Presidential on Independence Day

The Philippines celebrated its 119th Independence Day from Spain on Monday. It was a low-key event. So low that the news media noted the absence of President Duterte himself. Vice President Leni Robredo took over what was suppose to have been Duterte’s first Independence Day as President. The imagery was sharp. Robredo stood tall, and saluted while Duterte was fast asleep

The small controversy comes because of a misunderstanding on what exactly is the Presidency and Vice Presidency. 

Here’s a little backgrounder. In the Philippines, the Vice President is elected separately from the President. They don’t have to be from the same party. For example, Vice President Robredo is from the Liberal Party. President Duterte is from PDP-Laban (In English: Philippine Democratic Party-Power of the Nation).

The Constitution of the Philippines only gives the Vice President one job. Literally. Under the Constitution, the Office of the Vice President exists only to succeed the President should a need to do so, arise. Most recently, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo succeeded Erap Estrada when the latter’s government collapsed. 

Traditionally, Vice Presidents are given portfolios that make them useful… some how or busy. President Ramos gave then Vice President Estrada the anti-crime portfolio. When Estrada became President, he gave the social welfare portfolio to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. When Arroyo was President, she gave Vice President de Castro the housing portfolio. After Arroyo’s term ended, President Noynoy Aquino gave Jejomar Binay also the housing portfolio. When Duterte succeeded Aquino, he gave Robredo the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council job.

Robredo resigned from the Duterte cabinet. Cabinet Secretary Evasco on the one hand argued that she was fired from the job… through a text message.

Now at 758 up votes on Reddit (at the time of this writing) is that photo of Robredo standing tall, and proud as a Filipino would want on Independence Day. Two hundred and thirty four comments, so far too. At the top of that list is User beerhardt‘s comment, “Clair Underwood 2022”. It was a reference to the Netflix show, House of Cards. User windfury_proc was quick to reply, “GOD imagine if she had that kind of personality. Jeesus.” 

Do Filipinos tend to channel their inner most desires and create false images of who their leaders really are? 

For those of you who haven’t seen House of Cards, Clair Underwood was the First Lady of the United States. She ran as her husband Frank’s Vice President in the series. Both Underwoods were described in the series as ruthless and focused on power and serving themselves. The Underwoods for example didn’t have any children to distract them from the singular goal of being ruthless and powerful. 

If past is prologue then none of Robredo’s past actions point to a woman who is both ruthless and power-hungry.  Leni Robredo for most of her life was a citizen. She entered politics only after her husband— Jessie tragically passed away. As a first term Congreswoman, she served representing Naga in Congress. Even as a Congresswoman, Leni Robredo took the bus home to Naga. She continued the practice when she became Vice President. Though she is known to fly on a plane when time doesn’t permit her the more scenic bus route. She was also famously hesitant to run as Vice President. None of these actions suggest that Leni Robredo craves power; is ruthless as Claire Underwood nor is as power-hungry.

“I really like her. She seems so genuine,” writes crayontown. “I don’t think she’s President material yet though.” Filipinos also don’t seem to get what the word, “presidential” means. Surely, people shouldn’t expect that Filipinos would know what the word, “presidential” means. After all, didn’t Filipinos elect Rodrigo Duterte as president? Right?

There’s that woman in the photo standing proud with what could only be described as grace, power and dignity. She happens to be Vice President. Her one job in the entire world is to be literally, a spare tire. She woke up at some ungodly hour on the last day of a long vacation to march and salute. Robredo does the ceremonial duty on Independence Day with grace, power and dignity while the actual president was literally asleep. And after the flag raising ceremony, Robredo paid her respect for the fallen of Marawi

We’ve already established that the Vice President has no actual job… except to be a spare tire. Robredo while she also doesn’t have a cabinet position does some of the work that is expected of elected officials of her rank. Robredo is finding ways to serve outside of the Cabinet. She’s been routinely given a security briefing by the Armed Forces for example. The Vice President also recently introduced her Angat Buhay partners to the poor in Caloocan City.

“This was VP Leni’s first #MetroLaylayan visit, made possible through the partnership with the local government. Metro Laylayan is a series of community engagements around Metro Manila that aims to uplift urban poor families.” –The Vice President’s Official Facebook page.  

So while Robredo has no other function as Vice President other than to be on standby, she is finding her own way to serve. She’s making sure that the votes cast for her is not wasted. Far from perfect, will the public appreciate this? 

User Aeo03 argued, “Yep, I voted her for check and balance with Pdutz. She is doing a good job on that. For president I think she is not the right person to lead an undisciplined and full of crocs country.”

Does the public think Robredo has powers to offset the President should he go overboard? She has no money herself. Her office has an operating budget that’s less than 1 percent of Duterte’s office. In Philippine Politics, there are many parties on paper, but in reality only one political party exists and that is the party of the administration. Robredo led the Liberal Party to join Duterte’s supermajority in Congress. She joined Duterte’s cabinet. Both act remain a sore spot amongst her base, even as her base cheers her on today.  

Presently, the opposition in the Senate is about six people. The House of Representatives has eight people out of over two hundred representatives who stand opposed to Mr. Duterte. Congress couldn’t even be bothered to perform their constitutional duty to convene and discuss Duterte’s Martial Law. Check and Balance doesn’t simply exist. Though this doesn’t stop the opposition from opposing and proposing. And if people are mistaken about “Check and Balance,” how much do you think people are wrong about the Philippines being an “undisciplined country full of crocs”? 

Duterte’s fanatics recently liked to talk about symbolism. Recently, Forbes came out with a piece saying that Duterte doesn’t seem to know what he is doing. Duterte thinks that he is still a small town mayor, and not a President of a Republic responsible for a hundred million lives. At this point, it doesn’t take much to be “Presidential” material in the Philippines. It would seem just about anyone can be, even the most foolish. That said, the symbolism of Duterte’s Independence Day absence, and Robredo’s majestic grace, and powerful presence in Duterte’s place is an obvious sharp contrast. Robredo is a sharp contrast blatantly obvious except to the blind, and the cowardly.


Photos via GovPH/OVP, Public Domain. 

Philippine Independence Day Doodle by Google

Cocoy Dayao

Cocoy is the Chief Technology Officer of Lab Rats Technica, a Digital Consulting company that specialises in DevOps, iOS, and Web Apps, E-Commerce sites, Cybersecurity and Social Media consulting. He is a technology enthusiast, political junkie and social observer who enjoys a good cup of coffee, comic books, and tweets as @cocoy on twitter.

Cocoy is also the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of the ProPinoy Project.

Cocoy considers himself to be Liberal.