MANILA - Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Wednesday said Vice President Leni Robredo lost her post as Housing chief in 2016 because she "chose to lead the opposition”, a claim promptly belied by her camp.
Roque made the comment when asked to react on Robredo's statement that she will not treat President Rodrigo Duterte the same way she was treated if they swap positions next year.
"Nakalimutan ho ba niya (Robredo) na binigyan siya ng Cabinet post ng ating Presidente pero mas pinili niya na maging lider ng oposisyon kaysa magtayo ng mga pabahay?" Roque said in a press conference.
(It seems she has forgotten that the President gave her a Cabinet post but she chose to be an opposition leader instead of constructing houses.)
"Tayo po ang umuukit ng ating tadhana," he said.
(We carve our own destiny.)
Robredo's spokesperson, Barry Gutierrez, quickly commented, "Ayoko na sanang patulan pero sobrang sinungaling eh."
(I wasn't planning to comment, but he is a big liar."
On Twitter, Gutierrez shared a photo of a text message supposedly from then Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco, Jr., about Duterte's instruction for Robredo to stop attending all Cabinet meetings starting Dec. 5 (of 2016).
It went with the caption: "'Pinili' daw ni VP Leni na umalis sa Gabinete para maging lider ng oposisyon. Hay naku, magsisinungaling na lang andali pang hulihin. Resibo:"
In December 2016, Robredo announced her resignation as Housing chief after receiving Evasco's message.
Evasco confirmed at the time that he sent the message as per instruction of Duterte who cited “irreconcilable differences” as the reason. The Cabinet Secretary clarified though that Duterte did not order the termination of Robredo.
In a statement regarding her resignation, Robredo said: "This is the last straw, because it makes it impossible for me to perform my duties. Hence, I am tendering my resignation from the Cabinet on Monday, December 5, 2016."
She added: "With this resignation, you can expect that I will continue to support the positive initiatives of this administration and oppose those that are inimical to the people’s interest."
Duterte's allies said later that the Vice President was "fired" from the Cabinet and did not quit on her own accord.
"Naging civil lang si Cab Secretary Jun Evasco para sabihin sa kanya na she's really fired," then House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said in an interview in 2016.
(Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco was just being civil when he told her, but she's really fired.)
In November 2019, Duterte appointed Robredo as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD). But he fired her in the same month for allegedly using the "platform to attack the methods undertaken by this Administration."
Following her removal, Robredo, in a press conference, questioned what Duterte feared she would discover as leader of his anti-narcotics drive.
"Ano bang kinatatakutan n'yo na malaman ko? Ano bang kinatatakutan n'yo na malaman ng taumbayan?" she said.
(What do you fear that I and the public will know?)
"Kung sa tingin nila, matatapos ito dito, hindi nila ako kilala. Nagsisimula pa lang ako," she added.
(If they think it ends here, they don't know me. I'm only starting.)
On Tuesday night, Robredo said that she won't treat Duterte the way he treated her if she runs for and wins the country's top post and Duterte bags the vice presidency during next year's elections.
"Parang poetic justice 'pag nangyari. Pero, para sa akin, very, very seriously, ako, I will not treat him the way he treated me, kasi, I don't think it is to the best interest of the people na 'yung Presidente at saka Vice President, nag-aaway," she told ANC's After the Fact, in response to a hypothetical question citing a possible reversal of their positions.
Robredo is not yet decided to run for president despite prodding from some sectors, while Duterte recently said he plans to run for vice president supposedly to get legal immunity amid threats of lawsuits from his critics once he steps down next year.
Legal experts have said the country's second highest official is not immune from suit.