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Vice President Robredo steps up

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By TONYO CRUZ

 

Tonyo Cruz

Tonyo Cruz

Is it because she’s a woman or, more accurately, an independent-minded woman that the likes of Rodrigo Duterte, Salvador Panelo, Bato dela Rosa, Bong Go, Aaron Aquino, and others can’t stop themselves from “mansplaining” to Vice President Leni Robredo about how to confront the drug problem as she accepted her new appointment?

Most probably, yes.

There are women who have been loyal and subservient to the Duterte regime. And the regime has made it a point to extol these women for their complete and total submission to misogyny. Meanwhile, those who stand up to patriarchy, imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism are booted out of the cabinet, falsely charged in court, removed from the Supreme Court, tagged as enemies of the state, or Red-tagged.

Robredo herself was a victim of the regime, when she was unceremoniously removed from the cabinet for the simple reason that the President and his other men can’t stand her and what she stands for. Like Robredo, other independent-minded cabinet members like Gina Lopez, Judy Taguiwalo, and Liza Maza were also ultimately shown the door after their incorruptibility and activism proved most brilliant in a space and time dominated by the corrupt and evil.

The regime’s hatred for Robredo and other women like her has stayed on, despite the President’s and his minions’ own kind words as they tried to entice her with the appointment. Perhaps, they only wanted to portray Robredo as power-hungry or idiotic, which is what Duterte diehard supporters have been saying especially nowadays.

Is the new appointment aimed to discredit her in the eyes of the public because the regime has so far failed to depose Robredo from the vice presidency in favor of the Marcos scion?

Regardless of the dire objectives of Duterte in appointing her, Robredo’s own words betray her clear and unmistakable motivation. She did not mince words about it. She did not have to curse or to employ the language of hate. She also destroyed the narrative that those who step up are nothing but “enablers” of tyranny. She confounded the naysayers from both the regime and the opposition who alternated between “you can’t do it” and “it’s a trap.”

Robredo accepted the appointment on her own terms, with a clear hope to steer the regime away from the the policy of extrajudicial killings. Families of victims of murdered human rights advocates, medical and health professionals, civil libertarians, and officers of the court, and others have been given hope. Defenders of barbarians, meanwhile, recoil at the sight of someone who stands up to their barbarism.

Those who have succumbed to cynicism and who would rather have all of us descend to a mere war of attrition and insult until the next elections have no match for Robredo’s embrace of the “politics of hope.” By accepting the appointment, she tells them and all of us, “something can still be done, something must be done” to stop the killings and the corruption that goes along with it.

Robredo’s gamble rests on public support for her and on the confidence of the advocates of the cause she has chosen to champion as co-chair of the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-illegal Drugs. Many have spoken clearly of their support, and it is now up to the vice president to preserve and expand that alliance which would in turn embolden her as she faces down the loyalists of the regime from within ICAD.

For the second time, Robredo accepted the President’s call to serve. Robredo has called Duterte’s bluff, knowing fully about the awful things that could befall her or whatever evil plots have been hatched against her. And as Duterte himself knows, because he used it to the max in his road to Malacanang, we Filipinos reserve a special place in our hearts for the underdogs and for those who fight the seemingly impossible but important fights.

Robredo actually doesn’t need another stint in the Duterte regime. But Duterte needs Robredo to make her look like a fool and him the leader who could put her in her “proper place.” In the misogynist, patriarchal, and macho world view, Robredo is nothing more than a plaything. Someone to be played.

Strong, independent-minded women everywhere, as well as conscientious men, meanwhile, understand Robredo. Many were actually surprised by her decision. She displayed leadership amid diversity at a time when stakes are high because lives could be either saved or lost.

We do not know how things will play out in the twilight years of the Duterte regime. But what we now know is that the war on drugs has become a problem in itself, with tens of thousands killed, and becoming another source of corruption. It is a most brutal and most corrupt war that seems without end, if we believe the regime’s crumbling narrative.

The most sound and most compelling pieces of advice for Robredo have come from the margins and also from the voices sought to be marginalized and silenced since 2016: stop the killings, give justice to the murdered, focus on the drug lords and the syndicates, prosecute the abusers and the corrupt, lift the veil of secrecy, challenge disinformation and information manipulation, put science and medicine on top, halt the replication of the same war against dissenters and activists, and uphold international norms.

Robredo faces a position that could have both promise and peril. Traps may have been really laid, but she knows that. Perhaps with our own independent thinking, activism, and boldness, the rest of us would not just wait and see. Let’s press on with the legitimate causes we hold dear, until the real enemies fall into the traps they themselves laid.

 

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