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Siling Labuyo: VP Leni Robredo has a problem

The vice president is sailing on rough seas and it’s not because of her smile. Robredo has been criticized for letting out a smile when a situation calls for some serious face impression. Her problem is more serious and could cost her the vice presidency. The confluence of events seems ominous given their timing as if a conductor is orchestrating the whole thing. Darts are coming from different directions. She’s getting hit on her own turf in Naga City with NagaLeaks. The revelations from a group called We Are Collective have exploded from nowhere and sowed confusion, anger, and divisions within the populace and the political establishment. The revelations were picked up by the national media and were therefore broadcast nationwide. With the Naga City mayor’s wife – a Duterte supporter being dragged into the cyber brouhaha, speculations are rife that the incumbent Naga City mayor is about to bolt the LP and probably align with the Duterte administration. Before Jesse Robredo’s death, there was already a growing animosity between Mayor John Bongat and the late DILG secretary owning to local politics. Back then the mayor was complaining that he was being eased out by the party. Being a first termer, he wanted to run for reelect ion so he could also leave his own footprint in the city. Some controversies started to swirl around the mayor’s orbit and media speculation then was that Robredo was behind it. If Bongat bolts, then local LP politics will be turned upside down as his most likely successor will be his wife Farah. It is notable that at a time that the local LP stalwarts needed to rally around their titular head, former city mayor and Camarines Sur 2nd District Representative Sulpicio “Cho” Roco was on the news criticizing the VP’s showing of a video at a United Nation’s conference calling her actions “shameful.” Apart from the brewing tension in Naga City, Robredo is bracing for the worst as an impeachment complaint has been filed in the House of Representatives. Although the complaint was filed by serial impeachment filer Oliver Lozano – a Marcos loyalist, the House Speaker himself Pantaleon Alvarez was quite vocal about filing an ouster complaint against Robredo. Speaker Alvarez and Senate President Koko Pimentel, both from PDP-Laban and leaders of their supermajorities in Congress are miffed at the LP who they suspect are behind the filing of an impeachment complaint by a Magdalo congressman against Duterte. Tit for tat and throwing aside the niceties and decorum at these legislative bodies, the impeachment complaints will most likely end differently. Duterte’s will be found sufficient in form and substance at the committee level but will be trashed at the plenary. It is a game. By acting on the complaint, the Speaker ensures that Duterte will be shielded from another impeachment complaint at least for another year. The impeachment complaint against the VP on the other hand, will also be found sufficient in form and substance but will be left twisting in the wind for publicity. Depending on future developments, Robredo could be impeached regardless of how her supporters claim the charges are shallow and baseless; the hard truth of it is that impeachments are ruled by numbers. If the restoration of the death penalty vote is any indication, the Speaker is thick-faced and heartless and will not hesitate to once again whip his supermajority to impeach Robredo. His Deputy Rodolfo Farinas, an Ilocano and Marcos supporter will be more than willing to carry out the Speaker’s wishes. The biggest question is whether the Senate will go along with the political exercise and hand a guilty verdict on Robredo. Depending on the political atmosphere at the time, the senate could surprise the country. There are other forces in play, however, that could change, exacerbate, or expedite the outcome of the process. For context, let us zoom out to 30,000 feet. Robredo leads a list of Liberal Party (LP) members or other personalities aligned with the LP who is on President Rodrigo Duterte’s radar. Senators Leila De Lima and Antonio Trillanes are the most vocal and provocative. Former President NoyNoy Aquino has already been dragged into the fray. There is also the issue with the Chinese slowly inching their way to owning the islands in the South China Sea including the Benham Rise which is on the Pacific side of the Philippines. There is also the issue with the government’s approach to the Philippine insurgency. Duterte’s confusing strategies at the South China Sea and the handling of the insurgency issue could suck in the military brass into the vortex who may not be happy with all these. Collectively, there could be a confluence of events that could sway the matter either way. Reflecting back from the time Duterte and Robredo took their oath of office, it appears that the political environment in the Philippines has not moved past the campaign season for everyone is still at it. From the administration’s vantage point of view, the Liberal Party has not accepted the legitimacy of Rody Duterte given the barrage of criticisms and overt or covert actions against the administration. The LP and the opposition on the hand, are upset about the Marcos burial at the Libingan and their biggest criticism of course is on the Philippine National Police‘s “Operation Tokhang” or war on drugs where those killed are now in the thousands. The exact figure of those summarily or extra judicially killed (EJK) is now under intense debate and scrutiny given some developments in the international community. Some of the LP legislators have been stripped of their key posts as a preemptive move by Duterte allies to somehow limit their access and powers at both Houses. Skirmishes between the Duterte administration and the LP (who will have the Catholic Church on their side) will continue as more controversies will unfold. The plenary vote on the restoration of the death penalty will certainly provide space for such intramurals. The impeachment hearing will be definitely a flashpoint and as they progress through the committees and the plenary, some of the issues will again be re-litigated to support accusations of destabilization moves by the opposition. China is obviously taking advantage of the fact that Duterte is distracted by so many controversies but is a willing participant in allowing China to lord it over the South China Seas while the US is marginalized. The news about the former US Ambassador’s involvement in a purported white paper document on how to get rid of Duterte just before he left his old post at Roxas Boulevard neutralized any ongoing covert actions against the elected president. American president Donald Trump is a wildcard but given the apparent rapprochement between Duterte and Trump, Robredo will not find support from the Donald. Trump even admired Duterte’s handling of the drug problem in the Philippines. This reality has probably sunk in us to the vice president thus the apparent reaching out to the international community. While Robredo has strong support from the international community, her predicament can be dire at home. She needs good advisers and PR people now more than ever. She’s getting a lot of help from her supporters fending off fake or real news but the waves of destruction are constantly coming and it is only a matter of time before her ship takes water when the hardest one comes through.

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