Outside the kulambo

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - November 23, 2020 - 12:00am

The presidency is a matter of fate. You can work hard all you want trying to attain it, but ultimately it’s destiny.

A vice president gave us this comment, when we asked about a potential run for the presidency – not VP Leni Robredo, but Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, when she was the veep of the hugely popular Joseph Estrada.

How prescient the words turned out to be. GMA became Destiny’s Child – not the American girl band that gave us pop superstar Beyonce, but the real deal.

Noynoy Aquino would agree with GMA’s observation, and so would Rodrigo Duterte. Even Erap would agree.

VP Robredo gave a similar comment when asked last Friday night if she was planning to run for president in 2022.

You have to credit the VP’s honesty for admitting that she could not completely rule out the possibility that she might end up being fielded for the presidential race.

While she is busy with crisis after crisis hitting the country, trying to ease people’s suffering within the limited resources of her office, the VP concedes that as chair of the Liberal Party and the opposition personality occupying the highest rank in government, there could be people considering her as a possible standard bearer.

But she stresses that she is not actively preparing for it, or using the resources of her office to project herself as a 2022 “presidentiable.”

The administration begs to disagree – as President Duterte himself made crystal clear in his late-night churlish tirade last Tuesday against the No. 2 official of the land.

That presidential harangue – described by critics as a “meltdown” especially because certain details were based on wrong premises – prompted that question on the VP’s plans for 2022, when she faced “The Chiefs” Friday night on Cignal TV’s OneNews / TV5.

*      *      *

It was a spiteful, venomous harangue, with a queer resentment that the VP was attracting enough media attention to give the impression that she was competing with Duterte as comforter-in-chief during the typhoons.

In our interview with her, the VP said she had gotten used to Duterte’s insults and put-downs of her capabilities. The question is why he was so offended by her disaster relief efforts that he devoted much of his national address to insulting the official who is his constitutional successor in case the situation calls for it.

I always had the impression that Duterte had enough self-confidence not to feel threatened about being outshone by anyone. That impression was reinforced by his stratospheric 91 percent approval rating in a survey taken six months into the crippling COVID pandemic. As Robredo’s camp has pointed out, there is no reason for arguably the world’s most popular head of government (based on survey ratings) to be insecure.

The tirade gave rise to the impression that perhaps Duterte might have been expressing the insecurities of certain individuals close to him who are dreaming of replacing him, and who were the ones actually threatened by Robredo’s disaster relief efforts.

*      *      *

Asked about these activities, the VP explained to us that she wanted the distribution of relief goods to be properly documented by her office, in the name of transparency and full accountability to the donors. The documentation is then made accessible to the press corps assigned to the vice presidential beat.

But even if she goes around with someone documenting her activities for media release, why should it be taken against the Vice President of the republic? Lesser ranking officials in government get regular coverage, using government resources, of their so-called humanitarian activities, which the late Miriam Defensor Santiago would have described as great epal moments.

Robredo told us that she gets by even if she is “outside the kulambo” in this administration and she gets little cooperation from officials notably Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade and most agencies including the Department of Social Welfare and Development when she tries to help people during times of crisis. Robredo said she had also not responded to Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo’s apology because she found it insincere.

On the other hand, Robredo has good words for Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and the Armed Forces of the Philippines; she says she has never encountered difficulties in dealing with the AFP. Why, they even give her welcome ceremonies in certain areas.

*      *      *

Duterte said in his tirade that Robredo is outside the military chain of command, as his aides lambasted her supposed use of a C-130 cargo plane to bring relief goods to typhoon-battered Bicol. (An Air Force UH1H helicopter, not a C-130 was used, and Robredo wasn’t on the flight.) Perhaps the defense and military establishments have different ideas, and are wondering – even if the C-130 story had turned out to be true – why it would be a problem, as long as there was proper coordination with the proper agencies and the Office of the Vice President did not run off with the Huey.

Is the VP off-limits to military assets? It would give a new dimension to the President’s frequent reference to “my soldiers” and “my police.”

We will need a survey to find out the impact of Duterte’s harangue on Robredo. So far, the VP says, the President’s promised “nightmare” and “waswas” against her if she runs in 2022 has resulted in an increase in private donations to her office’s relief efforts.

With the elections approaching, the President might want to double-check information fed to him by his “we bulong” brigade. He’s the one who ends up swallowing his words when he fulminates based on the wrong premise.

Malacañang has said there is no need for Duterte to apologize to Robredo, and the VP told us she did not expect an apology from the President.

There are people who warn that repeated putdowns by the nation’s most powerful official could turn Robredo into an underdog. And in this country, underdogs tend to get public sympathy.

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