At the end of his term, President Rodrigo Duterte continues to enjoy high satisfaction ratings. In Social Weather Stations’ Dec. 2021 survey, Duterte’s net satisfaction rating remained “very good” at +60, a first for an outgoing president. To illustrate, Noynoy Aquino had a +27 satisfaction rating when he ended his term in 2016, and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ended with a low -53 net rating in 2010.
Now that we’re in the endgame of the May 2022 elections, candidates are pulling out all the stops for their campaigns. In this piece, I will address the supporters of the Duterte administration who have yet to decide on their next president, and argue that even for die-hard Duterte supporters, a Robredo presidency would be in their best interest.
Why should a Duterte supporter vote for Vice-President Leni Robredo, the leader of the opposition, who many view as the antithesis of Duterte and who the administration has reviled over the past six years?
Duterte has yet to endorse a presidential candidate, despite his own party’s support for Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. There are several contradictions and complications in our political landscape today, but one thing is for sure: There is a very good reason why quite a few Duterte supporters, politicians aligned with the administration, and Duterte himself refuse to support Ferdinand Marcos Jr., even as Mayor Sara Duterte runs as his vice-president. President Duterte has been toning down his vitriol against VP Leni lately and directing it towards Marcos Jr., implying that Marcos is a weak leader with no accomplishments, and reliant on his family name.
VP Leni has opposed many of the administration’s policies, including its human rights abuses and weak response to the pandemic. In almost all ways, she is the exact opposite of Duterte.
Despite this, VP Leni embodies true unity. Rather than focusing on differences, she focuses on points of convergence. During Duterte’s term, for example, he raised taxes on alcohol and tobacco products to fund universal health care and passed the Universal Health Care Law. VP Leni, a staunch health advocate, has expressed her support for sin taxes and universal health care, and she will protect the gains from these reforms.
Trolls have painted her as the figure of disunity. But if you peel back the layers of misinformation, VP Leni has the unique capability to work with people of other political colors, despite their attacks against her. When she was appointed as the lead of the ICAD (Inter-agency Committee on Illegal Drugs), she took on the job willingly. She did not allow attacks and a lack of cooperation from some local government units (LGUs) to get in the way of her ability to serve effectively and innovate through her anti-poverty programs at the Office of the Vice-President (OVP).
VP Leni can work with any vice-presidential candidate. Of course, her ability to work with her running mate, Senator Kiko Pangilinan, is a given. Senator Kiko is VP Leni’s ideal running mate. But VP Leni has also expressed her openness to working with other vice-presidential candidates.
When she was running for the vice-presidency, Robredo said that she and Mayor Sara Duterte are friends: Magkaibigan kami. They came to know each other from the time when Jesse Robredo was Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary and Sara Duterte was Davao City mayor. VP Leni also said: “I hope politics will not ruin our friendship.” (See Inquirer’s “Leni and Sara Duterte: Friendship beyond politics,” Dec. 23, 2015.) Supporters of the Robredo-Sara tandem or RoSa say that these two women are a combination of tapang and malasakit (courage and caring).
Also running for vice-president in these elections, Dr. Willie Ong also recently noted that he has more points of unity on issues with VP Leni than his own running mate, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno. On April 4, over 12,000 medical doctors nationwide expressed their support for VP Leni, praising her COVID-19 initiatives. And in the case of Senate President Tito Sotto (also running for VP), he was one of the senators who supported increasing the budget of the OVP’s Angat Buhay Program.
When VP Leni talks of unity, it isn’t just a motherhood statement conveniently positioned to avoid accountability. Dr. Jayeel Cornelio wrote in a Rappler article “Solidarity, not unity” (April 22, 2022), the buzzword “unity” for another candidate is simply an excuse to avoid the critical questions. By pretending to “stay above the fray,” Marcos Jr. laughs off allegations and criticisms and is shielded from the responsibility of explaining issues of public concern, such as his non-participation in presidential debates and his 1997 tax evasion conviction.
“Manahimik na lang tayo, huwag na tayo kumontra, unity and positivity na lang (Let us just be quiet, let us not respond, just unity and positivity)” is the mindset that will probably prevail in a “unified” administration under Marcos Jr. But, as actor John Arcilla said in the Leni-Kiko Grand Rally in Pasay on Saturday, “Ang pagpupuna sa gobyerno ay hindi pagrerebelde o hindi pagrereklamo. Ang pagpuna sa gobyerno ay pagmamahal (Criticizing the government is not rebelling or complaining. Criticizing the government is an act of love).” VP Leni, in her proclamation speech on Oct. 7, 2021, said: “Ang pag-ibig, nasusukat hindi lang sa pagtitiis, kundi sa kahandaang lumaban (Love is measured not only by endurance, but by willingness to fight).” VP Leni’s idea of unity isn’t one that silences people and forces them to accept the status quo. It challenges people to set aside their differences to fight for a more just and more humane country.
VP Leni’s unity comes from a place of selflessness, a desire to serve the marginalized, and an absence of self-importance. VP Leni does not carry the burden of an obtrusive ego, a need to vindicate herself, or a yearning for personal glory. Her willingness to help forge a united opposition ticket rather than running for the presidency herself in 2021 proves this.
There is nothing impressive or surprising about the people Marcos is uniting under his “Uniteam.” It’s the same old, same old — the power brokers like Estrada and Arroyo, two former presidents we revolted against — converging for a transaction.
What is more impressive is the ability of VP Leni to consolidate the support of people from all walks of life and all backgrounds: most recently, labor leaders, Muslims, Christians, and Catholics. Just last weekend, VP Leni earned the momentous endorsement of 1,000 Catholic bishops and priests, Kilusang Mayo Uno, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its United Bangsamoro Justice Party. The MILF has made a historic decision, for previously, since its founding, it never endorsed a presidential candidate.
It is in everyone’s best interest to vote for a candidate who stands for true unity, has zero allegations of corruption, and will bring in foreign investments, build strong institutions, inspire and collaborate with an engaged and energetic civil society, and put in place an honest, participatory, and democratic government.
The global financial services group Nomura Global Research named Robredo as the most “market-friendly” presidential candidate for her pandemic recovery program and good governance platform. They caution that a Marcos presidency would bring about a decline in foreign investments because of his tax evasion cases and lack of credibility.
In the wake of the recession, should we elect a president who lacks the credibility to manage our fiscal deficit? During the COVID-19 pandemic, should we elect a president who vehemently opposed taxes earmarked for health?
In her Oct. 2021 proclamation speech, the Vice-President affirmed that there is a way out of the current crisis we are facing, and the way out is rallying together towards a common goal. The way out is Leni Robredo, the symbol of true unity.
Pia Rodrigo is the strategic communication officer of Action for Economic Reforms