DAGUPAN CITY, Philippines – Vice President Leni Robredo yesterday declined to answer questions or comment on the reported invitation of President Duterte for their families to have dinner together.
On Friday, the President reportedly invited Robredo and her children to dinner when the nation’s two highest officials sat beside each other at the graduation ceremonies of the Philippine National Police Academy’s Masidlak class in Silang, Cavite.
Robredo, on invitation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), delivered the commencement address at the Mary Help of Christians College Seminary’s graduation ceremonies held inside the St. John The Evangelist Cathedral here.
She lauded the Catholic Church’s role in the country’s fight against illegal drugs, describing it a “sanctuary” for providing rehabilitation to drug dependents.
Robredo and the Catholic Church have been criticizing the government’s war on illegal drugs and the extrajudicial killings of drug personalities.
President Duterte has repeatedly hit Robredo and the Church for their criticisms and vowed to continue his drug war.
Yesterday, Robredo focused on the role of the Church to give drug dependents a second chance and was perceived to have toned down her criticisms against the government.
“Today in the midst of darkness and division, the Church is once again providing sanctuary for our country,” Robredo said.
“Programs to rehabilitate drug dependence are a much-need intervention, especially for the poor who can’t afford this very expensive treatment, and the role of the Church in this work is crucial because it has been proven time and again that recovery from addiction is only made when spiritual connection is found,” she added.
Robredo said she also learned of interventions where the Church is giving sanctuary to mothers, fathers and children left behind by those who have been killed in the course of the government’s war on drugs.
She pointed out that “these are things that will save our society from apathy and permissiveness – acts that show our countrymen that we do not forget our people who are suffering.”
She said her office has also been trying to find ways to provide the poor with access to rehabilitation facilities for drug dependence “because we believe in the ability of the human soul to heal.”
“We choose to trust in our human capacity to change and turn our own lives around when given a safe and nurturing environment. And this is most needed for those in the fringes of society who have remained voiceless and powerless,” she added.
Robredo said the Church is, and has always been, a sanctuary for her and her family. She said when her husband Jessie was still alive, they made it a point to always consult the Carmelite sisters in Naga and the priests of the Missionaries of the Poor and other religious orders before they made any major decision.
Robredo recalled that her late husband depended on their archbishop for help in many of his programs when he was still mayor of Naga City.
She said Jessie was able to institutionalize a very effective people’s council with the help of their social action center. When he went on to become secretary of the interior and local government, Robredo said her late husband wrote a letter to archbishops asking them to partner with the local government units and this gave birth to UBAS or “Ugnayan ng mga Barangay at Simbahan.”
Unfortunately, he died before the program was able to really take off, she said.
She pointed out the Church, aside from being a sanctuary not just to her and Jessie but to the entire nation, has also “served as the moral compass of our nation during our darkest times.”
“The Church also became our voice, our anchor in the weeks and the days leading to the EDSA people power revolution (in 1986),” she said.
Robredo told the graduating seminarians that they are in a unique position as future priests to be the people’s voice in the wilderness.
“People trust you, they go to you, they believe in you. Your vocation gives you the opportunity to be intimate with the suffering and joys of our people, from rich to poor and all levels in between,” she said.
“The wealth of protecting the last, the least and the lost is the work that is most worthy of our time and effort,” Robredo added.
Robredo also told the crowd, composed of the Lingayen-Dagupan archdiocese clergy, nuns, teachers, parents, seminarians and laymen, “Our world was designed to be tumultuous to purify us and make us stronger.”
She shared her own experience as vice president, saying, “The leadership journey I have embarked on has brought me much persecution. There are so many lies being bandied around and social media has made it easier to disguise lies as truth.”
“But in the midst of all this vilification, I pray that we will all learn to follow Christ’s example. Focus on the work to be done for the One at a cost of personal inconvenience and even at the risk of losing our status or positions,” Robredo said.
Robredo is facing an impeachment complaint filed last week for having “committed acts of injustice” when she allegedly spread “fake news” about the Philippines with her video message to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs side event criticizing the administration’s war on drugs.
A group of lawyers and an official of the Department of the Interior and Local Government have also threatened to file another complaint against her.
These moves came after Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez himself said he would have Robredo impeached for the UN video.
Robredo urged the people of Pangasinan to build a responsive and caring society and to focus more on the need to give shelter to the poor, provide more food on their table, create more jobs, encourage entrepreneurship, promote good governance and improve services for health, social welfare, education, transportation and communication. – With Janvic Mateo