A tough, good year – Manila Standard

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Let me begin with three disclosures in writing this assessment of Vice President Leni Robredo’s first year in office, which like President Duterte’s is a mixture of success and failure.

First, I did not support Robredo in the 2016 elections. I believed in electing tandems together for President and Vice President. I supported Senator Grace Poe in 2016 and decided to support also Senator Chiz Escudero. It was important for me professionally to be completely loyal to the Poe-Escudero tandem and I thought and still think Senator Chiz would make a good vice president and president.

Second, I am not dilawan (which is not a pejorative term for me but is simply a description of a group of political partisans). I have in fact called out the previous ruling party for their violations of the human rights of Chief Justice Renato Corona and President Gloria Arroyo and by the way they unfairly demonized VP Jojo Binay and Senator Poe, while treating Duterte with kid’s gloves, in the obsession to stay in power.

Third, Jesse Robredo was a good friend, a stalwart in the faculty of the Ateneo School of Government (ASoG), and a founding pillar of the Kaya Natin movement which I helped start and grow when I was ASoG Dean. I looked up to Jesse and sincerely care for the family he left behind.

These disclosures do not prevent me from objectively examining how Robredo fared in her first year of office as our country’s vice president. But it is, however, tough to write because of the personal vitriol that has been hurled at Robredo and her family, her late husband included, and her daughters. In the case of President Duterte, the haters are motivated mainly by policy differences on human rights, Foreign policy, and democratic values, although there are a few who still act condescendingly —at their own peril—toward the President as an old man without manners and for having a parochial mind as a small-time mayor from Mindanao. But in the case of Robredo, without official acts to attack, the criticism are all directed to her person and sadly to her family.

The attacks are baseless, cruel, unkind, nasty, and plain malevolent. It’s tempting to name and engage the attackers, as Ed Lingao does so courageously with Erwin Tulfo, and paint the kettle—in this case their hearts—black. As my good friend Gang Badoy Capati (Badoy is a name I will always revere because of Gang and the father, an icon of good governance) commented in one of my posts, sometimes bullies should be bullied because it’s the only language they understand.

But I won’t go there. It’s not my nature, as I always try to look for the good in every person. I am also conscious that some of those who attack Robredo can be allies in some issues now or in the future. I don’t burn bridges, a lesson from four decades of involvement in politics. And descending to that kind of discourse is bad for the country.

I really believe in dialogue. Lately, I have been going around the country and the world (before OFW audiences) to present unbiased and objective assessments of the Duterte administration. I have had mixed audiences, and in Mindanao and with OFW audiences, the Duterte supporters are a majority. But everywhere, my views are welcomed with respect, with rare disagreements. More importantly, people of different political perspectives—dilawan or DDS included—can have a conversation.

I will write my Robredo article that way—balanced and fair, defending her good person and wonderful family with vigor and love (as Jesse’s friend), but also calling out the mistakes in her first year in office and how she has recovered from them.

Vice President Robredo has had a challenging first year in office. This is because she was elected in a close election and with a president that did not know her and with whom she differed fundamentally on human rights and democratic values.

The relationship with Duterte started rocky in that they had separate inaugurations, which was a big disservice to the country. There was a short period of reconciliation but marred by criticism Robredo made of Duterte’s positions on issues that divide them, for example on extrajudicial killings and human rights violations being committed in the war against drugs and on the Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

This was Robredo’s first mistake. It was fine and principled for her to raise concerns about human rights and the Marcos burial but once or twice should have been enough. It was not professional to frequently repeat those criticisms while being a member of Duterte’s cabinet. Given this, it was not a surprise that she was disinvited to cabinet meetings.

It was not rocket science for Robredo to have done the early months right as vice president. Jojo Binay’s classy behavior, even as he was frequently and unfairly treated by colleagues in the Aquino administration, was there for Robredo to emulate.

A second mistake committed was when Robredo allowed herself to be framed as exclusively dilawan, identified solely with the Liberal Party. Robredo won because she appealed to enough Poe, Binay, and Duterte voters and successfully differentiated herself from Mar Roxas. She should have worked hard to keep that support which, based on the surveys by SWS and Pulse Asia, she seemed to have lost. She must now work to get them back on her side.

Thankfully, Vice President Robredo is now on the right track. Among others, she has moderated her criticism of Duterte and has been mildly supportive of martial law. More positively, her work with the poor has been exceptional.

There is not a lot of fanfare about the work of the Office of the Vice President but its programs are very good. Robredo kept her campaign promise to become the advocate of those on the “laylayan,” the marginalized. Her staff has done excellent work and has not been unduly distracted by the critics. I congratulate and thank them.

The threat of the Marcos election protest of course hovers over Robredo. But I am confident she will win that case. Vigilance is, however, important as the composition of the Supreme Court changes. Her lawyers and political advisers must be smart and watch every development, especially the hearing on July 11. The Marcos strategy is to exclude, for alleged fraud, the votes of Robredo bailiwicks Camarines Sur, Iloilo, and Negros Oriental. That would be horrible disenfranchisement and cannot be allowed.

As for the personal attacks, VP Robredo and her daughters are examples of great decency, steely calmness, and exemplary fortitude—modern wonder women if you ask me. If only all families were like the Robredos, we would be a better country. I do not have daughters but if I had one, I would like them to be Aika, Tricia, or Jillian. They represent the best of their generation.

Before pure hatred and irrational anger, Vice President Robredo responded with solid, exceptional, and resilient leadership. She is a classic case of a leader being tested in the line of fire. She is not only surviving; she is thriving.

Crisis and adversity can destroy leaders. Not Leni Robredo. She is stronger now, wiser, tougher, and more grounded. That’s the gift of a tough but good year.

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