Can the Philippines’ embattled vice president lead the opposition against Duterte?

Philippine vice president Leni Robredo was ousted from her post in President Rodrigo Duterte’s cabinet this week

Logan Connor
December 7, 2016
Can the Philippines’ embattled vice president lead the opposition against Duterte?
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (R) and vice president Leni Robredo (L) are seen during a visit at a military camp in Quezon city, east of Manila, Philippines, 01 July 2016. Photo: EPA/FRANCIS R. MALASIG

The shock resignation of Philippine vice president Leni Robredo from her post as chairperson of the country’s Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council has raised the possibility that she could lead an opposition movement against the president.

The announcement came Sunday after Robredo received a text message the previous day from cabinet secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr saying that President Rodrigo Duterte wanted her “to desist from attending all Cabinet meetings”.

“I have exerted all effort to put aside our differences, maintain a professional working relationship, and work effectively despite the constraints because the Filipino people deserve no less,” Robredo wrote in a resignation letter posted to her Twitter account on Sunday.

In a statement to the media, she also claimed that a plot to remove her from her post as vice president was “being set into motion”.

“I had been warned of a plot to steal the vice presidency. I have chosen to ignore this and focus on the job at hand,” Robredo said.

Robredo and Duterte were rumoured to have clashed following the president’s decision to allow former dictator Ferdinand Marcos to be reburied in Manila’s Heroes’ Cemetery. Robredo has also criticised Duterte’s war on drugs, which to date has claimed nearly 5,000 lives.

In the Philippines, the president and vice president are elected in separate contests, with Duterte and Robredo belonging to rival parties.

“This was a shotgun marriage,” said Sophal Ear, associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College in Los Angeles. “Robredo’s a social activist while [Duterte’s] claim to fame is the drug war; they were thrust together since the VP and president are elected on their own and not as a ticket. They didn’t share a platform but tolerated each other until I guess Duterte had enough and fired her, which I think is a badge of honour.”

On Monday, Robredo told reporters that she would take the helm as an opposition figure within the Philippines.
“I will oppose all policies with a stronger voice… that I think are detrimental to the Filipino people,” Robredo said, specifically mentioning the extrajudicial, vigilante-style killings being carried out by Duterte’s administration against alleged drug traffickers.

She also said that she would speak out against the Duterte administration’s proposal to reinstate the death penalty and lower the age of criminal responsibility to 9.

“If being an opposition leader entails that, then I will be an opposition leader,” she said.

Due to entrenched support for Duterte in the upper echelons of government, the president will likely remain unconcerned about brewing opposition sentiment, according to Joshua Kurlantzick, a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“I don’t think Duterte needs to fear any ouster at this point in time,” Kurlantzick said. “There’s no reason to think that. He’s in a very strong position politically and, even though the security establishment clearly has qualms about his often reckless behaviour, they are not going to do anything about it right now.”

An October survey released by pollsters Pulse Asia showed Duterte’s approval ratings were at 86% while Robredo’s came in at 66%.

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