Government News Analysis

Duterte cleans house

This morning, Malacañang Palace will receive a resignation letter from a senior member of the Philippine Government. It will likely be a short letter but for the administration and for millions across the country it will come as a big relief. Leni Robredo is quitting her job as Housing Secretary – many, however, will wish she had gone the whole hog and quit her job as vice president as well.

Her decision follows a directive from President Rodrigo Duterte that she should “desist from attending all Cabinet meetings” as of today. Robredo regards this as “the last straw” claiming that “it makes it impossible for me to perform my duties [as secretary of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, or HUDCC].

Before we look at Ms Robredo’s situation, let’s put this into a historical context.

In the Philippines it’s not unusual for the president and vice president not to see eye to eye – even to feud; often openly. The last administration’s VP, Jejomar Binay – also parked in housing – was regularly at odds with his boss, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino. Differences between former president Joseph Estrada and his VP, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, ended up with Estrada getting impeached and Arroyo moving into Malacañang. So the precedents are certainly there.

Under the Filipino electoral system – unlike in the US – voters get to choose not only their president but also their vice president; both via a first-past-the-post vote. By contrast, in the US, the elected president chooses his own vice president and it’s always someone from within his own party. Consequently, in the Philippines the VP is more often than not from a different political party to that of the president which, inevitably, leads to clashes at the top of government.

Defenders of this system believe that having opposing camps represented in the two top positions of government acts as a check and balance in some way. Really? So how’s that working out? What it normally acts as is as a vehicle for acrimony – a political sideshow which trivialises the serious business of governing the country.  Imagine for a moment a US administration headed by Donald Trump with Hilary Clinton as his VP.

Well, that’s very much the case here. Robredo represents the Liberal Party (LP) – the party of the last administration; one with which President Duterte has serious political differences. And so while Duterte charts a new course for the Filipino nation – having received an overwhelming mandate from the people to do so – Robredo has sought to keep the LP flame burning defiantly with attempts to undermine Duterte and the policy changes he is introducing. In short, her loyalties lie with her party first; not with her president and not with the vast majority of the electorate – in fact, only with LP supporters.

In effect, Robredo is sleeping with the enemy.

All this makes her brief resignation announcement particularly disingenuous. In it she said this. “I will not allow the will of the people to be thwarted. I will continue to serve the Filipino family and fulfill their dream for a better life”. Blah!

What Robredo is ignoring – and hoping the population at large will overlook – is that it is Duterte who was elected to lead the country; not her. That was and remains the ‘will of the people’ – and her getting in the way of that is an affront to an electorate that roundly rejected her party for the presidency. And let’s face it, her own ‘victory’ – and there are still plenty of question marks over that result – at best was extremely tight. Even assuming the numbers are correct, unlike Duterte, she was hardly the overwhelming choice of the people.

And when she says, “I will continue to support the positive initiatives of this administration and oppose those that are inimical to the people’s interest,” what she’s actually saying is that she will support those Liberal Party policies of the last administration which Duterte is continuing and do her best to obstruct any new initiative that hasn’t been given the LP Seal of Approval.

Liberal Party arrogance knows no bounds. We’ve seen that with the histrionic antics of Lib senator, Leila De Lima, as she goes after Duterte with guns blazing, and we anticipate the appearance of a Robredo-De Lima tag team very shortly.

The LP truly believes that it is the rightful governing party of the Philippines; and its total lack of grace in accepting the people’s will and its refusal to make a genuine effort to work with the present administration constantly underscores this. Ms Robredo’s official title, she should be reminded, is Vice President of the Philippines and not the Philippines’ Vice President in Opposition.

As far as serving the Filipino family and fulfilling their dreams of a better life are concerned, her abysmal performance as head of the HUDCC shows that she achieved very little in her five-month stint at the Council. Worse actually; for the still-homeless families, victims of 2013 typhoon Yolanda, far from helping them to realise their simple dream of having a permanent roof over their heads, she extended their nightmare – Home for Christmas.

And so, as far as her secretaryship of the HUDCC is concerned, if she hadn’t quit she should have been fired. Her performance there since July has been lacklustre to put it mildly.

Homelessness in the Philippines is a problem the extent of which is impossible to overstate; and the HUDCC is the overall coordinating authority that ultimately must take responsibility for the state of the country’s housing. This agency needs a tough and committed public servant who is going to devote 100% of his/her time to ridding the HUDCC of its corrupt and inefficient practices. It certainly doesn’t need to be headed by yet another career politician who has little more interest in the housing portfolio than having it on a CV.

So where does this leave Robredo? Well, outside the Cabinet Office for a start, which means she will now have zero input into formulating government policy. What she will likely do is expand her role as an anti-government vice president – sniping negatively from the sidelines, protesting anything and everything that seeks to polarise the country, and belittle the achievements and successes of her supposed government ‘colleagues’.

In fact, when we come to think about it, her workday routine going forward won’t be much different to what it has been for the past 20 weeks.

Apart from that, she might be called on to open a new supermarket here and there or plant a tree to keep up her Green credentials – and she’ll probably be very good at all that. And of course she’ll make plenty of speeches up and down the land of how troubled she is by the scale of poverty which she’s determined to singlehandedly eradicate.

All she needs is for the Filipino people to wake-up, come to their senses, get rid of Duterte and put the country back in the capable hands of the Liberal Party for another few terms. In other words, more of the Pied Piper politics that has led this country to the dark place from which the people – and particularly the poor people – have asked Duterte to rescue it.

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