Leni on the right side

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

Last night, I had a lengthy discussion with a colleague from the Spanish Chamber of Commerce. This gentleman is also a director of one of the country’s largest conglomerates. We spoke about presidential aspirants for 2022, as is the favored topic nowadays. My friend had strong opinions about Vice President Leni Robredo.

Although he was firm in his opinion that neither the economy nor our position in the West Philippine Sea could withstand another six years under a Duterte leadership, he still felt strongly against VP Robredo assuming the presidency. As the figurehead of the opposition, he argued that the Vice President failed to be the opposing voice to balance this administration’s impunities. In his opinion, the Vice President has been too passive for too long and this did us all a disservice.

I respect my colleague’s opinion. However, would the Vice President be more effective in prison or out in the trenches helping the disadvantaged and being the voice of reason amid social disunity? Our reality is that government does not look kindly at criticisms, however constructive they may be. It deals with opposing forces in the severest of ways, as we have seen in the case of Senator Leila de Lima. So chilling is the specter of ruthless retribution that many of our public officials have chosen to stay silent. Although the opposing voice of the Vice President may not be the loudest, her words of reason, even if softly spoken, have had enough force to keep the country from falling into incivility.

That said, the Vice President played her cards right, I argued. Instead of provoking the powers that be, she chose to maintain a dignified relationship with it. This enabled her to continue helping the poor and speaking up for what is morally and constitutionally correct, albeit in a non-confrontational manner. The Vice President is being as effective as she possibly can, despite the oppressive conditions she is made to operate in.

To say that she has been passive is grossly unfair. Recall that she was among the few brave enough to speak up against extrajudicial killings and the only one who spoke of the matter before the United Nations. It was she who said, “you cannot kill addicts and declare the problem solved;” “killings will not solve it (the drug problem) because it is a complex public health issue linked to poverty and social inequality;” “the solution is health, education and psycho-social interventions.”

She bravely demanded for transparency on drug-related statistics and demanded adherence to due process. She lobbied for psychological care for the victims and those subjected to trauma. She fought against the death penalty and the plan to bring down the age of criminal liability to nine years old.

It took incredible courage for the Vice President to contest the actions of her Chief Executive before the United Nations. The risk of retribution was clear and present. True enough, she was not spared the wrath of Malacañang. Not only was she stripped of her Cabinet responsibilities, colleagues in government seeking the favor of the President went on an all-out assault to embarrass and persecute her. And because she was the only high ranking official with the courage to speak out, she was looked upon as a threat. To this, the trolls went on overdrive to discredit, demolish and destroy her.

The troll attacks went uninterrupted for four years – this was her “punishment” for speaking up and being a threat to the presidency. We are only human and even the toughest among us turns weary from unremitting attacks, especially since the denigrations were personal.

Despite it all, she never quit, neither did she compromise her moral ground. And because she is a class act, she never disrespected those that slandered her. For this, I reckon her anything but passive. On the contrary, she demonstrates strength. Tables turned – if any of her tormentors were subjected to the same persecution, they will likely cave in.

In an interview on CNN, VP Leni admitted to talking to various presidential aspirants with the view of forging an alliance for the 2022 elections. Contrary to rumors that she decided to simply run for governor of Camarines Sur, she is still very much considering the presidency. She is beyond being deterred by ratings and personal convenience, she declared. Her bid for the presidency, if ever, is now a matter of national obligation.

The country is in urgent need for a re-calibration. Under the present administration, the rule of law has been undermined, our institutions have weakened, corruption is rampant and our sovereignty is at greater risk from China’s escalating aggression. Our next leader must correct all these.

The attributes of the Vice President are precisely what the country needs at this time. She is on the right side of democracy, human rights and due process. She is on the right side of the West Philippine Sea dispute. She is on the right side of good governance, decency and humanitarianism.

VP Leni never said or did anything to embarrass the country. On the contrary, she is held in high esteem among world leaders. The country’s credibility needs to be re-established since our global image has been tarnished by our human rights violations and embarrassing subservience to China.

And as we continue to battle successive surges of COVID, we need a leader who is well-read and well-researched. One who approaches problems methodically based on data, science and evidence.

The deteriorating state of the economy must be reversed too. Unfortunately, this administration relied on government spending to fuel consumption and drive the economy… not on investments, production and exports.

As a result, we have become dangerously dependent on imports for practically all our needs while the manufacturing sector decelerates. All these resulted in a gaping budget deficit which was at an alarming 7.5 percent of GDP last year and ballooning debt which was at 60.4 percent of GDP as of last March (anything above 60 percent is red-flagged by multilateral lenders and credit-rating agencies).

The next administration will have to work double time to balance the budget and revive the manufacturing sector. Such is the cauldron of woes that awaits the next president.

They say the presidency is destiny. Perhaps the tribulation that the Vice President had to endure is how the universe is strengthening her for the most difficult job of her life.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow him on Facebook @Andrew J. Masigan

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