The 2022 Presidential Campaign Season has begun, Part 2



Despite occupying the second highest office of the land, Vice President Leni Robredo has not grown into the job that would have prepared her better for the presidency. Two important aspects of governance that she seems lacking, among others, are in the public health and foreign policy arenas.


Public health should have been a natural consequence of her work in human rights advocacy. The pandemic exposed Robredo’s shortcomings in this particular area. First, she apparently did not recognize the presidential priority when it came to dealing with the pandemic. Her domestically driven mindset boxed her into the constitutional niceties of due process, equal rights, and other things embedded in the Preamble of the 1987 Constitution.


But the problem is, the pandemic is not your usual suspect where you can find love as the preamble continually is searching for. The preamble to the American constitution is more apt, emphasizing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness where life takes precedence over freedom and pursuit of happiness. Thus, you will find that during national emergencies such as the pandemic, some rights will be curtailed or suspended by virtue of the president exercising his emergency powers including instituting draconian measures to save lives.


The Duterte administration could have done a much better job in instituting emergency measures had it not been for the unprecedented obstruction by the opposition that Robredo leads. Among them, calling for investigations in the middle of the pandemic including such mundane things like prices of vaccines and choices of which vaccines to get as looking at a grocery shopping list. But given that the next presidential election is just months away, the opposition is looking for ways to tar the Duterte administration.


Such obstruction is perfectly displayed by Robredo when dared to be one of those government officials publicly inoculated with the Chinese’ CoronaVac that the country got through the World Health Organization. She lost an opportunity to show some comity and leadership during the pandemic by not jumping on the bandwagon of a slew of public officials getting their vaccination.


Robredo pushed instead for having the Chinese vaccine evaluated first by the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC), an advisory body under the Department of Health created under Republic Act 11223 or the “Universal Health Care Act.” Again, her usual thinking of questioning due process despite the FDA’s green lighting of the Chinese vaccine. By registering her public comment, she was sending a message to not trust Duterte’s vaccine roll-out of CoronaVac or more derisively known as SinoVac.


As a public health matter, governments recommend for its citizens to get the first available vaccine pronto to help stem the tide of disease transmissions and lessen the load on hospital ICUs. As such, the country looks up to the national government for leadership in this regard. Local governments should not be given choices as to which vaccine to offer to their constituents as the speed of vaccinating a vast majority takes precedence over individuals’ right to choose. The United Kingdom, Israel, the United States are making inroads in slowing disease transmission and preventing death by vaccinating as many of its citizens as quickly as they could.


When she recently complained that Duterte was thinking out loud that it might be in early 2023 that the country will see some normalcy, she prodded the Duterte administration to speed up delivery of vaccines. Talking about doublespeak. First she was trying to delay the roll out of SinoVac by having it go through another layer of testing. These were the donated vaccines by the World Health Organization already vetted through its COVAX program.


She then went on to compare the Philippines to the United States whose president just announced that the team up of Merck and Johnson & Johnson to ramp vaccine up production will now speed up its vaccination program to where every citizen can be vaccinated by the end of May. She forgot to mention that the United States invested billions of dollars on Johnson & Johnson to work on the vaccine and that the United States has the ability to make private companies do its bidding by invoking the Defense Procurement Act.


In fine, what VP Robredo was really complaining about is if general restrictions are still in place in 2022, then COMELEC might not be so inclined to allow super spreader events like those miting de avance in town plazas or large public places where people congregate, during the presidential campaign. Handshakes and lack of social distancing could be another reason for curtailing in person campaigning.


Robredo in recent weeks has stepped up her criticisms of how Duterte is handling the pandemic situation complaining in one hand of the rising number of COVID-19 cases but at the same time trying her best to blame the administration for the slow arrival of vaccines as if Duterte had control over it. The WHO already apologized for the delay given worldwide demand for vaccines that are slowing down deliveries in addition to logistical issues. Similarly for Pfizer and Astrazeneca, they acknowledged the delays.


Her biting complaints have gotten the attention and ire of the president who once again berated the vice president. The optics of the younger Robredo sticking it to the older Duterte is not going to be good for her. The Philippines is still a male-dominated society that frowns upon such display of “disrespect.” Of course, all these political back and forth is par for the course but the Philippine electorate is yet to mature to such level of understanding and are easily swayed by such optics akin to watching a telenovela. Her supporters will laud her efforts and earn more “likes” on Facebook.


It may seem unfair to her to have such a double standard but it is what it is. Duterte’s supporters are looking at him as a father figure not only as the president and leader of the country, but as a mirror image of their own fathers. Robredo’s display of attacking Duterte could be interpreted this way and could make it more difficult for her to attract these voters. Many of these voters, if asked, will say that Robredo is a nice person but would still prefer a male president.


Besides, many of them are probably still sulking from Robredo’s decision to give up the housing portfolio much too early because many of them particularly in highly dense metropolis, banked on her to actively advocate for better delivery of basic services, availability of community facilities and bread and butter opportunities for homeless and low income families. With the housing portfolio, Robredo would have been in a great position to address such a grave public health crisis. (To be continued…)