As an erstwhile newspaper editor and communications consultant, I do not understand why our public officials do not prepare full public statements when they have to deal with an issue of personal or official interest to them.
I also do not understand why editors nowadays tolerate stories from reporters that are driven only by text messages.
As communication tools have multiplied in the information age, many Filipinos have paradoxically become more lazy and inept in communicating. They don’t take the time to compose their thoughts and messages more coherently. They just reach for the quickest “speed of light” technology to fire away.
This trend is in stark display in the bizarre firing and resignation of vice-president Leni Robredo from President Duterte’s cabinet. The affair was executed entirely through text messaging.
It was a case of what Barbara Tuchman called, “history being written while it is still smoking.”
Text messages and Twitter statements
The Robredo comedy started rolling when Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco, Jr. on Saturday sent a text message to Vice-President Leni Robredo telling her that President Rodrigo Duterte wanted her to stop attending Cabinet meetings starting Monday, December 5.
The text message read: “Good afternoon, Madam Vice President. Mayor Rody Duterte thru Bong Go asked me to relay to you his instruction for you to desist from attending all Cabinet mtngs starting this Monday Dec 5, 2 pm. Ty.”
Robredo reacted to this with her own text message. She said:
“We received a text message last Saturday from Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco Jr., relaying the President’s instruction through [presidential aide]Bong Go for me ‘to desist from attending all Cabinet meetings starting this Monday, December 5.’ This is the last straw, because it makes it impossible for me to perform my duties.
“Hence, I am tendering (sic) my resignation from the Cabinet on Monday, December 5, 2016. With this resignation, you can expect that I will continue to support the positive initiatives of this administration and oppose those that are inimical to the people’s interest.”
But then, the vice president felt she did not say enough. She sent out another text message or Twitter statement:
“I had been warned of a plot to steal the vice-presidency.
“However, as your duly elected vice- president, I will not allow the vice presdiency to be stolen. I will not allow the will of the people to be thwarted.
“I will continue to serve the Filipino family and fulfill their dream of a better life.”
But she was still not done. She hurriedly texted: “The events of recent days indicate that this plot [to steal the vice-presidency]is now being set into motion.”
Then, realizing what she would be losing in leaving the Cabinet, she wrote wistfully: “We had hoped this day would not come…”
Throughout this drama, it never occurred to Robredo and her handlers to write a forthright statement that would spell out her position and her fears. Never did they bother to tax their minds for a coherent strategy that would be effective, or a message that would be believed. Laziness was all.
Not surprisingly, the drama did not unfold as Robredo hoped.
Evasco explained the president’s directive as engendered by “irreconcilable differences” between the president and the vice-president. Robredo’s public avowal of differences with the President’s policies would no longer be tolerated. It had reached the point where she could no longer have her cake and eat it, too.
Press Secretary Martin Andanar bluntly stated that the alleged plot to steal the vice- presidency was just coming (an invention?) from the vice-president’s camp. There is no plot in the Palace or the administration.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez took away the fig leaf of resignation by saying that Robredo was fired.
Why did this experiment of working together between the top two officials of the land end so badly and so clumsily?
Robredo from the first did not comprehend the peculiar politics and stakes of her position. She came into the arrangement not only as the second highest official of the government, but also as the highest ranking member of the Liberal Party (LP), but without being named as party president.
When the tensions between the administration and the LP came to the fore, political demands would be levied on her.
Soon or later, the idea of Robredo as vice-president and housing czar would become untenable.
Robredo needed not only to have the confidence of President Duterte. She needed also to have the confidence of the Filipino people.
Duterte and Robredo initially hit it off swimmingly as DU30 flirted with Robredo and flattered her about her legs, a presidential indulgence that sometimes bordered on sexual harassment. But after five months, DU30’s confidence in the vice- president is now all gone.
What tipped Robredo over the cliff
Robredo has real problems with other members of the Cabinet because of her increasingly open dissent with the president’s policies.
If she could recognize the last straw in presidential treatment of her, the Cabinet and the President’s advisers had also seen enough.
From what I could gather, the key issues that tipped Robredo over the cliff were:
1. First, her highly public opposition to the Duterte-authorized Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga bayani (LNMB), which continued even after the Supreme Court had ruled on its legality.
2. Second, her loud criticism of the House probe of Senator De Lima and her dealings with the illegal drugs trade.
3. Third, her public criticism of the ongoing war on drugs and the alleged extra-judicial killings it has engendered.
To many Duterte insiders, the Vice President appeared to be promoting herself and her politics at the expense of the President and the administration.
When an individual, politician or otherwise, agrees to join the official family of the President, he/she does so on the explicit, not just tacit, understanding that he/she would publicly support the President and his policies, and would work in concert with other members of the administration.
This support Robredo failed to supply.
Her firing from the Cabinet has disrobed her, and she now must find out for herself whether the LP and the Yellow Cult will embrace her as their leader, or whether they have any political clout left.
Media not a stenographer of deceitful statements
When Robredo issued her statement that she had been warned of an alleged plot to steal the vice-presidency, she did not say that it was a plot to steal from her, she vaguely suggested that it was a plot to steal the office, which on its face could mean anything.
Such an allegation requires substantiation for the public and the media to give it credence. The media cannot be a stenographer for deceitful statements.
During his state visit to China, President Duterte “joked” that the country would have a new vice president if Marcos wins his electoral protest.
That’s when Robredo started seeing a plot to steal her office.