Illiberal Democracy Needs a Strong and Experienced Leader, Part 10



“The tide rises, the tide falls. The twilight darkens, the curlew calls.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


In the mid-21st century, Latin America experienced what it called a “Marea Rosa” or “Pink Tide,” the wave of “new” left-leaning and progressive governments that have taken power in the region. From Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, to Peru’s Alan Garcia; they rode an angry tide of social activism against neoliberalism and dictatorship.


A common thread among them was widespread anger at the deep societal inequities brought about by capitalism and American political meddling. While there were unique instances of how one leftist candidate won over institutional or rightist candidates, poverty was a driving force that brought labor leaders, peasants, and disgruntled citizens to pour onto the streets triggered by rising prices, poor wages, and corruption in government.


In the Philippines, Vice President Maria Leonora “Leni” Robredo is trying to seize on such a phenomenon by embarking on her own “pink tide” crusade by literally embracing the color pink during the launching of her candidacy in October on Cancer Awareness Month. She is trying to harness a volunteer group nationwide hoping it will carry the day, but Philippine politics is very expensive and without such funding will make the impact of her volunteer force marginal.


While she ditched the Liberal Party and is running as an independent, Robredo is banking on the support of the much hated “Dilawans” (Yellows) traditional power brokers – the Catholic Church, the oligarchy, and traditional politicians of the Liberal Party. Her campaign, with the blessings of the Catholic Church, is promoting her as a Cory Aquino 2.0 version capable of creating “Leni Miracles.”


Her running mate, Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, is the president of the Liberal Party (LP). Her campaign manager is former LP senator Bam Aquino while her senatorial line up is a mix of Liberal Party stalwarts, traditional politicians as guest candidates including the addition of a Magdalo rebel, Antonio Trillanes. The twelfth spot could go to a Leftist. The “Pinklawans” as they are derisively branded now, is running as the “true” opposition, a dig at the other candidates from the opposition.


Prior to affirming her candidacy, Robredo tried to convince the other presidential candidates to form a unity ticket but it fizzled out because she wanted everybody to unite behind her candidacy late in the game when everybody rode their horses already. Manila mayor Isko Moreno revealed that the reason he did not want to be part of it is Robredo’s avowed divisive anti-Marcos and anti-Duterte mantra as reason for running. Moreno wants to unify Filipinos but can’t unify with the opposition.


Now completing her tenure, VP Robredo is still calling herself an “accidental” candidate to give the impression that she was “forced” or “thrusted” into running which really doesn’t sell well because being an incumbent, Robredo was already the presumptive opposition candidate. But her dilly-dallying allowed some LP stalwarts to jump ship. Her “unity” message is falling flat too because she is a very divisive figure and therefore, lacks credibility.


She claims to have a track record of public service but it is a mirage because her resume doesn’t really add up to be considered as an executive track record for the presidency. She served one term as a representative for the Third District of Camarines Sur but nothing stood out from her term. As the vice president, she could have earned some executive experience being a step away from the presidency but she didn’t because of the choices she made going after the Duterte administration.


Consequently, she found herself unwelcome in the inner sanctum of the executive decision making process and denied her of such valuable experience. As VP, she embarked on advocacy projects or undertakings in the name of her office that provided short-term benefits to certain groups or constituencies but nothing really in the form of policy decisions. Duterte signed several landmark or significant laws like Universal Healthcare, free college education, extending maternity leave, and other liberal ideas that is supposedly the staple of the Liberal Party but Robredo’s name as an advocate was not there.


As a matter of fact, VP Robredo’s tenure was never known for working with legislators to pass a bill that is near and dear to her heart. Legislating is not her cup of tea, she said so herself in one of her interviews. She brags of a solid Bicol behind her candidacy but her tenure as a congresswoman and vice president never really produced any significant projects for Bicol even when the late president Benigno Aquino III was at the helm. She got a lot of press coverage for the “Bicol Express” route from Manila to Bicol but nothing really concrete came out of it.


The Daraga International Airport that began during Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s term laid idle for 10 years until Duterte got it completed. Congressman Joey Salceda was the main proponent of the project along with other big ticket projects in Albay. Robredo’s home turf of Camarines Sur benefited from several infra projects courtesy of Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” program that eclipsed several president’s infra spending.


Robredo’s wish for a “pink tide” is one election too late because that train left the station already when it elected Rodrigo Roa Duterte in 2016. Duterte was a protest vote for the same reasons why left-leaning and progressives swept many Latin American elections. Filipinos showed their disdain for the elitist and the wealthy by electing a lowly Davao City mayor over more highly educated or traditional politicians with established track records.


The very criticism that Robredo laid on Duterte’s doorstep on the extrajudicial killings were the kind of strong leadership Filipinos were looking for, fed up with graft and corruption in government, government inefficiency, extreme poverty while the rich were flaunting their wealth, and widespread drug problem in the country. The images of a long line of drug addicts filling up jails and penitentiaries provided a visual of how severe the country’s illegal drug problem was during the Aquino presidency and rumors of narco-politics influencing his administration. Exhibit A is Sen. Leila de Lima, Aquino’s former Justice Secretary, is still in jail for drug related charges.


Robredo is clearly not a progressive or a true blooded liberal. She’s not a strong leader either. Her constant cries of human rights violations questions her ability to implement draconian measures during the pandemic. Her Team Leni senatorial slate lost miserably during the 2019 election.


Duterte’s social reforms are clearly working given his popularity. The very elements that the “Pink Tide” candidates of Latin America rode on are missing in the Philippines. No mass demonstrations, no labor unrest, no corruption rivaling those exposed during the Aquino administration have bubbled up. The only hate and discontent are those coming from the elites and the oligarchs who view the South China Sea issue with China and Duterte’s belligerence towards the United States as two most important issues driving Robredo’s campaign.