Duterte versus Robredo: Who is the traitor?

Vice President Leni Robredo pays courtesy call on President Rodrigo R. Duterte at the Malacañan Palace, afternoon of July 4, 2016. (KING RODRIGUEZ/ Malacañang Photo Bureau)

Filipino Vice-President Leni Robredo may face an impeachment trial this summer after two complaints were filed calling for her removal from office. Her crime may have been telling the truth.

By Francesca Ross

Philippine Vice-President Leni Robredo should face an impeachment trial for publicly lying about the war on street drugs, says a prominent group of academics, lawyers and public servants.

“Despite public outcry, Leni Robredo remains persistent, unrepentant, and diabolical. Leni Robredo has gone too far,” said lawyer Bruce Rivera at a press conference announcing the team of six had drafted a complaint calling for her removal from office.

Robredo is accused of lying in a video message sent to a United Nations event

The allegation is that she deceived the world in a video message she sent to a United Nations event which mentioned a “palit-ulo” or head-swap scheme. This is when police officers that are unable to track down a suspect to a crime allow a family member or friend to take their place under arrest. She also claimed 7,000 people had died in the war on drugs but her critics claim it is half that figure.

“What exactly is the scope of the drug problem?” she asked. “Why do numbers about the extent of the problem change as officially reported to the nation by our President inconsistent? We believe that any campaign against illegal drugs must be founded on integrity.”

She said she simply told the truth. The allegations against her are simply harassment, claimed her legal adviser. Duterte’s supporters say it is simply a lie too far from the liberal politician.

There is at least one other impeachment complaint against her

Rivera and his “Impeach VP Leni Team” are not they are not the only ones sharpening knives for the lady in yellow. Lawyer Oliver Lozano and journalist Melchor Chavez have already handed their complaint to Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez saying her video message had violated the 1987 Constitution and betrayed the public trust.

Alvarez himself said he is also considering a complaint against the Vice-President for the same reason. That is terrible news for Robredo. Alvarez is highly influential in the lower house and Duterte has the majority support among members.

“Our concern here is how can we expect a fair process in the House when the Leader of the House itself who presides over a 266 person majority, is already weighing in and saying that that is his position,” said Robredo’s legal adviser.

He is right to be worried. The Liberal’s weak bloc may not have the level of support needed to protect her. The request for an impeachment trial is, therefore, likely to progress when politicians return to the House in May. A hearing could be as soon as a month later.

Duterte has asked his supporters to leave Robredo alone

Duterte himself seems less concerned with Robredo’s comments. He said, “Guys, lay off, let’s stop it. Then do other things but do not tinker with the structure of the government. I will not countenance it.”

“She is elected so why do you have to [impeach her]? Is it because she keeps on harping on me? Let her be. This is democracy. Freedom of speech. There is no, or there are no covert acts committed [by her],” he added. He would, “not be surprised” if Robredo was part of plots to remove him from office as, “she is in a hurry to become president,” he said.

Duterte is also facing a petition for impeachment

The obvious question is whether this is retaliation for the impeachment attempt against President Duterte by Senator Antonio Trillanes over drug-related deaths and corruption in Davao City. The complaint itself is unlikely to progress or even bother the President and his supporters. Trillanes has regularly filed these missives against previous presidents, and they are usually light on substance.

Robredo faces a much better-supported petition. Who is behind the “Impeach Leni” campaign, asked one reporter at the group’s press conference? Rivera, and his friends in the room, quickly struck back saying they financially supported themselves. We are professionals that can, “afford a little bit of comfort and luxuries,” he explained.

It is true the group is highly influential. One of its members is Duterte’s man, Epimaco Densing III, the Assistant Secretary for Plans and Programs.

The cat and mouse game between the two offices continues

If, or more likely, when Robredo faces the senator-judges of an impeachment trial this summer she will argue her video message told the stories of real families with real concerns.

Her supporters will say she betrayed no-one; instead, she spoke up for the thousands of victims who lost their lives because of a callous presidential policy. Duterte’s supporters will say she is a liar that seeks to undermine the people’s choice of president to claim the palace for herself.

It is correct the public will feel betrayed by the actions of their politicians; the question is, which one?