IT’S propitious for the country when its top two leaders, while belonging to opposing parties, get to meet and break bread once in a while. There is much air to clear between President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, especially with all the silly impeachment talk of the past several days.
Mistrust has built up between the two sides over the past several months, and reached feverpitch late last year with Robredo’s unceremonious departure from the Duterte Cabinet over her vocal opposition to the burial of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery) in Taguig.
Mistrust built up anew with the filing of an impeachment complaint against Duterte over the alleged extrajudicial killings and other issues by Rep. Gary Alejano of the Magdalo party-list, the beneficiary of which would be Robredo, the constitutional successor to the presidency. Duterte himself remarked that Robredo seemed to be in a hurry to be president.
This was immediately followed by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s threat to file an impeachment complaint against Robredo for sending a six-minute video of herself speaking out against drug-related killings to a United Nations anti-narcotics meeting in Vienna.
Despite a wide gulf between the two of them, Duterte and Robredo would have none of the impeachment chatter. Duterte, shortly after arriving from a visit to Thailand and Myanmar on March 23, told his allies to “lay off” Robredo, saying he would not countenance any move to unseat an elected official. “This is a democracy, freedom of speech,” Duterte told reporters.
That same day, Robredo said she wouldn’t want to replace Duterte at all: “It would be better for the country if there will be no impeachment, whether it is against the President or against me, because Congress has a lot of better things to do, like attending to legislations for reform. Impeachment is divisive, and this won’t be good for everybody in the long run.”
And so, on March 24, during the graduation rites of the Philippine National Police Academy in Cavite, the estranged leaders were primed for a reconciliation of sorts. It was a master stroke for Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno, who was supposed to be sandwiched between Duterte and Robredo, to move to sit instead on the latter’s chair, allowing the two leaders to finally sit together publicly for the first time in quite a while.
That was the perfect opportunity for the President to extend what seems to us is a sincere invitation to the Vice President and her daughters to have dinner at the Dutertes’ humble abode in Davao.
Robredo herself confirms this. “I was surprised when he extended the invitation, but he is the President. He extended the hand, and it would be wrong to turn it down. It would be wrong to assume that he doesn’t have good intentions. It would be bad not to take his offer,” she told reporters on Tuesday.
Alejano’s bosom buddy, Senator Antonio Trillanes 4th, however sees something sinister, claiming in a statement that Duterte’s dinner invitation to Robredo was a political trap to “disarm” and “neutralize” her at a time when Duterte is “facing the biggest political storm yet of his term as President.”
That statement is presumptuous, especially from someone who has made a career out of concocting cloak-and-dagger stuff and failed plots to overthrow the government.
What’s wrong with dinner? It’s what mature people do in polite society, even those who do not see eye to eye. One hopes it will lead to a new understanding between the two highest officials of the land.