I AM asked by readers why I have refrained up to now from writing about Vice President Leni Robredo. I’ve written about several Filipino women leaders and officials: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Senator Leila de Lima, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, so why not Leni?
I desisted earlier because I was daunted by what I would find. I was wary of discovering validation of the cliché about pretty women not being bright, which like talk about “the dumb blonde” is chauvinist.
I was thrown off by the known details of Robredo’s life, the positions she has taken in her public life, and her overall conduct of her office, which collectively conveyed an air of weightlessness, or lightness in the words of Czech novelist Milan Kundera. Instead of exhibiting competence and readiness for high office, she evinced the opposite of gravitas – that quality of density or substance that separates real leaders from ordinary politicians and bureaucrats.
Evaluation now imperative
Serious evaluation of VP Robredo is imperative now for two reasons:
First, Robredo is the nominal successor (for now at least) to President Rodrigo Duterte. Until she is confirmed by the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET – the Supreme Court—as the duly elected Vice President of the Republic in the disputed 2016 election, in full resolution of the election protest filed by her rival, former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., there will be a shadow or dubiety on her claim to the vice presidency. The Filipino public will continue to have doubts about her victory.
Second, Ms Robredo, in her latest incarnation, has cast herself as a leader, or the leader, of the political opposition in the country. She has addressed herself to the United Nations and the international community to denounce the alleged failings of the President of the republic and his administration. And she has urged foreign institutions and the international community to meddle in Philippine affairs.
This is different from her ubiquitous press releases and previous posturing in public. This is serious political business. People will now judge whether this new tack of criticizing DU30 before the UN and international media is in conformity with her oath of office and the duties of her office.
SC must resolve electoral protest
Given these two reasons, it is now a matter of urgency and necessity for the SC, acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), to resolve with finality the Marcos protest.
There is no good reason for further delay. The welfare and stability of the nation is now also at stake.
It is not the Marcos protest per se that casts doubt on Leni Robredo’s legitimacy; it is the absence of a high court verdict to vindicate her victory.
To say this is to underline the urgency and importance for the high court to proceed with dispatch with the hearing of the election protest, and the recount of the ballots.
The tribunal should not brook further delay in the recount. Both Robredo and Marcos suffer from the PET’s failure to resolve the protest.
Many Filipinos fear that the past record of election protests (litigation being prolonged and settled only after the terms of office contested have run out), would also happen here. This is unacceptable. The delay constitutes a miscarriage of justice; it is moreover a grave disservice to the nation if the SC does not do its duty.
There is an additional argument for resolving the Marcos protest with dispatch. The vote recount will prove or refute the belief of many that the Aquino III administration, with the collusion of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), committed massive fraud in the 2016 election, and used public funds to manipulate the vote.
A good and credible verdict by the PET will open the way for the necessary cleansing of our electoral process.
Impaled on the impeachment sword
The Marcos election protest, however mortal for Robredo‘s political standing, is secondary to the larger headaches that Robredo has brought upon her head with her recent political missteps. Through sheer poor judgment and amateurism, she has unwittingly impaled herself on the sword of impeachment. It looks more than likely that the impeachment threat will move forward because the administration has the votes in both houses of Congress.
Her biggest mistake is her decision to surface as a full-blown critic and agitator against President Duterte, and to do her dance before the international community. She has taken her act to the United Nations by sending out a video message reciting a litany of charges and criticisms against DU30.
Her six-minute video message was addressed to the 60th United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs annual meeting in Vienna last week. She welcomed gratuitously that the meeting would address the issue of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. And she supplied statistics to confirm what foreign observers only dimly perceive.
She then added a new charge against the administration. She denounced what she called “palit-ulo,” an alleged practice in the drug war under which another family member would be taken if the drug suspect cannot be found in police drug operations.
The message is superficially more coherent than her usual fatuous statements. But then it all dissolves into Leni’s familiar vagueness and generalities. Referring to DU30, she declared: “In a public statement, we asked him to direct the nation toward respect for rule of law, instead of blatant disregard for it. We ask him to uphold basic human rights enshrined in our Constitution, instead of encouraging its abuse.
“We asked him to be the leader he promised to be, and evoke in our people hope and inspiration, instead of fear. We told him: Do not allow the lies to distort the truth.”
The message indicts itself. It will not be construed by anyone as the words of a leader who bids to become the next President of the Philippines.
No one will take her seriously.
The reality of the situation became apparent when Robredo spokesperson, Georgina Hernandez, tried to defend Robredo against Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s threat of filing an impeachment charge against her.
Under questioning by CNN, the spokesperson couldn’t come up with a straight answer when asked for general descriptions of the “victims” who supposedly went to the OVP’s to complain about the supposed palit-ulo. She evaded questions on whether or not the OVP verified the claims of the supposed “victims” with the PNP before blabbing to the world that the PNP cannot be trusted.
The impression one gets is that Robredo and her office do not think very much. They just issue press releases and statements.
They could drown in defending Robredo if the impeachment charge pushes through, when Congress reconvenes on May 2.
Mystery of gravitas
It might strike some as unkind or specious to invoke “gravitas” in the evaluation of Vice President Leni Robredo’s preparedness for the presidency.
But it is inevitable that some of us would ask whether Leni Robredo has the necessary gravitas to become President of our nation of over 100 million.
By our sheer size as a nation and our history, many are bound to ask whether Leni has the weight, the size, the something to be president.
In a famous essay for Time magazine, the essayist Lance Morrow wrote a perceptive piece on gravitas.
He explained why many leaders and politicians strive to possess it, and most wind up just impersonating the quality.
Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Margaret Thatcher, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Abraham Lincoln – they all had gravitas.
Jimmy Carter does not have it.
Mikhail Gorbachev had gravitas. Leonid Brezhnev did not.
After a long discussion, Morrow concluded by saying that gravitas is deep moral seriousness. It is weight and consequence. Weight is not enough, impact surely is an element. In the case of Ronald Reagan, his gravitas was his authenticity.
America watched in horror when a little haberdasher from Missouri, Harry Truman, moved into the White House when Franklin Roosevelt died. But then in the following years, in the throes of World War II’s aftermath and the Cold War, Truman acquired historical size and force.
Truman is now rated one of America’s greatest Presidents.
But no leader is a total surprise. The record in public service, politics, academics, and society provide the telltale signs of leadership.
Can Leni Robredo surprise us as more worthy of the presidency than she appears? The problem is her record will unveil her state of preparedness and her quality of mind.
Gravitas, Morrow said, cannot be an optical illusion.