FORMER Solicitor General Florin Hilbay refers to Leni Robredo as a No. 2, one whom her allies and supporters are eagerly awaiting to assume the position of No. 1.
In a television interview with Tina Monzon-Palma who asked her about her response to the fact that President Duterte’s administration appears to be avoiding or ignoring her, Robredo casually answered that she tries to disrupt using her position, which by Hilbay’s nomenclature is as a No. 2.
Leni Robredo publicly admitted that she is a disruptive No. 2.
In a marriage, a No. 2 refers to the other woman. And the other woman always disrupts the harmony and bliss of a marriage.
However, in politics, the No. 2 refers to the position of the vice president who is supposed to be a supportive enabler, and not a disrupter. In fact, in the United States, the vice president does not have a mandate separate from the president, since they are voted as one. In the Philippines, while the president and the vice president can come from opposing political parties, it is expected that the vice president should be at least supportive, and at most a constructive adviser and not a partisan critic.
The Constitution does not stipulate a specific function for the vice president, and membership in the Cabinet, while not subject to confirmation, is not mandatory and is at the discretion of the president. Perceived as a mere spare tire, it is incumbent nevertheless upon a vice president to exude competence and integrity as someone capable of handling the ship of state if something happens to the president.
The declared function of the Office of the Vice President, as spelled out in its official website, pertains to a constructive, and not a disruptive, participation in the process of governance. She is expected to perform ceremonial and advisory functions upon the invitation of the President. She also has some constituency function to conduct consultations with local officials and lend support, including extending financial assistance, to them.
Leni Robredo, despite the fact that she came from the opposition party, was given the chance to be a part of government during the first few months of the Duterte administration. Appointing opposition figures to the Cabinet is not a new practice. In the United States, Democratic Presidents have appointed Republicans to their cabinets, and Republicans have appointed Democrats. Vice President Jojo Binay held a cabinet-level post during the Noynoy Aquino administration, even if Binay was not a member of the ruling Liberal Party.
However, once appointed, these people ceased to perform their partisan activities. They tried to suspend their being an opposition voice. After all, it is an utter affront to the principle of a unified executive branch —where every member of the cabinet is supposed to act as an alter ego of the President—for any of its members to wear two hats, being his subaltern at one time and his critic at another. Critical engagements are allowed but only during cabinet meetings, after which once a decision is made, each cabinet secretary is compelled to toe the line of the President. This is how mature statesmen do it.
But not Leni Robredo. She accepted her appointment to the Housing and Urban Development Council cabinet-level post but she wanted to have her opposition cake and eat it too, in that she continued to be a vocal partisan.
The President simply did the most rational move to keep the coherence of his administration by politely asking Robredo to leave. Practically, she was sacked. And with her disruptive political inclinations being revealed by her answer to Tina Monzon-Palma’s question, her firing was in hindsight an appropriate response to a cabinet member who had a natural predisposition towards being disruptive.
But even opposition politics, while adversarial, must not be cast in the language of disruption. Rather, it must thrive within the discourse of critical engagement as a responsible opposition loyal less to partisan interests and more to the interests of the Republic. An admission by Robredo that she is engaged in disruptive politics using her position as No. 2 is indication enough that we cannot expect any responsible political engagement from her.
If there is any indication of how disruptive Robredo’s kind of politics could be, one just needs to look at her behavior in the current electoral protest filed against her by former senator Bongbong Marcos. Instead of hastening the process, she has been using all kinds of dilatory tactics. She failed to protest the rule of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) that specified a 50-percent minimum-shading threshold, one that was made public at the very beginning, only to later question it when she realized that it would hurt her as it would lead to a massive erosion of her lead. And she mobilized all kinds of support, from asking former justices to argue against legal reasoning to recruiting women scientists to support her unscientific stance.
Recently, she has raised questions about the use of a magnifying lens by one Marcos revisor, even if such had prior approval. A magnifying lens is just a device, like a pair of eyeglasses, that can aid one’s eyesight to perform a role that requires visual acuity, which revisors must in fact possess as they physically inspect ballots. Robredo protests against the enhancement of visual acuity in an electoral protest, thereby leading us to ask how that could put her at a disadvantage, unless she is hiding something.
But perhaps, it is a tall order to expect Robredo to be someone other than a disruptor.
Critical engagement would require a great deal of intellectual resources, and of political gravitas, and a kind of articulateness that can put into words what is not only in the mind but also in the heart. An emphatic and erudite person doesn’t throw a disruptive tantrum to show displeasure. Only immature people unsure of their arguments, and uncertain about their legitimacy, would use the disruptive leverage of a tantrum to make their presence felt.
Hilbay waxed eloquent on how the political opposition awaits the time that the No. 2 Leni Robredo will assume the post of No. 1. In response to being avoided or ignored by the President, Robredo admits that she tries to engage in disruptive activity using her position as No. 2.
She may have been just clueless; otherwise she is just totally careless or has a poor language facility, all of which are far from comforting. She must be told that such an admission has seditious implications.