Who is at the heart of #Lenileaks?

Photo: Presidential Communications Operations Office

With tensions running high between supporters of President Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo, there are fears over the implications of the recent Lenileaks scandal. Just how high, or low, does American involvement go? 

By Hisyam Nasser

Rumour and suspicion are swirling the Vice-President of the Philippines Leni Robredo following claims she is part of a ploy to oust the incredibly popular incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte. The rumours stem from leaked messages exchanged between members of the murky US-based group of politically-minded individuals, the Global Filipino Diaspora Council.

As a result of this bubbling scandal, dubbed ‘Lenileaks’ by the online Filipino community, supporters of Vice President Robredo and President Duterte find themselves at even greater odds given the events that led to the Vice President’s resignation from the President’s Cabinet just last month.

Robredo’s position, and reputation, is under pressure

According to the latest Pulse Asia survey, the elected Vice President’s very public step away from Duterte’s policy platform saw her trust ratings drop in the last quarter of last year, from 65% in September to 58% in December. President Duterte, on the other hand, maintained a steady trust rating of above 80% throughout the second half of last year.

This dip in support, combined with the uproar from President Duterte’s supporters over any move to compromise their man, means Robredo’s capability to carry out her role will be severely compromised in the months to come. This could potentially give Duterte the space to capitalise on his opponent’s weakness and finally put her out of power should he wish to do so.

And it seems this is increasingly likely following the announcement that a probe is to be conducted to establish quite what her role in the plot to overthrow the President was, if any. For what his opinion is worth, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre says he is convinced Robredo is connected to the group, while National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. added, “I need to look into it, this looks like a serious matter that needs an in-depth probe.”

Rumours are circulating about high-level American involvement

It is worth remembering that the outcome of this investigation could have wide-ranging implications, arming the President with the means of not just silencing his primary opponent domestically, but silencing his detractors overseas as well. The strongest critique of his domestic anti-drug policy has come from the US and the outspoken Duterte has made it clear on numerous occasions that although the two countries have a strong history of cooperation, he will not stand for any criticism or interference in his tenure.

But before the investigation has even begun, rumours are rife online that America has had a role to play in orchestrating the attempted ousting of President Duterte. These began with a report in the Manila Times that an ‘Oust Duterte’ blueprint had been written by the former U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, Philip Goldberg.

Duterte himself said he believes representatives from the US are working with the Central Intelligence Agency, despite having no proof of any American plans to undermine his presidency. “The ambassador of a country is the number one spy,” Duterte said, adding, “But there are ambassador[s] of the US, their forte is really to undermine governments.”

Duterte could use the outcome of the investigation to his advantage

Should there be any links uncovered between ‘Lenileaks’ and the American government Duterte would hold considerable leverage over America, depending on how he chooses to use the information to implicate their nation. In this scenario, the US would face increasing tensions in their already strained bilateral relations with China and Russia. Moreover, their recent indignation over accusations of Russian interference in the November Presidential Elections would quickly lose credibility.

For her part, Leni Robredo has insisted that she had no role in the fiasco but her words mean little as supporters of either camp take to the internet to assert their feelings. Emotions are running high, and until any investigation is concluded, the rift between opposing supporters will only get larger.

Randy David, one of the alleged recipients of the now-infamous messages puts it well, “many others who will believe anything that confirms their impoverished view of the world would not think twice about baring their teeth in righteous anger.” And this may be the very reason why in an increasingly globalised world, nations are increasingly divided. The power of the internet is in its ability to bring people together, sadly it seems to currently be tearing the Philippines part.