By: Bob Boyer
This intelligent and productive advice comes from Vice President Leni Robredo, the leader of the opposition party in the Philippines. President Duterte had been slow to respond to the coronavirus pandemic when it invaded the country in March of 2020. Meanwhile Vice President Leni Robredo and her staff developed and began to implement a strategy to meet the emergency. Maria Cepeda of “Rappler” news asked her if she were “competing” with President Duterte, as someone in the government had claimed.
Vice President Robredo memorably replied: “This is a time for us to be united. Set aside politics for now. This is not a time for us to keep score. This is not a time for us to think this is a competition. This is a time when not just government offi cials, but the government and the private sector, should all work together because the need is insurmountable.”
Maria Cepeda’s article paints a vivid image of “the working VP,” illustrated with lots of telling detail. To begin with, Robredo focused her energy and her offi ce’s resouorces on the most critical areas. When the “Lockdown” in Manila was making it difficult for “firstliners” (“first responders” in U.S.), to get to work at clinics and hospitals throughout the area, the Office of the Vice President provided a regular, free shuttle service to get them there. She drew on the limited funds of the OVP and then asked for donations from the private sector, from NGOs, foundations, and wealthy individuals.
She then used the same public-private funding strategy for getting more COVID-19 test kits when hospitals informed her they were short or had none. She raised 5.3 million PhPesos “for test kits for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.” She asked industries to find ways to adapt what they did to making a type of respirator. They complied. And she kept track of all these activities as a good steward. When the Manila area and other parts of the country began loosening restrictions and the Department of Transportation allowed public transportation to resume, Robredo announced that the free shuttles would end so she could divert those funds elsewhere.
It was in the midst of this beehive of activity for the OVP that a government offi cial accused VP Robredo of “competing” with President Duterte’s efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. According to some sources the offi cial criticized the VP for going to the private sector for aid. But President Duterte defended Robredo, saying that she had done exactly the right thing, and commending the VP’s overall relief work and had the offi cial fi red, giving rise to a doubly-rare headline: “OVP thanks Duterte for defending Leni” (“The Manila Times,” April 5).
Even the avid Robredo-critic, Rigoberto D. Tiglao, gave VP Robredo grudging praise, quoting someone else who praised Duterte for showing “respect and appreciation” for the Vice President, “in a rare sign of national unity” (The Manila Times, “Five Things Duterte Got Right,” May 4, 2020.
Significantly Robredo manages to maintain this productive truce with Duterte and still speak out in opposition when she feels compelled to do so. “Philippine Inquirer Net” journalist Gabriel Pabico Lalu quotes Robredo as saying, “None of COVID-19 problems can be solved by Anti-Terror Bill.” Lalu, like Cepeda in “Rappler” on June 3,4, 2020, agrees that this is the right tactic. The VP is not picking a fight so much as urging the President to get the focus back on the pandemic.
I started this article by citing VP Robredo’s exemplary advice that the pandemic is “not a time to keep score,” not a time for making political points. It is a time to unite, not attack. The journalists cited here from different sources are clearly in favor, in one case even grudgingly, of her approach. The “frontliners” who rode those free shuttles to bring solace to sufferers at public and private hospitals couldn’t agree more. And the hospitals, in many cases, received the needed test kits, personal protective equipment, and respirators.
Not only is Vice President Robredo the “Worker Vice President” as Cepeda dubs her, but she is a uniter and nurturer. Politicians everywhere, please take note.
Bob Boyer welcomes your comments at Robert.email@example.com.