Vice President Leni Robredo, it’s safe to say, really has no official role during Manila’s hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ summit on its 50th anniversary this week. And if one had been assigned to her previously, she only has herself to blame for being “disinvited” once again.
Some media outlets are making a big deal of the fact that Robredo wasn’t even given the job of welcoming the smallest foreign delegation that came to Manila. They even extracted a confirmation from Robredo’s office, to the effect that yes, the vice president will be cooling her heels and stowing her Filipiniana outfits instead of doing something even marginally important during the Asean summit.
But why isn’t Leni even in the conversation at the most important highlight so far of the Duterte administration, when the leaders of the world’s great powers, the United Nations and our neighbors in the region have descended on Manila for one big meeting? Shouldn’t she, as the second-highest official of the land, be glad-handing the likes of Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau with Duterte, instead of, say, Duterte’s partner Honeylet Avanceña?
Well, it’s like this, I’ve been told: After last week’s disaster of a “security briefing” with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Robredo must have found it difficult even to get one of those stickers that would have allowed her to legally use those controversial Asean lanes on Edsa.
A highly-placed source confirmed to me that whatever planned involvement Robredo had in the Manila summit was thrown into the paper shredder after she sought and received a security briefing from Lorenzana while Duterte was in Da Nang, Vietnam last week. Duterte, I was informed, didn’t like it that Robredo “entrapped” Lorenzana while Digong was at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting that took place ahead of the Manila Asean summit.
The briefing at Camp Aguinaldo, I was told, was requested by Robredo supposedly to get an update on the situation in Marawi City. But during the meeting called on what to do about the war-ravaged city, Robredo suddenly asked the defense secretary on reported plans by Duterte that he was planning to declare a revolutionary government and what the military establishment was going to do if ever the president did such a thing.
Lorenzana played it safe and told Robredo that the military would do what was legal and not do anything illegal. But Robredo’s propaganda machinery immediately spun this innocuous statement to mean that what Lorenzana intended to say was that the soldiers would not support any plans by Duterte to declare a revolutionary government.
When told of this twisting of Lorenzana’s statement, Duterte, from Da Nang, turned sarcastic: “[Robredo] is correct.”
“I asked the military,” Duterte explained, obviously incensed. “[I asked] why, and they said because we like her more. She is a woman and does not cuss.”
And so Robredo has been relegated to the audience during yesterday’s formal opening of the summit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Robredo could only look stonily at the stage beside Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea as Duterte gave his welcome address and was not even invited to the elegant Sunday night gala dinner at the SMX theater.
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Of course, there is no law or rule that directs the President to give his vice president something to do during a regional or international event held here—or any job at all, really, during their mutual six years in office. After all, Robredo’s only real job, to paraphrase one American vice president, is to call Malacanang every day and check on the health of Duterte.
It would have been different, of course, if Robredo had not chosen a time when Duterte was away to pull that stunt with Lorenzana. Why she didn’t realize that talking to the highest-ranking civilian in the military establishment while the President was gone (and how her camp deliberately twisted the secretary’s statement on such a sensitive issue) speaks of how politically clueless Robredo really is.
But then, nearly a year and a half into the job, Robredo has not been known to have developed the political sensibility that her high office demands, especially since she was elected as the candidate of a different political party from the President’s. That is how she lost the Cabinet job given to her at the start of Duterte’s term (because of persistent reports that she was aiding those plotting to bring down the President) and how she was bamboozled into taping that controversial address to a European human rights meeting (where she used fake news on extra-judicial killings to make her point).
Robredo and what few partisans she still has must understand that the vice president is not the victim here. She is just reaping the harvest of the political intrigue that she’s continuously been sowing.
Robredo had better get used to being treated like a political leper by the Duterte administration. After all, she’s been doing everything in her power to put herself in that unenviable position for the next five years.