Down but not out? How Robredo can escape political irrelevance

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 19 2019 10:33 AM | Updated as of Jul 19 2019 10:59 AM

MANILA -- Vice President Leni Robredo needs to convince the electorate that her brand of leadership works so that she and her party can crawl to political relevance and take on President Rodrigo Duterte in 3 years, an analyst said.

Reduced to a "spare tire" because of the lack of a Cabinet portfolio, the 54-year-old widow is counting on support from her opposition and private sector allies to uplift millions of Filipinos on the fringes (laylayan).

She is also entering the second half of her term after Duterte's allies wiped out the opposition's entire 8-member senatorial ticket in the May elections. A Pulse Asia poll from June 24 to 30 showed Robredo with a 55-percent approval rating against Duterte's 85 percent. 

Robredo must recruit young and fresh faces to the Liberal Party to make a case for "progressive politics," University of the Philippines political science professor Ranjit Rye said.

"The opposition is down now but that doesn't mean that they're out," he told ABS-CBN News.

The Vice President is "politically irrelevant as far as the Cabinet work is concerned," Rye said. "Given the Constitutional role of the vice president, she is practically a spare tire."

Robredo quit as chairperson of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council in December 2016 after just 5 months in the Duterte cabinet citing policy differences.

The widow of acclaimed former Naga City mayor and interior secretary Jesse Robredo was a reluctant running mate to presidential candidate Mar Roxas in 2016. She narrowly beat former Sen. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. for the vice presidency.

BUDGET CONSTRAINTS

Robredo is limited by her lack of official duties outside her constitutionally mandated role as the President's successor, said her spokesperson, Barry Gutierrez.

"If you do not run a department, if you do not have an office outside the Office of the Vice President, that seriously limits what you can do," he said.

The Vice President's office operates on a P60 million annual budget, Gutierrez said. Private sector funding helps her sustain her "Angat Buhay" program for the marginalized or those in the fringes (laylayan) of society.

Known to lead a simple life, Robredo went viral in the past after photos of her and her family taking the bus from Manila to Naga were circulated on social media.

Robredo's office received the highest audit rating from the Commission on Audit (COA) in 2018, but was flagged for failing to liquidate P44.6 million of Angat Buhay's P80-million fund that same year.

Clerical issues caused the delays in liquidation, said Gutierrez. As of 2018, "Angat Buhay" has 385,403 livelihood, education, health and housing beneficiaries in at least 185 cities and municipalities, data from the OVP showed.

CONSTRUCTIVE DISSENT

Robredo was the highest ranking Filipino official to denounce the ramming of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel in disputed waters last June, an incident that stoked fresh diplomatic tensions between Manila and Beijing.

She also extended financial aid to the Filipino fishermen, who were left out at sea after their boat sank until they were rescued by a Vietnamese ship.

"This is where VP Leni has proven to be still relevant in and I believe she can be a very good voice for the opposition in terms of articulating their own position, in terms of providing an alternative," Rye said.

"The administration is free to ignore it or not to take it into account... but at the end of the day, it is something that needs to be done," he said.

Robredo should keep her views "constructive and collaborative" rather than dwell on "contentious politics" to avoid sidelining her allies in the legislature, Rye said.

POLITICAL SURVIVAL

Robredo's Liberal Party won 18 of the House of Representatives' nearly 300 seats. Its 3 incumbent senators, including detained Senator Leila de Lima, and Akbayan lawmaker Risa Hontiveros are expected to man the minority bloc in the 24-member Senate.

"Few but competent," the LP will focus on quality legislation, said Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice, who helped run election campaigns for the party.

Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo, a former chairperson of the University of the Philippines School of Economics, said she would push for "meaningful" debates on revenue bills.

"I'm a member of LP but it's a kind of heavylifting I offer for the entire House," she said.

With Duterte's supermajority in the House, "it's not completely out of this world the idea of an impeachment case" against Robredo," Rye said.

The commissioner of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission earlier warned that the Robredo could face an impeachment complaint for supporting a United Nations resolution seeking to review the drug war.

Impeachment complaints against the vice president would not prosper, Gutierrez said.

"She has not been linked in any reasonable or credible way sa kahit na anong maling nangyari (to any wrongdoing)," the spokesperson said.

"I think that maghe-hesitate pa din most members of the House and the Senate [because] there has to be some kind of a credible basis and that credible basis does not exist," he said.

(I think that most members of the House and the Senate would still hesitate because there has to be some kind of a credible basis and that credible basis does not exist.)