Vice President Leni Robredo delivers the keynote address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies-Pertamina Banyan Tree Leadership Forum in Washington on Oct. 17.
Leni Robredo: 'I’m the most vilified gov’t official'
Helen Flores (The Philippine Star) - October 19, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — After repeated attacks against her from President Duterte himself, Vice President Leni Robredo believes she is the “most vilified” government official in the country.

Robredo made the statement during an open forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington yesterday.

The Vice President keynoted the CSIS-Pertamina Banyan Tree Leadership Forum and US-Philippines Strategic Initiative.

“We have been surviving pretty well. I am, I think, the most vilified of all national government officials,” Robredo said when asked about her working relationship with the President.

“But I have not allowed it to affect the work that I’m doing. Most of my days are focused on reaching the farthest peripheries of the country,” she said.

Since October 2016, Robredo’s office has been assisting poor communities in different parts of the country through the Angat Buhay project.

“Despite the political skirmishes, I think it has not affected what I’m doing,” Robredo said.

Duterte has repeatedly belittled Robredo’s capabilities to lead the country, calling her “incompetent” and “weak.”

Robredo, the opposition leader, has also been the subject of criticisms and fake news on social media since she assumed the vice presidency in June 2016.

But despite Duterte’s attacks, Robredo said she continues to look for avenues where “we could be amicable.”

“Even if we don’t share, you know, many values. Even if we don’t agree on many important issues, I still think that it will be to the best interest of the country if we can work together,” she said.

Robredo said her relationship with Duterte “has been civil most of the time.”

“The President would issue statements from time to time that are a little combative. And it has polarized our supporters,” she said.

“But you know, I am well aware that we will still be president and vice president for the next three years, so I keep telling my staff that in spite of the noise, we have to have our eyes on the target, to be mindful of what we want to achieve after six years. To have a laser-light focus on the things we want to do, despite the atmosphere,” she added.

Asked about the upcoming May 2019 elections, Robredo said it would be a “tough” battle for the opposition.

“The President is still very popular and the candidates that he will endorse would have... you know... would benefit from the President’s popularity. But we are hopeful that we will be able to win a number of seats – in the Senate, at least,” she said.

The Liberal Party, which Robredo chairs, is fielding eight candidates for the senatorial race, including reelectionist Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV and former presidential candidate Mar Roxas.

Roxas lost to Duterte in the May 2016 elections. 

MCC grants to Philippines

Meanwhile, Robredo is hoping that the Philippines can still avail itself of grants from the US Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) as skyrocketing inflation could worsen poverty in the country.

“I hope the Philippine government will be given the opportunity to pursue once again our application to receive grants from the MCC,” Robredo said at the same forum.

The MCC is an innovative and independent US foreign aid agency that helps lead the fight against global poverty.

Last December, the Philippines withdrew its application for a second aid package from the MCC.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno had said the withdrawal from the application for the grant was for policy independence, although former US president Barack Obama had criticized President Duterte’s war on drugs, souring ties between the US and the Philippines.

The Philippines received its first grant from the MCC from May 2011 to May 2016, amounting to $434 million.

“There has been a lot of talk that the reason why we did not get the second tranche of the MCC was our failure to comply with some of the agreements,” Robredo said.

“It is an opportunity for the US to demand from our government to comply with the basic tenets of democracy: respect for human rights, anti-corruption. I think we should continue to exert effort to be a worthy party of that agreement,” she added, noting that the poor Filipino people are the ones who will benefit from the grant.

“Especially now, inflation is very high in the Philippines, exchange rate is bad at this time. And it will be to the benefit of the country if that will happen very soon,” the Vice President said.

During an open forum, Robredo was also asked about her take on the ongoing talks for a US-Philippines free trade agreement (FTA).

“The Philippines will always benefit from a free trade agreement. In fact, we have been lobbying for it, especially now that the trade deficit is at its largest... It is the responsibility of the government to comply with the requirements of the US,” she said.

The Philippines has recently started negotiations on a free trade agreement with the US.

Annual two-way trade of goods and services between the Philippines and its long-term ally totaled $27 billion in 2016, according to the Office of US Trade Representative.

It would be Washington’s second FTA with a Southeast Asian country after Singapore.

CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES LENI ROBREDO
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