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Robredo in DC hits officials who ‘subvert’ democracy that brought them to power

Vice President Leni Robredo tells Center for Strategic Studies (CSIS) Southeast Asia Program and the U.S.-Philippines Strategic Initiative she “won’t sit idly by and be a spare tire.” JON MELEGRITO

WASHINGTON, D.C. –Dismayed by President Rodrigo Duterte’s “combative” statements and “animosity” towards her, Vice President Leni Robredo says she is nonetheless determined to fully stay in her office in the next three years and, with “laser-like focus,” devote full attention to her signature poverty alleviation program, Angat Buhay.

Despite being one of “the most vilified” national government official, she says – almost defiantly – she will not be distracted from her life-long goal: uplifting the lives of the “last, the least and the lost.”

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She will not “stand idly by” and settle for simply being a “spare tire,” she said.

The Vice President was the featured speaker at a leadership forum hosted by the Center for Strategic Studies (CSIS) Southeast Asia Program and the U.S.-Philippines Strategic Initiative on Oct.17.

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CSIS Senior Adviser and Director Amy Seawright set up the Vice President’s public appearance by noting that “politics can sometimes get in the way of achieving [democracy’s] full potential” and that “heads of government tend to be the ones holding the megaphone.” It’s important, therefore, Seawright stressed, that “we hear from other voices.”

A packed house listens to Vice President Leni Robredo. JON MELEGRITO

Robredo opened her speech by stating that democracies like the Philippines are facing “fierce challenges” because of “massive shifts in the way societies are managed.” These have “given rise to a new breed of populist leaders seeking to re-introduce tyranny as a more alluring counterpoint to democracy.”

But there’s a larger threat more equally destructive, she pointed out: elected leaders, modern-day saviors and populists who “subvert the very same process that brought them to power,” who are “out of touch with the realities of common citizens,” and who “offer quick even impractical solutions.”

‘Culture of apathy, complacency’

However, “the enemy we face as a nation is not one person or office,” but “the culture of apathy and complacency that have robbed us of a stronger state,” she explained. A strong people’s democracy, she noted, could have done more to uplift the poor, done better in preventing the death of thousands affected by the war on drugs, generated more jobs and educated more children.

But to Robredo, despair is not an option. “We could and should,” she said, empower citizens to have their voices heard and needs addressed, make public institutions more responsive and promote good governance. “We must ensure that democracy leads to more people living better lives.”

To that end, she said her office is doing its part through a poverty alleviation program.

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CSIS Director Amy Seawright (right) moderated the open forum. JON MELEGRITO

“Now more than ever, we need leaders who will step down from their pedestal and walk with the last, the least and the lost.”

Despite the “political skirmishes,” Robredo said she is focused on investing her energies on the issue of poverty, which “has crippled the lives of many Filipinos.” Since its launching in October 2016, her program has partnered with more than 250 community organizations, transformed the lives of more than 155,000 families in 176 cities and municipalities. The initiative has also mobilized 30 youth organizations across the nation “to spark ideas for community-based projects and peace-building initiatives.”

While admitting that her office is the least funded by the government, she is grateful to the U.S. Embassy for its partnership in securing grants to support her projects.

‘It could be better’

During the Q/A portion of the forum, Robredo was asked about her relationship with President Duterte.  It’s “civil” most the time, she said, but “It could be better. I continue to look for avenues where we could be amicable” working together as it would be to the country’s interest. She acknowledged attempts to oust her from office (referring to Bong Bong Marcos’ protest of the vote count), but she remains confident of keeping her office in the next three years.

She also explained why the President continues to be popular. “Many people see themselves in him … someone who is rough…raw… He says what he thinks, and people are attracted to that…they wanted more authenticity.”

Some Filipino Americans in the audience expected Robredo to be more critical of Duterte’s personal style and policies, given the way he has treated her and other women leaders. “She was kind, deferential and respectful to her boss,” says community leader Maurese Oteyza Owens of Arlington, Virginia.

“Her presentation was quite a contrast to other speakers I have heard before, like those of Senator Trillanes, who is now under house arrest for his disparaging remarks, and Father Alejo of Ateneo who gently revealed to us the  horrors of extra judicial killing and who is now staying in safe places.”

Bettina Bonnevie Obias (3rd from left). Zeny Viloria (right) and Sarah Bengzon (bottom right) pose with VP Robredo at the end of the forum. JON MELEGRITO

Owens also takes issue with the way Robredo painted a “thriving picture” of the Philippine economy: “I did not hear her mention the fact that the cost of rice has gone up, gasoline is more expensive, and the country is in deep economy distress.”

While Sarah Bengzon of Herndon, Virginia agrees that economic gains have not trickled down to Filipinos who truly need the benefits, there’s compelling reason even more to support programs like Angat Buhay.

“This could truly move the needle for the poor and help address income inequality and wealth distribution,” Bengzon, who is President of the UP Alumni Association of Metro DC, said.

Others like Zeny Viloria of the Philippine American Foundation for Charities (PAFC) also finds her anti-poverty program accomplishments admirable. “She is sincere, honest, and passionate to her cause and only has the best interest of our kababayans,” she said.

Robredo’s “confident and modulated tone” struck Bettina Bonnevie Obias, a World Bank retiree, as “exemplary” and “dignified,” befitting a high government official who is “knowledgeable and well versed in the Constitution,” notably in the way she addressed foreign policy, national security issues and US-Philippine relations.

The lecture hall at CSIS was packed, attended by close to a hundred community leaders, diplomats, scholars and students. Robredo left for New York later that day to visit her daughter who is studying in the city.

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TAGS: Angat Buhay, Center for Strategic Studies (CSIS) Southeast Asia Program, livelihood progam, Philippine vice president, poverty alleviation, U.S.-Philippines Strategic Initiative, Vice President Leni Robredo, vice presidential US visit
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