'No priority but the pandemic': Robredo urges unity, Bayanihan spirit among gov't and supporters

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
'No priority but the pandemic': Robredo urges unity, Bayanihan spirit among gov't and supporters
Screengrab on Tuesday, July 27 shows Vice President Leni Robredo delivering a live-streamed public address a day after President Rodrigo Duterte's State of the Nation Address.
Screengrab / VP Leni Robredo on Facebook

MANILA, Philippines — A day removed from President Rodrigo Duterte's sixth and final State of the Nation Address, Vice President Leni Robredo on Tuesday urged unity and cohesion from both the national government and her base of her supporters amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"The president's SONA is over. We heard lists of numbers and projects. And yet there were things we had hoped would be given emphasis but were not. I face you today in the hopes of filling a gap; of imparting a truth that must be affirmed by any leadership," she said Tuesday.

"There is no debate as regards the reality: Much is left to do to address, and lift ourselves up from, this pandemic."

Despite clocking in at over two and a half hours, Duterte's SONA the day before was largely incomplete as the chief executive failed to touch on his concrete plans for the Delta variant of the coronavirus, tensions in the West Philippine Sea, ending contractualization, among others. 

RELATED: Five things Duterte was expected to discuss at his sixth SONA (but didn't)

Speaking in a live-streamed public address, the vice president praised Filipinos and communities, especially in the private sector, for "coming to [each other's] rescue" over the coronavirus-induced quarantines. 

The vice president also called on the administration to center its focus squarely on helping Filipinos through the coronavirus pandemic.

"Aside from laying down policies, we know that government has another very important responsibility: To orient us towards a single direction; to remind us that whatever our disagreements, we are ultimately one nation. The mission of government, especially in times of crisis, is to cultivate unity," she said. 

"Can you imagine what more we could have accomplished if everything, including decisions and policies of the government, was oriented towards this same bayanihan spirit?"

Pandemic should be top priority, VP says

Robredo also reiterated a number of recommendations from past addresses over the coronavirus pandemic, which she said came after consultations with experts, including:

  • Direct delivery of vaccines to people and their communities 
  • Reviewing revenues from the Sin Tax, for allocation towards pandemic needs
  • Paying off PhilHealth’s debts to hospitals to ensure continued operations
  • Properly and sufficiently enforcing Universal Healthcare
  • Passing Bayanihan 3, and ensuring the funds from this law are used "so that no one starves or loses their home"
  • Lending to small businesses
  • Offering aid to those who lost their jobs, and giving them extensive retraining opportunities to help them keep up with the evolving landscape of industries
  • Allocating more funds towards raising the quality of education.

To recall, survey results by the Social Weather Stations published Sunday suggested that nearly half of Filipino families consider themselves poor.

"We have persistently reiterated our message: There should be no other priority but the pandemic and its effects. We need all hands on deck and laser-like focus. This should be mirrored in our budgets, in the agenda of every meeting within government, in every memo cascaded down the bureaucracy," Robredo said in Filipino. 

In an earlier radio show, Robredo called on her supporters to understand why the general public was attracted to politicians like President Rodrigo Duterte in the last elections.

READ: Robredo to 1Sambayan: Create spaces for unity, inclusivity in opposition

Robredo urges: Listen to Filipinos before dismissing them

The vice president on Tuesday reiterated her earlier calls for unity amid the pandemic, urging Filipinos to come together regardless of politics and learn to understand the circumstances that led to the political climate.

"When our fellow Filipinos leave their homes even while under ECQ, shouldn’t we look deeper into their reasons for doing so? Perhaps there is more to it than simple hardheadedness. Perhaps they face the very real threat of starving if they don’t go out to work; perhaps it’s even more cramped and unsafe in their homes," she said.

"When our doctors and nurses cry out for help, shouldn’t our first response be: What can we do, how do we ease your burden? When people are reluctant to get vaccinated, isn’t it better to give incentives, rather than threaten with punishment? When suggestions are being made, shouldn’t we listen first, rather than outrightly dismissing it as fault-finding and antagonism?"

Much has been said about the Duterte administration's response to criticism. Government officials today continue to pin the blame of the virus spread on "pasaway" or stubborn Filipinos. Critics say that the pandemic response has focused on militaristic enforcement instead of a health and science-centered approach. 

President Rodrigo Duterte has also threatened Filipinos who refuse to get vaccinated with jail time. When healthcare workers and medical collectives called for a "timeout" earlier in the pandemic, Duterte slammed them and accused them of calling for a revolution.

But Robredo urged Filipinos to come together instead of falling apart, saying everyone is affected by the pandemic. 

READ: Robredo: No need to be too defensive on COVID-19 response

"Whenever problems arise, the first impulse of some is to look for a culprit, to look for a suspect to arrest, or to single out the next critic whom trolls can attack. We are one another’s strength, but it seems as if we’re always being pitted against each other –always being split into tribes, according to which island or province we grew up in, which gesture we make with our fists, or who we supported in the last elections."

"This has to stop. We are in the midst of a crisis. No one else but us gets infected, no one else but us suffers...The truth is that the pandemic doesn’t ask which group we belong to, or which political party appears on our membership cards," she also said. "A challenge faced by one is a challenge faced by all."

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