I have no love lost for Vice President Leni Robredo, but I would rather she was VP than Bongbong Marcos.
Having said that, one wishes she knew what she was doing. That she would have the sense to have a real communications team, one that will have her back and will not allow her to make a fool of herself. One that will tell her to step back, take stock, and regroup. A trusted group of people who will remind her that as Vice President, she does have limitations, even as she might insist on her freedoms, and who will teach her how to push forward and how to retreat.
If there’s anything VP Leni and President Duterte have in common, it is this: both of them do not have people who are in control of their communications. Neither of them have people who ensure that they will be protected even from their own pronouncements. Neither of them have communications teams that already see the damage before it’s even done.
Of course their respective communications teams could say: no, no, we are right here! We are doing our jobs!
Yeah, well, it sure doesn’t look like it.
Talking to the world
For sure VP Leni and her team knew that the message she recorded on the “Human Rights Challenge: Responding to the Extrajudicial in the Drugs War” (released to the public, March 14), would be watched by the world. She was, after all, speaking in English. She was also, to some extent, celebrating the fact that the world and its human rights advocates had their eyes on the Philippines as this apparently gives her “courage and hope.”
But also, VP Leni was addressing attendees to the 60th United Nations (UN) Commission on Narcotic Drugs annual meeting which was to have happened in Vienna Austria on Thursday, March 16. This levels up the stakes, so to speak, as she inevitably feeds the UN’s and the international community’s already very critical stance with regards the drug war in the Philippines.
This is also why one had hoped she would have spent more time putting together a better 5-minute message, one that actually has better statistics than any other media entity, one that actually answers questions instead of repeating questionable facts. One had hoped she would acknowledge the grimness of the situation and the magnitude of the problem. One had hoped for a push and pull, a balancing out of international perception and what is happening on the ground – how it is viewed from the outside, and how it is felt on the inside.
Sure she could take a stand against this drug war – as even those of us who were open to it in the beginning have since changed our minds – but there was a way of putting together this speech that would allow its listeners some space to navigate. There was a need for a little more complexity, a little less sensationalism.
Banking on hearsay
It astounded me that a major part of that message was so obviously hearsay. It saddened me that it was those parts that were about the suffering of real people, in real communities, on the ground.
The truth is one would like to believe VP Leni, and sure it might all be true what she said in that speech about the drug war and what exactly is happening in our more impoverished neighborhoods. But none of that matters if she’s narrating these stories as mere stories, and not as real situationers.
A situationer would have allowed the VP to speak in broad strokes, based on specific data, given the official police operations and the summary executions, given the communities now functioning better and those that live in fear. There are well-done reports, i.e., the ABS-CBN Section on the Drug War, the Amnesty International Report that she could have pulled data from.
But VP Leni was prefacing her narration about the drug war with “they tell us” and “we are told,” making it all seem like hearsay, making its basis questionable. It’s entirely possible of course that the “palit-ulo” scheme, and the rounding up of whole communities in basketball courts to be subjected to warrantless searches, is actually happening. But with this lack of specificity about when, where, what, it all sounded too sensationalist for comfort.
It was like the VP was feeding the international audience what it wanted to hear, providing them with stories they can easily imagine in their heads. It gives even her, and her defense, very little room to navigate.
It was also very sad that VP Leni did not anchor her statements with the fact that the drug war had in fact been suspended by the President, based on the admission that there were dirty cops and rogue police officers. She could have worked on revealing how the number of summary executions also dipped during the suspended drug war operations – and what does that say about the drug war?
She could have spoken of how the return to the anti-illegal drug operations have happened with new promises of decent cops and due process, of more safeguards and more transparency. And what is wrong with that?
She could have mentioned that the last statistic that did come from the Philippine National Police as of December last year was at 6,187 drug-related deaths. And that wasn’t all summary executions. She could have mentioned how many of the thousands killed happened during official police operations, and that those cases are under investigation by the PNP-IAS. And then she could ask what it is we might do with the number killed in summary executions.
She could also have acknowledged the fact that the DSWD has made major moves towards addressing the repercussions of the drug war within communities, and how so many government agencies are working on a real rehabilitation program.
She could have provided us all with facts that she would have access to, more than the rest of us.
But nothing. By the time VP Leni was talking about how “we” had delivered a message to the President on February 24, how “we” had asked him to fight the war against poverty instead of the one against drugs, I was confused about the “we” she was talking about.
Because I might be on her side about ending this drug war.
But after this speech, I am even more certain that she does not speak for me.