Robredo’s resignation rocks Duterte’s Cabinet: can his government survive?

Photo: Facebook page of Rodrigo Duterte

Philippine Vice-President Leni Robredo has resigned from the Cabinet amid growing rumours of a plot to remove President Rodrigo Duterte from government; can he manage the shockwaves?

By Holly Reeves

There are rumours of a plot to oust the wildly popular Philippine President Duterte.

The focal point of the move is Vice President Leni Robredo. She told a media outlet, “There are so many of us against the policies of the president. I hope I will be able to portray the role of unifying all the discordant voices.”

In fact, despite rumbles of dissent in the halls of government and parliament, her voice is the loudest so far. The nation’s second-in-command quit the Cabinet as the head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council at the beginning of this month.

“Irreconcilable differences”

The high-profile spat began when she received a text message from Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco, Jr. asking her, “to desist from attending all Cabinet meetings,” she told the nation in a televised address.

Claims and counterclaims have been flying as to why ever since – with one side blaming the other  – but Robredo quickly acknowledged her role was untenable, and resigned from the Cabinet. She will, however, complete her term as an elected official in the Vice-President role, Duterte said.

It is with a heavy heart that I accept the resignation of Vice President Leni Robredo,” Communications Secretary Martin Andanar quoted the President as saying. But is there something deeper than just “irreconcilable differences” between the two politicians?

Robredo, a prominent social justice campaigner, says although she will publicly support Duterte on issues they have in common, they are distant on many key points. This includes alleged human rights abuses during the drug war, the use of the death penalty, and most controversially, the recent burial of former president Ferdinand Marcos in a soldier’s grave.

On the other side, Duterte alleges that the “yellows,” of Robredo’s Liberal Party want to remove him from office as they cannot accept defeat. But Robredo is not alone in her criticism of his approach.

Both the Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo and Agrarian Reform chief Rafael Mariano have opposed the Marcos’ burial but have not been excluded from Cabinet in the same way. This situation is, “not a double standard,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said. “It was not a political action against. It was simply an expression of their ideological conviction.”

Raising the roof

And if ideological conviction is the core of the issue then Robredo is quick to point out the differences between the two. Her goal now is to act as a megaphone for the voices of Duterte opponents. “You know all the signals are discordant at this point because we do not know whom to believe.”

“Even the statements of the president are confusing,” Robredo explains. “It is not as if we are against the war on drugs. We do agree with the president that it has reached a level that the government must really do something about it, but doing it this way will only make the problem more complex,” she adds.

This need for another choice is echoed by Robredo’s Liberal Party colleagues. Representative Edgar Erice of Caloocan City highlighted the situation, “was not our doing. It was the administration’s doing. As such, I would say that it is time for [the Liberal Party] to provide check and balance.” He believes, “In order for the party to remain relevant, it must accept the challenge by providing critical thinking.”

Future focused

The voice of Leni Robredo may well be the highest profile of dissenting voices, and she may be among the first to speak with high-level support, but she is unlikely to be the last to step up to the fiery Punisher of Davao City. Already, some members of the Liberal Party are calling for their leadership to break away from their political coalitions and form an official opposition party.

And the Liberals are not alone in finding a distaste for Duterte’s approach. Public opinion is increasingly swaying away from the human cost of murder in the streets. Critical thinking may be the only answer.