The Vice President finds her voice

Published December 22, 2018, 7:30 PM

by Roel Tibay

By Raymund Antonio

Gone are the days when Vice President Leni Robredo would be circumspect on her statements or silent about controversial issues, careful not to directly antagonize the President.

Vice President Leni Robredo (Kevin Tristan Espiritu / MANILA BULLETIN)
Vice President Leni Robredo
(Kevin Tristan Espiritu / MANILA BULLETIN)

The public saw how the soft-spoken lady official has turned into an opposition leader who is now vocal about her views on President Duterte’s policies which she thinks are detrimental to Filipinos.

She has taken the role to lead and unite the opposition.

“Several groups have the same beliefs and issues which they are opposing. But because they don’t speak to each other, their voices are not united. And that is the role I want to take,” Robredo said on July 10.

“I want to make sure their voices will become one so they would be heard more and the message that they want to convey would be understood encouraging others with the same beliefs to join,” she added.

Since then, the Vice President has been more vocal against the government’s anti-drug war and inaction over the West Philippine Sea, human rights abuses, and changing the Constitution.

She had also taken a firm stand on many issues, such as the rice supply problem, rising prices, to fix the economy, and review the tax reform law.

Opposition 8

Various opposition groups sought Robredo’s leadership during their meeting in July. She met with representatives of Tindig Pilipinas, Akbayan, Magdalo, and the once-ruling Liberal Party (LP), of which she is chairperson.

They formed the Oposisyon Koalisyon (OK) that will field a senatorial slate for the coming May 2019 elections.

The opposition Senate bets include former interior secretary Mar Roxas II, election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, reelectionist Senator Bam Aquino IV, former solicitor general Florin Hilbay, Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano, human rights lawyer Chel Diokno, Marawi civic leader Samira Gutoc Tomawis, and ex-Quezon representative Erin Tañada.

Robredo formally endorsed the candidacy of the Opposition 8, calling on the public to vote for all the opposition senatorial aspirants to “correct mistakes” of the 2016 polls.

“A lot people complain about many things, but we are not losing hope. Just looking at the 8 senatorial bets, hope is alive again in our hearts,” she said at the OK launch in Marikina City.

While she believed the opposition is alive, Robredo said the eight candidates will win, relating her own experience in the vice presidential race.

Vote recount

As an opposition leader, Robredo was also focused on the electoral protest filed by defeated vice presidential bet Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

The Supreme Court, acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, began in April the ballot recount for the vice presidency in the three pilot provinces—Camarines Sur, Iloilo, and Negros Oriental.

Recounted were 1,816 ballots from Camarines Sur, Robredo’s home province; 2,318 from Iloilo; while the recount for the 1,284 ballots from Negros Oriental is still ongoing.

As of December 5, Robredo’s co-counsel Maria Bernadette Sardillo said the PET is still left with 418 ballot boxes from Negros Oriental to review for the protest.

“Next year, January,” she told Manila Bulletin when asked about the date that the PET could finish the recount and revision of ballots from the three pilot provinces.

Based on election results, Robredo was declared winner in the vice presidential race with 14,418,817 votes or 263,473 more than the 14,155,344 votes garnered by Marcos.

Shading threshold

In the vote recount, contentious issues such the 25 percent or 50 percent ballot shading threshold that will be applied, including the use of decrypted ballot images, came to the fore.

Robredo had pushed for a 25 percent valid threshold based on the 2016 Comelec rules while Marcos said it should be 50 percent in accordance with the 2010 PET rules.

Although the Comelec had set a 25 percent threshold, the PET counted as valid ovals that were only shaded by at least half.

This prompted the Robredo camp to file an urgent motion before the PET, saying that allowing the 50 percent threshold would disenfranchise votes leading to a “systematic decrease” in her votes.

The PET had initially denied her motion for the application of the 25 percent threshold, but it later ruled in favor of Robredo.

“From the foregoing, for purposes of the 2016 elections, the 50 percent shading threshold was no longer applied. It is likewise clear, however, that a new threshold had been applied,” its resolution said.

In the same ruling, the PET denied Marcos’ motion to stop using decrypted ballot images in the recount. A ballot image is the captured image of a ballot once it is fed to the vote counting machine.

Angat Buhay Village

An advocate of the poor, Robredo had taken many trips around the country to give various types of assistance to those in need as part of her flagship Angat Buhay program.

Her office built a transitory housing site called Angat Buhay Village, which has housed 60 families since opening in July, for residents displaced by the Marawi siege.

The Vice President herself went to Marawi City not only to turnover the temporary shelters, but also to speak to beneficiaries who shared their experiences during the five-month battle and their stay in evacuation centers.

Some of the towns that the Vice President had brought her Angat Buhay project were Agutaya, Palawan; Tanay, Rizal; Caramoan, Camarines Sur; Panglao, Bohol; Itogon, Benguet; San Remigio, Cebu; Cotabato City, Maguindanao; and Lamitan City, Basilan, among others, where her anti-poverty program extended assistance in previous months.

Robredo said Angat Buhay has helped 338,426 individuals in 176 cities and municipalities across the country in partnership with more than 250 private organizations.

Launched in October 2016, Angat Buhay focuses on six key advocacy areas, among them rural development, food security and nutrition, universal healthcare, housing and resettlement, public education, and women empowerment. This also includes disaster response and rehabilitation.

‘Bring it on’

On the issue of rumors thrown her way in social media, Robredo had at first chosen to ignore them and even laugh at the thoughts the unfounded rumors carried. But that has changed.

This year, the Vice President tackled the fake news head on, debunking them one by one. She called out every Facebook post and tweet, one of them the issue on the 21,000 votes she lost in the recount as a result of the tribunal’s initial ruling on the 50 percent threshold.

Another rumor she addressed was that posed by a newspaper column linking her and the Liberal Party, which she chairs, to the resolution passed by the European parliament in April against the drug killings under the Duterte administration.

The rumors the Vice President faced were not ordinary – they ranged from the political to the personal. There was one that alleged she had ties with communists and with a police officer who killed Kian delos Santos. One said that Naga City, her home, was a “hotbed of shabu.” Another accused her of having many boyfriends, and one rumor even claimed that she was pregnant.

The Vice President did not allow those rumors to pass without a word from her, and she took time to deny each one with strong facts that eventually acted like water to douse the raging fire that gossip creates.

Clearly, the Vice President had not only found voice, but had become the voice of the opposition.