MANILA, Philippines - Contrary to President Duterte’s claim, it’s not in Vice President Leni Robredo’s plan to be president as she is focused on improving the lives of the poor and on bringing justice to the victims of extrajudicial killings, her spokesperson said yesterday.
“If there are things VP Leni is eager to do, these are to give justice to the victims of extrajudicial killings and finish the anti-poverty programs she has started,” Georgina Hernandez said in an interview.
Robredo, Hernandez also said, is ready to face a possible impeachment complaint to be filed by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.
But she maintained any complaint being eyed against Robredo is “baseless.”
Alvarez accused Robredo, interim chair of the once powerful Liberal Party, of betrayal of public trust for denouncing in a video message to a United Nations body the alleged human rights abuses in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.
Robredo relayed her message to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs annual meeting last week.
In her video message, Robredo also talked about the so-called “palit-ulo” scheme, “which literally means exchange of heads, where the wife or husband or relative of a person in a so-called drug list will be taken if the person himself could not be found.”
Hernandez said the Vice President merely shared stories relayed to her office by representatives of affected urban poor communities.
Solicitor General Jose Calida said Robredo’s speech was a “treasonous act” and his office would “gladly lend its services” for her impeachment.
“If they think that’s the right thing to do, we can’t do anything but face them in the proper forum,” Hernandez said.
But even as Robredo’s political enemies were sharpening their knives for her impeachment, her legal adviser said her UN message was not an impeachable offense to begin with.
“This is giving voice to people who are afraid of the authorities,” Barry Gutierrez said, referring to Robredo’s denouncing extrajudicial killings in a video message to the UN.
The camp of Robredo presented yesterday a copy of the letter sent by the Vice President to the Department of the Interior and Local Government, in which she raised concerns over the administration’s bloody war on drugs.
The Jan. 24 letter which, according to Gutierrez, was received six days later, sought to counter Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa’s statement that Robredo should have aired her concerns to local authorities before making a statement before the international community.
“You (PNP) received a letter on Jan. 30 but you did not act on it,” Gutierrez said.
Dela Rosa denied the PNP was practicing a “palit-ulo” scheme as claimed by Robredo.
“The definition (of palit-ulo) didn’t come from VP Leni but from the urban poor communities,” Gutierrez said.
“We know the victims but we respect their decision not to come out now because of fear,” he said.
Hernandez, meanwhile, stressed the Vice President would not make a public apology for the video message, saying the latter only stated the truth.
“We don’t see any reason for her to make an apology. It’s part of her mandate as Vice President to reveal the truth,” Hernandez said.
A Senate ally of Robredo, Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, is appealing to his colleagues not to “succumb to intimidation and pressure” as she remains under threat of impeachment in the House of Representatives.
“Our democratic institutions, especially the Senate, must show that we can operate justly without succumbing to intimidation and pressure,” Aquino said in a statement.
“Democratic institutions must stand up and fight for our freedom and democracy while we still enjoy it,” he said.
He warned an impeachment complaint against Robredo would reach the Senate if the House leadership “will bully and threaten the congressmen, like what happened in the death penalty vote.”
He stressed he continues to have faith in his colleagues, especially in their capability to withstand pressure and act with fairness.
“Clearly, this reaction from leaders of this administration is coming from the obsessive need to curb dissent or disagreement,” he said.
Earlier, the LP described as “baseless and orchestrated lies” accusations linking Robredo to moves to undermine the administration.
As the two highest leaders of the country face the prospect of having to deal with impeachment complaints, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said such scenario – if it materializes – will make the Philippines a global laughingstock.
“I think we’ll be the laughingstock if we have an impeachment complaint against the President and the Vice President to begin with,” Recto said.
Recto, however, said while an impeachment complaint has been filed against Duterte, so far no properly endorsed complaint has been filed against Robredo in the House of Representatives.
He said so far the impeachment controversy has not been affecting economic and financial indicators and Filipinos seem to be used to it.
The senator, however, warned the situation may change if any impeachment complaint against the two or either of them prospers.
“The first barometer is the stock market, people vote with their money as well. So far there is no such indication that shows that it is affecting our economy,” Recto said.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said if Robredo is impeached in the House and convicted in the Senate, Duterte can appoint her replacement from among members of both chambers, including himself, subject to confirmation by Congress.
“The relevance of the Senate is he (Senate president) becomes acting president if there is a simultaneous vacancy in both the president and vice president. The Senate president never becomes president, he only becomes acting president to supervise the elections,” Pimentel told reporters.
When asked whether he was willing to be vice president, he said: “No thanks. I’m enjoying it here (Senate). There are many problems here so it’s happier here. Never a boring moment.”
While it’s possible that an impeachment hearing, or even two impeachment proceedings, could be destabilizing, the process is provided for under the Constitution, he said. – With Paolo Romero