Leni endures, withstands Duterte’s attacks, ploys

By Juan Escandor Jr.

(Last of the Three-Part Series)

For five years now, Vice President Leni Robredo calmly endures and withstands the persisting verbal attacks and ploys of President Duterte on her that seemed intended to rattle or push her to the brink.


Informally, for instance, in a televised call to VP Leni on July 7, 2016, President Duterte offered Leni to head the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), which she accepted. In December that year, through text message, then Secretary to the Cabinet Leoncio Evasco Jr. informed Leni that President Duterte wanted her to desist from attending all Cabinet meetings. VP Leni submitted her resignation as HUDCC head on December 5, 2016, the specified day President Duterte wanted her out of the Cabinet meeting and all other meetings to come.


In his offer of co-chairmanship of the Inter-Agency Committee Against Illegal Drugs (ICAD) and her acceptance of the offer, President Duterte failed to dampen the Vice President’s firm stand against the manner of how the war against drugs was being conducted. The administration was further irked with the anti-drug war criticism that she delivered to a United Nations body through a video speech on the questionable deaths of thousands of suspected users and pushers.


With reservation to accept President Duterte’s offer, the OVP cited the question of the legality of the co-chairman position in the ICAD. Then Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo lectured Leni’s spokesperson, lawyer Barry Gutierrez, that it was “unnecessary” for the President to amend Executive Order (EO) 15 (that created the ICAD) to make the Vice President’s designation as ICAD co-chair legal and assured there is no need to amend the EO because it was within the power of the Chief Executive.


“It is a basic legal doctrine that the President, as the sole repository of executive power, has the exclusive and awesome prerogative of control over all offices and officials in the Executive Branch. He has the inherent continuing authority to create positions and items, as well as to reorganize instrumentalities, within the bureaucracy,” Panelo explained.


Nineteen days after she was appointed ICAD co-chair, President Duterte fired VP Leni, saying:


“Ang problema kasi dito, ganito: I cannot trust her not only because... she is with the opposition; I do not trust her because I do not know her.”


Unfazed, the Vice President went back to where she’s always been, out of the loop in the Duterte administration. She continued her routine to directly lead in implementing her anti-poverty program Angat Buhay financed by the minimal budget of the OVP that would not even reach a billion pesos, year in and year out.


Despite the lack of funds for a national emergency, the OVP used its maintenance and other operating expenses to finance over ₱113 million for COVID-19 response in 2020. The expenses — a total of ₱113,606,806 — were done as part of the OVP’s Social Service Program following the declaration of a state of a public health emergency in March last year.


The OVP bought personal protective equipment, testing kits, and food for community pantries. It also leased dormitories for medical frontliners.


For three successive years, the OVP has earned the highest rating from the Commission of Audit (COA) with an “unqualified opinion” from state auditors on its financial report for the fiscal year 2020.


An “unqualified opinion” rating is considered the best opinion a government agency can receive. COA gives such a rating when a government office has fairly presented its financial position and has its financial statements in order according to the Philippine Public Sector Accounting Standards.


The three successive years the OVP earned the “unqualified opinion” from state auditors on the way her office handled public funds reflected VP Leni’s transparent and resilient leadership to do more with less. While other departments in the Duterte administration wallowed in scandal that the Senate pried open in its investigation based on COA findings, by being the role model to her subordinates, she has proven that questionable transactions in government could be eliminated with a decisive leader against graft and corruption.


While her non-confrontative, compassionate and decent character is easily misinterpreted as a sign of weakness and indecisiveness, no amount of personal, derogatory and misogynistic attacks, in and out of the present government, could bring her down and destroy her personality. She had withstood all of them without a blemish in her name.


Among the top presidential candidates who had filed their CoCs for President, all of them, except for VP Leni, had been, one way or another, an enabler of President Duterte’s autocratic policies like the war on drugs that victimized thousands of small-time suspected users and drug dealers and even innocent civilians rather than the drug lords, which is now the subject of investigation of the United Nations International Criminal Court.


VP Leni’s stand against the return of the Marcoses to Malacañang, with Bongbong also vying for the presidency, is clear that her intention to run for President is not about supporting the Aquinos against their supposed quarrel with the Marcoses, as articulated by presidential aspirant Isko Moreno. An economics student at the University of the Philippines in the late 1980s, she participated in the People Power revolution that toppled the Marcos Dictatorship, after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, the dictator’s political foe. That’s is why, like many others who have lived through the dark years of Marcos Dictatorship, the return of a Marcos to Malacañang is a slap on and an insult to the Filipino nation while historical revisionism and distortion of historical facts by portraying the dictator as a hero and the Marcos Dictatorship the period of Philippine “progress” are relentlessly pursued in the social media.


Six months before the presidential elections on May 9, 2022, the presidential race is still anybody’s game, so to speak. The political landscape has totally changed now that VP Leni is running for President. The advantage of being the administration’s bet is gone, unlike the 2013 midterm elections when she won the congressional seat for the Third District of Camarines Sur and the 2016 presidential elections when she narrowly won the vice-presidential position. To attain victory, despite being the opposition in the electoral race, a progressive people’s movement in support of VP Leni’s presidential candidacy needs to expand and sustain until election day.