RODRIGO Duterte wasn't the only one who held an inaugural yesterday as the country's 16th president; Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo did too, as the country's 14th vice president. The affair was held without much fanfare at the executive house of the Quezon City Government in Quezon City. That house, which is modest considering her stature, will be where Robredo will hold fort in the next six years.
The vice presidency is often derided as a mere spare tire. The one holding the position becomes useful only when something untoward happens to the president. But that is also why the post is important. Without the vice president, succession would be contentious. That is, aside from the fact that the VP is considered the No. 2 person in the land—even if most of the times he or she is forgotten.
Robredo is VP in what could turn out as a particularly challenging time for the nation. Unlike former president Benigno Aquino III, who was traditional in his leadership style, Duterte is volatile, wants to test the limits of our laws and tends to be controversial. And he is in his waning years (he is the oldest to become president at 71 years old). That leadership mix provides uncertainty in his term, and is what Robredo will have to contend with in the next six years.
Robredo's first challenge is how to deal with Duterte. Their relationship actually started on the wrong foot. Leni was the running mate of Liberal Party (LP) standard bearer Mar Roxas, whom Duterte attacked viciously during the campaign for the May 9 elections. Duterte, meanwhile, is not hiding his closeness with Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who lost to Robredo with the slimmest of margins in the elections.
Robredo's relationship with Duterte would be vastly different from the relationship of her predecessor, Jejomar Binay, to former president Aquino. While Binay belonged to a political party different from that of Aquino, the latter was warm to the former and even appointed him to a Cabinet post. Duterte, meanwhile, has been trying to marginalize Robredo from the get-go. He not only refused to appoint her to a Cabinet position, he also didn't want to be inaugurated with her.
Chances are Robredo's stint as VP would be akin to a mere shadow: silent and unnoticed, not to say snubbed. And that would be Robredo's other challenge. How can she make the vice presidency worthwhile at a time when the opportunities given to her to do is much too limited? Can a mere shadow do something substantial?
One thing going for Leni is that, because of her past experience as a public servant, she is cut out for the direst of situations. She wasn't a politician all her life, rather, she spent more time with a non-government organization than with the House of Representatives where she was a member for only a few years. Which means that she knows how to work under the most challenging situations.
She mentioned this in her inaugural speech yesterday: “This is a dream come true for someone like me who held consultation meetings on train tracks, sleep on boats, and ride single-motor version of tricycles called habal-habal to reach those we need to serve.” And she seems to already have a way to overcome the limitations of the Office of the VP in terms of finances. She is already talking of a “partnership for change” between the government and the private sector.
The most difficult challenge for Robredo would be the intrigues that would be thrown her and Duterte's way. On this, she needs to have the support of a strong party, that is why she needs to take charge in the consolidation of the now decimated LP organization.
(firstname.lastname@example.org/ twitter: @khanwens)