Despite her writing a letter of resignation on Monday, which President Rodrigo Duterte reportedly “accepted with a heavy heart,” one cannot deny the fact that Vice President Leni Robredo was sacked from the Cabinet as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council and de facto secretary of housing, without the benefit of a face-to-face meeting with DU30. Invoking “irreconcilable differences,” Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. broke the bad news to her on Saturday, saying DU30 did not want to see her anymore at his Cabinet meeting this week nor in any subsequent Cabinet meeting.
The meaning was clear. Since DU30 did not want her in any Cabinet meeting anymore, it only meant she had ceased to be part of the Cabinet. One other person to whom the same message was relayed was Dr. Patricia Licuanan, chairperson of the Commission on Higher Education. But Licuanan has a fixed term which expires in 2018, and she is not really a full-fledged member of the Cabinet. She is therefore not being thrown out of the Cabinet because she is not, strictly speaking, a member thereof.
A superfluous resignation letter
A short letter from Robredo thanking DU30 for allowing her to serve briefly as HUDCC chair, despite her not being a member of his borrowed PDP Laban party, would have been appropriate. After Evasco’s pointed message, she no longer had any position to resign from, so no resignation letter was necessary. Instead of writing, she could have simply invoked former Chief Justice Rey Puno’s famous formula —“constructive resignation” — which he used to describe Erap Estrada’s vacating the presidency in 2001 without a formal letter of resignation.
Or, instead of repeating DU30’s words to Robredo, Evasco could have simply said Malacañang had accepted her resignation. This was standard practice. When I was in the Cabinet, I once announced the President’s acceptance of the resignation of a notorious official. The official protested, saying he had not resigned. “The President was just being polite,” I explained. “You are actually being fired, sir, but he does not want you to lose face.”
In her short letter to DU30, the erstwhile HUDCC head said, “your directive to me to ‘desist from attending all Cabinet meetings’ has effectively made it impossible for me to do my job. Remaining in your Cabinet has become untenable.” She tried to give the impression that, even after Evasco’s message, staying in the Cabinet was still an option for her. It was so no longer. She had been fired. Therefore, she could have said: “Your directive to me ‘to desist from attending all Cabinet meetings’ has effectively removed me from my job. Thank you, sir, and goodbye.” She was obviously not prepared for such an exchange.
Stealing the vice presidency
“With this resignation, you can expect that I will continue to support positive initiatives of the administration and oppose those that are inimical to the people’s interests,” she said in an explanatory statement. “However, as your duly elected Vice President, I will not allow the Vice Presidency to be stolen, I will not allow the people’s will to be thwarted.”
The first part of that statement is neither here nor there, a namby-pamby response to a grave situation. We hear the same thing from politicians who have no strong convictions to fight for and want the best of both worlds at all times. The second part of the statement is an unmerited assault on former Sen. Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos who is an innocent bystander in this Cabinet affair. Marcos Jr. has protested Robredo’s “election” before the Supreme Court acting as Presidential Electoral Tribunal. But he said nothing when DU30 named her to the Cabinet, despite her questionable status.
It is Robredo, as far as the Marcos camp is concerned, who has stolen the vice-presidency, and Marcos is now merely trying to recover what is truly his, through the proper constitutional process. He is not trying to steal back what he believes has been stolen from him. There is no way he could win his case except by showing that he had more votes than Robredo, despite the earlier official count. Marcos is confident that if the PET could just, for one, examine the votes of ARMM, which normally does not vote for women against men, and where Marcos had zeroes in places where he had extremely strong support, the final results would produce a new vice-president.
Robredo and her supporters fear that the same 9 to 5 majority that ruled in favor of the burial of Marcos’s remains at the Libingan ng mga Bayani could vote to unseat her and install Marcos.
This is not to say that Robredo does not have supporters who would fight to see her keep her post. She has the Liberal Party hard core, the so-called Yellow Cult headed by former President B. S. Aquino 3rd, former presidential candidate Mar Roxas, Sen. Franklin Drilon, and the “celebrated” former Budget Secretary Butch Abad, and they still have access to the money.
Failure and refusal to lead
But while many of them were hoping she would seize the opportunity to lead, she has chosen not to. She declined to lead the LP as a party after Mar Roxas lost to DU30 and the LP members who had won majority of the seats in Congress migrated en masse to PDP-Laban to cobble a rubberstamp Congress. And she chose to support rather than oppose DU30.Thus she lobbied for a Cabinet appointment, even though she did not (as she now says) support many of DU30’s campaign promises which have since become his most controversial policies.
These include the summary killing of drug suspects, now over 5,000 in five months, the burial of the 27-year-old remains of Marcos at Libingan, and the proposed restoration of the death sentence. She wanted so much to be in the Cabinet that she did not mind it when DU30 put HUDCC, together with 11 other agencies, under Evasco, who has since been named to head the agency upon her removal.
On any major issue before the Cabinet, there should be no open disagreement between the President and any member. If such disagreement exists it should be kept within the Cabinet and kept from inflaming the media and the public. Which is what happened in this case.
As a woman, a widow and a political novice, Robredo tends to elicit a lot of sympathy among Filipinos. DU30 himself confessed to being physically attracted to her and openly flirted with her, forcing her to complain about his “tasteless remarks.” In the Bicol region, where she and two other vice presidential candidates come from, and two others have close family ties, her support seems to be nearly as strong as DU30’s support is in Davao. But even there people recognize that DU30 was within his rights to protect the integrity of his policies when he dismissed her as HUDCC chair.
In the end, she may be proved right and DU30 wrong. Many others may oppose his key policies, as they in fact appear to. But no Cabinet member should openly oppose those policies without first quitting the Cabinet. This is the universal rule. And this is where Robredo failed. For whatever reason, she had naively assumed that as Vice President she could be exempt from the universal practice. After all, the VP is exempt, under the Constitution, from having to be confirmed in her Cabinet post by the Commission on Appointments.
Robredo plotting too?
While Robredo sees a conspiracy of shadows to unseat her as Vice President, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has suggested that Robredo could be the one plotting to unseat the President. At the height of DU30’s war of invectives against US President Obama, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the leaders of the European Union for poking their noses into the drug killings, Communication Secretary Martin Andanar accused the international currency speculator and “color-revolutionist” George Soros of being behind such a plot. Malacañang has not withdrawn that accusation. In fact, speculations about DU30’s health seemed to have heightened some conspiracy theories about regime change.
In the controversy over the Marcos burial, Robredo has apparently found a blunt weapon to use against Marcos Jr’s electoral protest. The Left, the LP and the “Yellow Cult” let the cat out of the bag when they described their campaign against the burial of Marcos’ remains as in fact a “Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses to Malacañang” (Carmma). The apparent ploy is to produce enough noise and smoke in the media and the streets in order to intimidate the Supreme Court not to act on Bongbong’s protest. The Court is apolitical and the most benign of the three co-equal and coordinate branches of government. They are apparently hoping the Justices could be intimidated.
Marcos cannot do much about this. But Robredo could. She could rise in stature if instead of trying to delay or obstruct the swift disposition of the Marcos protest, she would exert the necessary effort to help speed it up, so that the nation would finally see the true definitive results. Whether she ultimately wins or loses, the electoral process should emerge victorious through the PET. Should she keep her post after all the votes have been validated, we should be prepared to recognize her as a true leader worthy of our support. For now, she must work hard to earn it.
At the beginning of my electoral career in Bicol in 1978, I was favored with the solid, although undeserved, support of my fellow Bicolanos. Young people carried me on their shoulders in political rallies, and amid threats of massive vote buying and cheating by the old pols, who had combined to try to deny me any chance in the election, the Bicolano voters, young and old, put me on top of the winning slate, despite the fact that I was coming from the poorest and smallest of the Bicol provinces and was the poorest of the candidates.
I saw the same explosion of regional support for the young Chiz Escudero when he first ran for the Senate. In the last election, I had fond hopes for Leni Robredo, who I thought had suffered much as a widow of a dear departed public servant and friend. But amid the intense wooing waged by B.S. Aquino 3rd and Mar Roxas, among others, to conscript her into the LP presidential ticket, I hoped and prayed that she would ask them to tell her and the nation the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about how her husband, the late former DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo, died, as a precondition to her running for Vice President. Jesse died in a plane crash while rushing home from an official errand in Cebu, but there are those who until now believe he was killed.
What Robredo can do now
Leni Robredo should not imitate the Aquino family whose two well-known members—-Cory and her son PNoy, both former presidents—-never bothered to find out who masterminded Ninoy Aquino’s 1983 murder, during their combined 12 and one half years in office. Instead of preoccupying herself now with the burial of Marcos, she should do what she can to help the nation, and first of all the Bicolanos, uncover the real truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about her husband’s mysterious death.