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Siling Labuyo: Robredo needs to step up

Now, more than ever that Vice President Leni Robredo needs to step up as the leader of the opposition in response to unfolding events that are crucially important for the future of the Philippines. But, she needs to be strategic and bolder if she is to emerge as a unifying force for the country. From the faltering economy, to changing the form of government; Robredo needs to be relevant and part of the solution and not just a hanging fruit for target practice. President Rodrigo Duterte in his erratic ways has been telling the country that there is a good likelihood he will not finish his term. Whether he is truly ill or just sick and tired of the country’s gargantuan problems, the president has been giving signals that he is not up to the challenge for a full six-year term. But he has a weird way of communicating his needs and desires for the country. He is clearly not sold to the idea of constitutional succession because he sees Robredo just an extension of former president Noynoy Aquino. Such perception stems from Aquino’s lack of resolve during his administration to address the burgeoning illegal drug problem in the country. Duterte’s ascendancy to the presidency gave the country a true picture of the seriousness of such condition and how well it has engulfed the government and the society. Duterte is trying his best to address corruption and inefficiency in government, the police and the military but he needs help. And this is where Robredo can exercise some leadership but as it is, she is overly careful and timid. She and the rest of the opposition have not really offered solutions to the unabated drug trade or the faltering economy other than criticisms and cute retorts to Duterte. Duterte’s accusations and counter criticisms leveled on VP Robredo, in particular are razor sharp and piercing. Mere words and video presentation are insufficient to rebut Duterte’s naming of Naga City as a “hotbed of shabu.” Such pointed allegation is albeit painfully biting to her supporters and for Bicolanos but it is difficult to rebut because it is hard to rebut what could be a true statement. Rational thinking should not just focus on the now but should really look back at least in the past three years. Two years ago we were informed by regional newspapers in Bicol that ten towns in Camarines Sur alone were heavily engulfed by the illegal drug trade. It even identified a particular town in the Rinconada area as the “shabu capital” of Camarines Sur. These towns, according to the news reports, have used Naga as a central point for the trade. There was even a town along the coastal area that reportedly was using the town’s ambulance for delivering illegal drugs from the city. So, it is not a secret that the illegal drug trade is indeed all over Camarines Sur including the city based on actual reports coming out of local newspapers citing reliable sources like the local office of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). But instead of taking umbrage on the shabu tag, perhaps VP Robredo can use her influence and leadership to combat illegal drug trade in the province or in the region. She has to be visible in addressing this problem and help Bicol become drug-free. She needs to do this to dispel nasty rumors that has dragged the Robredo family into the fray. On the economic front, inflation is creating havoc in the Philippine economy. Duterte blames the Americans levying tariffs on billion dollar goods from China as the culprit for the rising prices of local staples. The people’s perception is that TRAIN-1 has contributed to it largely and TRAIN-2 is not welcome. In Bicol alone, 9% inflation is the highest in the country. Duterte is clearly pissing in the wind because he does not know what he is talking about. Inflation is a serious matter that requires review of monetary policies. Inflation happens when the economy grows due to increase spending and results in what is now being experienced in the Philippines: high prices of commodities and the value of the peso becoming lesser within the economy. The currency exchange for the peso against the dollar is now at P54. So how do you tame this animal? Do you just leave this up to Duterte to mess up or do you get the opposition to be part of the solution? The thing about inflation is that there are different solutions to it depending on a particular situation. Wrong monetary policies can make it worse. Defeated LP presidential candidate Mar Roxas surfaced to offer his two cents on how to correct the current inflation. His three main thing can be summed up as more importation (which is not a good one because more of it means more dollars leaving the country’s dollar reserve), increasing the minimum access volume program (which is more importation of rice), and suspending tax reform measures (TRAIN-1, TRAIN-2). So, given that Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program will be infusing more money into the economy, are these (Roxas’) the solutions that will lessen the amount of money in the economy? I will leave that up to the economists but clearly, a contractionary monetary policy is needed. Roxas’ prescription does not sound convincing and could be the wrong solutions. VP Robredo can summon the best economists/politicians with economic background like Rep. Joey Salceda to at least start in Bicol. Having the highest inflation in the country is not a distinction Bicol could be proud of second to being the 4th poorest region in the country. Bicol’s inflation is tied to the country’s 6.4% which also leads the ASEAN. But being from Bicol, perhaps she could start there and build her credential as someone capable of addressing such economic malady. On the political front, Duterte is crying destabilization by the organized effort of the Liberal Party and the Communist Party of the Philippines. The Department of National Defense and the Philippine National Police are denying there is such a thing in the offing. Clearly, Duterte is using it as a bogeyman to distract the Filipinos from the country’s bigger problems while at the same time, going after opposition. Duterte is throwing tantrums because of his own insecurities and the lack of support from the opposition is fueling his insecurities further. Hence, he finds SolGen Jose Calida’s “initiatives” like the quo warranto deal that removed Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno from office and installed Justice Teresita de Castro in her place even for just a few months, palatable. Calida’s next (mis)adventure is the revocation of Sen. Sonny Trillanes’ amnesty through an executive proclamation. It won’t surprise me if Trillanes ends up in jail again because Duterte has the power to do that. Until a working framework is worked out by VP Robredo with Duterte, liberal democracy in the Philippines will continue to deteriorate at the expense of the Filipino people. Duterte is courting Robredo for shared leadership in a weird way, but nevertheless, is courting her. But metaphorically, she is dating someone else – the Liberal Party that is now in partnership with nationalist groups. Robredo albeit wants to reciprocate Duterte’s courtship but she is being prevented by the party she needs for her presidential ambition. Boldly, she can defy the party and enter into a “marriage of convenience” or what the late Edong Angara termed as “critical collaboration,” if that is what the country needs to get out of this morass. Bold leaders are those willing to take risks to effect a different outcome or develop a new product (like federalism), will Robredo do it?

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