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VP Robredo’s Lamentations

On her weekly show, Vice President Leni Robredo lamented about the Duterte administration’s aversion to any form of criticism. Robredo’s weekly is her way of hitting back at the administration that she is part of but is largely ignored. Robredo in this instance, was criticizing the government’s handling of the pandemic and the economy.

Much like Sisyphus from Greek mythology, Robredo is constantly rolling a boulder uphill only to have it roll back down to the bottom each time she finally gets it to the top. Sisyphus was a brilliant scalawag but cunning who played tricks on the gods to advance his personal agenda. Zeus finally had it and read Sisyphus the riot act and punished to eternal hard labor. The Sisyphus metaphor fits well with Robredo.

When Rodrigo Duterte came to power, he appointed VP Robredo to lead the housing agency. As the secretary, she could have done wonders on improving the housing situation in the Philippines particularly in urban areas. But, Robredo’s stint was brief. She was told via email, to stop attending cabinet meetings and that hurt her feelings.

The Duterte-Robredo honeymoon was quickly over due to irreconcilable differences. Duterte was a maverick elected president to chart a different course for the country. Robredo must have learned early on Duterte’s aggressive plans including his much vaunted anti-drug war. Another was to allow former president Ferdinand Marcos burial in the Heroes Cemetery. Contextually, Robredo owed her elected office to the country’s oligarchs who poured money into her campaign. Duterte’s intended approach was something the oligarchs could not stomach given their fealty to the Aquinos.

In effect, Robredo declared war the day after her resignation, to lead a new opposition party. She vowed to fight against things she didn’t believe in. A couple of months later, she was rumored part of planned coup that Senator Sonny Trillanes was supposedly hatching involving rich foreign individuals and former Aquino supporters who wanted to wrest power from Duterte. She would then be investigated for sedition years later in another effort to topple Duterte.

In 2017, Robredo began a crusade to bring her fight to the international community hoping to find a sympathetic n audience to her party’s advocacy. She toured the West including the United Nations on speaking engagements demonizing Duterte’s drug war. Robredo and her supporters wanted the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Duterte’s drug war.

Robredo’s vociferous approach had unintended consequences. Duterte clearly saw her machinations as part of a bigger effort to undo the people’s mandate. With a loyal solicitor general advising, Duterte pulled out of the International Criminal Court. Then Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was removed via a quo warranto. Perhaps the worst, Team Leni’s senatorial line up was wiped out in 2019 elections.

Duterte offered an olive branch with the drug czar portfolio. Robredo took the six-month job offer, buckled down and hit the road running. She invited foreign agencies to a drug strategy meeting and started probing the drug war approach. Perhaps her biggest mistake was to ask for the names of high value targets of the drug war. Her home province Camarines Sur including Naga City, has been known as a drug infested areas to the point of even implicating her late husband’s kin in the illegal drug business. Less than two weeks into the job, Robredo was fired.

Robredo’s fight to shield the oligarchs and the Cory Constitution resulted in her opposing moves to switch the country’s form of government to federalism. Robredo was a strong supporter of the Bangsamoro autonomy that former president Benigno Aquino III pushed for but failed to get it through. Duterte is a believer of autonomous regions because of Imperial Manila’s monopoly that widens the gap between the rich and the poor. Federalism to him, is the answer. Duterte signed into law the Bangsamoro Organic Law that paved the way for that region’s autonomy.

And so when calamities struck (Taal Volcano, Marawi earthquake, then the virus pandemic), Robredo found herself competing with the government’s efforts to reach out to the victims. In the process, Robredo has been criticized for her efforts. There was even an attempt to get her investigated by the NBI for her efforts to compete with government’s relief efforts.

Robredo’s pro-western bent clearly was one of Duterte’s pique as he chose to align with China and Russia against the United States. The South China Sea issue became the lightning rod that further alienated Robredo’s party from Duterte’s independent foreign policy approach. Consequently, that brings us to the current pandemic where Duterte is pining for either China or Russia to bring deliverance to the country’s pandemic woes.

Robredo’s criticisms could be valid and her approach to gather experts in public health and the economy could be of value to the government. But such are Sisyphus laments. The unending toil to share her noble efforts to help the government are falling on deaf ears because she has lost the trust of the president. She failed to realize that Duterte has the mandate to effect radical changes albeit even draconian measures to alter the course of Philippine history.

The Cory Constitution of 1987 and the Philippines’ reliance with the West particularly with the United States, has not resulted in significantly denting the gap between the rich and the poor. The opposite, rich Taipans and favored elites became billionaires in the guise of democratic exercise. The poorly structured democratic structures has resulted in massive corruption, malnutrition, poverty, and rigged elections. These conditions clearly favor the oligarchy who has controlled the Philippine economy and outcome of elections post EDSA revolution.

Duterte’s moves continue to rattle the oligarchs and are dimming Robredo’s hopes to capture the presidency in 2022. Thus the desperation to constantly push that boulder up Mt. Olympus only to come rolling down. Sure, there are redeeming factors involved in rolling the rock uphill. It is sorrowful but it also brings joy as she believes the struggle is producing rewards. But lo and behold, the citizenry ignored her efforts and her senatorial team. She even had to disown a supposedly another attempt in February to mount a coup during the EDSA People Power anniversary celebration.

Robredo has been working hard and frustratingly pushing that rock to hopefully get it safely and permanently to the summit. But such futility is clearly disappointing. She truly believes that she has good answers to improve the overall pandemic response and revive the economy but Zeus is still pissed. It seems the task of pushing the rock uphill has become a worthless and repetitive endeavor that doesn’t make a whole lot of difference in her electoral prospects.

With two years to go before the next presidential election, Sisyphus needs to seek out Aristotle, if making amends with Zeus becomes impossible. Aristotle believes that happiness is a product of one’s drive for excellence. Sisyphus, however, is not pursuing excellence but only engaging in hard labor. Clearly, Sisyphus laments is a sad commentary.

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