Leni Robredo: The new, ‘default’ face of the opposition


December 5, 2016


MANILA, Philippines – It was an unlikely union forged not by their own choices but by Filipinos who voted for them. With too little common ground between President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo, their alliance was bound to end – and break it did, barely 6 months into their terms.

With her recent resignation from the Duterte Cabinet, analysts and politicians alike call Robredo the new face of the political opposition. (READ: How did Duterte break with Robredo? Through text message)

While both come from the provinces and are both “reluctant” candidates, their similarities could very well end there. Robredo is from the once-ruling Liberal Party, which Duterte accuses of plotting his ouster.

Duterte, meanwhile, is all praises for the Marcos family, including former senator and vice presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who filed an election protest against Robredo. She is a women’s rights advocate, while critics say he is a “misogynist.”

Political analyst Aries Arugay said Robredo has now reached a “point of no return.” One consequence of her resignation, he said, is her being a “de-facto” leader of the opposition. (READ: Palace: Duterte, Robredo have ‘irreconcilable differences’)

“It’s a point of no return. She put herself in a corner row. She is now the head of the political opposition,” Arugay told Rappler.

Robredo, for her part, said she is ready to take on the role.

“Mago-oppose ako sa lahat ng mga polisiya, I think with mas malakas na boses. Mago-oppose ako sa mga policies na I think detrimental to the Filipino people,” she said in a press conference on Monday, December 5.

(I will oppose all policies, I think with a louder voice. I will oppose policies that I think are detrimental to the Filipino people.)

“Parati pa rin akong kokontra sa mga bagay na hindi ko pinapaniwalaan. If being an opposition leader entails that, then magiging opposition leader ako,” Robredo said, adding she would still support policies of the Duterte administration in line with her own beliefs.

(I will continue to oppose things that I don’t believe in. If being an opposition leader entails that, then I will become one.)

With this, Arugay said, comes the emergence of the long-brewing polarization among citizens and politicians. Arugay expects critics of the President to rally behind Robredo, while Duterte and his camp are likely to go on the defensive.

“Every misstep will be blown out of proportion and be used as ammunition. On the other hand, Duterte and his government will be on the defensive mode,” said Arugay.

Part of this, he said, is the establishment of a nationwide mass movement called Kilusang Pagbabago (KP). (READ: New ‘party’ Kilusang Pagbabago formed to protect Duterte)

‘Welcome to the minority’

While her resignation drew criticisms from Duterte supporters, minority senators hailed Robredo’s move and welcomed her to her new “home” on the other side of the political fence.

Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto said the resignation was something anticipated. At least now, he said, there is a clear distinction between the two highest leaders.

“I think it was expected. I don’t think they have much in common. Tama lang may legal separation. (It’s just right that there’s legal separation.) Welcome to the minority!” Recto told reporters on Monday, December 5.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, one of the fiercest critics of Duterte, said Robredo’s resignation has a huge political ramification – the emergence of a “default” opposition leader.

“Big effect because now the lines have been drawn. For us, we now have a default leader in the opposition,” he said.

“It’s a very welcome development, wala nang pagpapanggap na merong (there’s no more pretense that there’s) some sort of coalition happening,” Trillanes added.

As for Congress, it might take a little while before individual lawmakers and senators shift alliances. History would dictate that one key factor for politicians’ decisions is public approval.

Past and present

One does not have to look far to see the patterns of resigning vice presidents in the Cabinet becoming key opposition figures.

In 2000, when she was vice president and social welfare and development secretary, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo left the Cabinet of then president and now Manila City Mayor Joseph Estrada amid the growing opposition to Estrada’s rule – following allegations he pocketed payoffs from jueteng.

In 2001, after 4 days of bloodless protests to oust Estrada, Arroyo was sworn in as president.

Now a representative of the 2nd district of Pampanga, Arroyo said on Monday that Robredo’s resignation was “inevitable” due to her and the President’s “divergence” on so many issues.

Arroyo recalled that she tendered her resignation when she could no longer hold her criticisms against Estrada, who faced corruption accusations.

But unlike Robredo, Arroyo’s resignation could not have come at an opportune time. By the time she quit, Estrada’s trust ratings had plunged due to corruption allegations and protests against him were mounting. There was not much to lose for her then.

Robredo, meanwhile, left the Cabinet just 6 months into the term, with Duterte still enjoying high public ratings.

The case of Binay

Another official who quit the Cabinet is former vice president Jejomar Binay. Binay, who served as housing czar and presidential adviser on overseas Filipino workers (OFW) of former president Benigno Aquino III, resigned because he felt “awkward” and the “odd man out” in a Cabinet dominated by the LP.

But unlike Robredo, he resigned with just a year left into his term, a political year because of the May 2016 presidential elections. (READ: Why Binay resigned from the Cabinet)

Prior to his act, there had long been calls from Aquino’s party mates for Binay to resign, taking issue with his criticisms of some administration policies. The calls for his resignation intensified after his former close ally in Makati politics exposed his alleged corruption, while critics filed plunder complaints against him in 2014.

After his resignation, Binay became a critic of Malacañang and the then-ruling LP, leading to the 2016 polls.

What Leni could lose

Robredo’s resignation does not come without consequences that might affect her prominence as a public figure. While this is the case, Robredo said she has no further political dreams or ambitions.

The risks might not have been lost on the Vice President herself as she met with her team for long hours over the weekend to decide on whether or not to resign.

The most practical consequence of all is budget. Without a portfolio, she would have limited resources to pursue her other agenda and advocacies as vice president. Since the separation came early, she would have to stick with a small budget for some more years.

Another thing that not only Robredo will face is the disappointment of voters who banked on the tandem, in the hope it would be a “good balance” for the country. It remains to be seen who will be chosen by the members of this voting bloc, Arugay said.

“This political divorce will disappoint many voters who thought that the DuRo tandem was complementary as it provided a good balance given the different personalities of the two leaders,” the analyst said.

The hopeful thought was that a Duterte-Robredo partnership was good while it lasted – although for only less than 6 months. With the resignation, there would be less to no walking on eggshells between the two leaders of the nation.

After all, a new face of the opposition was unveiled at a time marked by polarizing yet populist politics. – Rappler.com

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