas as it was being ravaged by Typhoon Nina, displacing some 400,000 people from their homes, again revealed the VP’s failure to connect. Amid the unrelenting winds and floods, as homes and small holdings perished, she was spending the merry season in the eastern United States.
Robredo to some may look the part; she may talk the part – but that’s a far cry from being able to effectively walk the part.