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The 2022 Presidential Campaign Seasonhas begun, Part 1

The Philippine Supreme Court as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) finally junked former Sen. Bongbong Marcos’ election protests thus affirming that Vice President Leni Robredo as the official winner of the 2016 Vice Presidential election. The ruling belied her assertion back in 2016 when she resigned her Housing Secretary portfolio that the Duterte administration was out to steal her elected office. The Supreme Court is now populated by Duterte appointees but the ruling showed their independence.

The Sword of Damocles hanging over the head of VP Robredo is finally removed thus solidifying her hold as the opposition’s preeminent candidate for the 2022 presidential election.

Despite the opposition floating several names as potential nominees, Robredo will be the Liberal Party nomination being its titular head. The others are vying to be her running mate. Thus, the primordial question that will bedevil Robredo is her winnability factor or lack of. If we have to follow informal polling results, Robredo will have a hard time defeating President Rodrigo Duterte’s anointed bet.

Her lack of winnability for this particular race is based on several factors: her human rights advocacy that shaped her political career, lack of boldness and strategic thinking, lacks executive experience and competence for the top job, and her closeness to the Catholic Church will be her albatross.

Robredo’s resume is rich on human rights advocacy. Her early career as a human rights lawyer clearly shaped her brand of politics. Consequently, she became closely associated with the colors yellow and red. The yellow brand stems from her alliance with the former president, Benigno Aquino, Jr. who inherited such a legacy from her mother, former president Cory Aquino. Her work in human rights naturally tagged her the color red and painted her to a corner with leftist groups and the armed struggle of the New People’s Army. Both colors are currently not en vogue in Philippine politics.

Early in the Duterte administration, Robredo was appointed as Housing Secretary. In only five months, she resigned her post for some flimsy reasons among which was her suspicion that the administration was trying to steal the Vice Presidency, the Housing Department’s slashed 2017 budget, her recommended appointments for shelter agencies have not been acted on, and the Executive Order meant to make the department more effective were not signed.

The reasons were flimsy because by the time she tendered her resignation letter, Duterte was already on record that he would allow the burial of the late dictator to the Heroes Cemetery. This alone gave rise to two things: Duterte is siding with the Marcoses and therefore by extension, will remove her from office and install Bongbong Marcos through the electoral protest. We now know that it was not true. The Supreme Court just affirmed her win.

The Marcos burial did happen as Duterte pledged. Robredo’s vehemence in this issue really reflected that of the former president who could have forced the issue to have Marcos buried in Batac, Ilocos Norte but didn’t. So, it was a sore subject. Robredo owed her election to Aquino’s rich supporters who bankrolled her candidacy.

On the budget issue, the F/Y-17 budget was not even signed at the time of her resignation and for heaven’s sake, the administration was merely six months old. Her expectations were clearly unrealistic as the signed 2017 budget made clear that Duterte’s pro-poor priorities were agriculture, education, and peace and order. But her dogged insistence made it clear that she was not going to be a team player, and for good reasons.

The last priority was really what got her attention because it meant money for Duterte’s drug war. Robredo made it plain enough that since she assumed office, she consistently opposed extra-judicial killings, reinstating death penalty, lowering the age of criminal liability, and sexual attacks against women. Her resignation freed her to criticize Duterte’s drug war including lobbying the international community to her advocacy.

Robredo missed the bigger picture of the bloody drug war in her tunnel-vision extolling human rights. Nothing really wrong with such advocacy but it showed her inexperience and lack of depth. Robredo had a bully pulpit as a member of Congress when Aquino was president but she never used it to criticize graft and corruption in the Aquino administration and more importantly, the widespread drug problem in the country. Both of which disparately impact the poor.

Duterte’s drug war was an honest effort, brutally albeit, to save future generations of young people hooked on drugs and the Philippine democracy already contaminated by narcopolitics. Perhaps the biggest indictment of Robredo’s silence was the fact that ten municipalities in her own home province of Camarines Sur including the City of Naga were drug infested according to a PDEA report.

There is a rumor in Bicol now that Robredo will not run for the presidency and gun instead, for the governorship against the Villafuertes. This is probably a ruse despite her campaign showing a video of Robredo finally visiting the far-flung municipality of Siruma because the other opposition presidentiables really does not have the kind of name recognition and popularity that she enjoys. Frankly, this rumor really cheapens her standing and betrays her preparedness for the highest office.

During the pandemic and calamities, Robredo became a frontliner by virtue of her ubiquitous projects doling out bags of goodies while trying to outdo the government’s efforts including undercutting local government units. Her supporters clearly marvel at her simplistic programs like “Lugaw ni Leni” but these are supporters who will already vote for her.

The early polling is showing her at the tail end which means that her projects were ineffective, and that she has not done a good job attracting and peeling away Duterte’s supporters. She could have been more effective and strategic by working with legislators to advance liberal policies that will have long term benefits to the poor she was trying to serve, than giving instant relief such as sardines and ramen.

Some opposition senators were more practical and effective. Sen. Risa Hontiveros, a staunch Duterte critic, led the pack by setting aside political differences and sought mutual advocacies. Duterte signed several Hontiveros’ bills including expanded maternity leave, addressing sexual harassment, and the Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict Act. Perhaps the biggest Duterte accomplishment was the signing of the Universal Healthcare Act that an opposition senator championed, former Sen. JV Ejercito.

Despite being in detention, Sen. Leila de Lima authored the Magna Carta for the Poor that was signed into law by Duterte. Likewise, Sen. Sonny Angara authored multiple bills that Duterte signed. Sen. Ralph Recto and Sen. Bam Aquino found a way for Duterte to agree with the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, while Sen. Joel Villanueva’s “Doktor Para sa Bayan Act” rounds bipartisan efforts that shows Duterte is able to work with the opposition if they are willing to engage Duterte constructively. (To be continued…)


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