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Cabinet dissenters free to quit­—Palace

‘Toe the line or follow Leni’s hint’

CABINET Secretary Leoncio Evasco scored Vice President Leni Robredo for publicly opposing President Rodrigo Duterte’s policies when she was still a member of his Cabinet.

“It is vital for the Cabinet to be united,” Evasco said. “It is important that while one is a member of the Cabinet, one should express one’s views discreetly and not be adversarial publicly.”

“According to the President, it is our duty to defend the dignity and integrity of the Filipino people. If Cabinet members cannot agree with the President’s policy, they are free to resign,” he added. 

Robredo opposed several of Duterte’s policies, including his bloody war on drugs, the lowering of the age of criminal liability, the revival of the death penalty, his disrespectful treatment of women, foreign policy, and the burial of the late President Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

RESIGNATION ACCEPTED. President Rodrigo Duterte meets with his Cabinet Monday, only hours after accepting the resignation of Vice President Leni Robredo as chairperson of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, with the President quoted by Communications Secretary Martin Andanar as saying “It is with a heavy heart that I accept the resignation...”

Evasco said joining the Cabinet entailed an implicit agreement with the President’s program, platform and policies.

“Cabinet members are personally appointed by the President; and it is also his prerogative to withdraw the same for reasons known only to him,” he said.

In an interview on ANC, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said Robredo should have talked with the President.

“The President has never showed any feelings of animosity for her,” Yasay, who was in Moscow, said.

But Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said the President’s growing distrust for Robredo prompted him to send a message to the Vice President that she no longer should attend Cabinet meetings.

“Reading between the lines, it is saying that the President no longer has the confidence and the trust to be in one room with the Vice President and that is the official meeting of the President and the Cabinet officials, the Cabinet meeting,” Andanar told CNN Philippines.

On Sunday, Robredo said it “has become untenable” for her to stay in President Rodrigo Duterte’s Cabinet, after he issued a directive for her to “desist from attending” all meetings starting yesterday.

In her resignation letter, Robredo said Duterte’s directive “has effectively made it impossible” for her to do her job as chairwoman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council.

“Remaining in your Cabinet has become untenable,” she wrote. “With due respect, I am tendering my resignation as HUDCC chairperson effective immediately.” 

Robredo also said that she exerted all effort to put aside their differences, maintain a professional working relationship, and work effectively despite the constraints, “because the Filipino deserve no less.”

Robredo on Sunday said that she received a text message on Saturday from Evasco relaying the President’s instruction through Christopher

Go for her “to desist from attending all Cabinet meetings starting Dec. 5.”

The Vice President, in her statement expressed her dismay over the “obstacles” being thrown in her way by the Duterte administration, which prevented her from functioning as a Cabinet secretary, after the budget for all key shelter agencies was dramatically reduced to just P19 billion for 2017. She also cited the failure of the Palace to act on the key shelter agency appointments; and the failure of the President to sign the executive order raising the HUDCC to department level.

Andanar said some Cabinet members were angry at Robredo’s remarks against the President.

“There have been murmurings around the Cabinet about the VP’s statements; [these] didn’t sit well with some Cabinet members,” Andanar said. 

In a separate statement, Andanar said that Robredo failed to do her job as a team player inside the Duterte Cabinet, leading to the “irreconcilable differences” between her and the President.

“As a Cabinet member, the Vice President is expected to be a team player where differences in policies and issues are discussed during Cabinet meetings. The President in turn respects any decision agreed upon by his Cabinet,” Andanar said. 

“Recent events, however, showed the differences between the President and the Vice President as becoming irreconcilable and public,” he added. 

Andanar also reminded Robredo that the President wholeheartedly welcomed her into the Cabinet, even though she is a member of the opposition Liberal Party. 

“A member of the Cabinet enjoys the full trust and confidence of the President for he or she acts as the President’s alter ego. Having said this, the President entrusted the Vice President, whom we all know came from a rival political party, a position in his official family in deference to the wishes of our people who want both leaders to work together and succeed,” he added. 

Andanar denied claims that the administration is conspiring with Robredo’s political rivals to unseat her as Vice President.

“That is a speculation from the camp of the Vice President. It’s really up to them to sort that out,” he said.

Andanar added that the Cabinet was not interested in removing Robredo as Vice President.

“It is not the job of the Cabinet officials or the administration to fire public officials. Our job is to institute reforms in the government,” he said.

In the same ANC interview, Andanar said leftist members of the Cabinet who opposed the burial of Marcos in the heroes’ cemetery would stay because “they have said they understand Duterte.”

Robredo’s ally in the Liberal Party, Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon said forcing Robredo from the Cabinet was part of a plot to weaken her politically.

“The  writing is on the wall,” he said. “The administration wants the political capital of VP Robredo diminished by stripping her of any opportunity to fulfill her mandate as Cabinet member and head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council.”

“The reason for this sinister agenda is clear: when they ultimately install defeated vice presidential aspirant [Ferdinand] Marcos [Jr.] as vice president, it will be at the least political cost on the administration,” Drilon added.

The administration’s actions―and inaction―were signs that it didn’t want Robredo to succeed, Drilon said.

“First, it cut her housing budget by P19 billion; second, it conveniently sat on her appointment recommendations to key shelter agencies; and third, it ignored an executive order that could make her agency more effective.”

Drilon also urged the public to be vigilant on the “next important battleground,” the appointment of justices of the Supreme Court.

The administration, he said, is poised to appoint a majority of the justices in the Supreme Court, as eight of the sitting magistrates are scheduled to retire in the next three years.

“More than ever and most especially in times like this, the country needs a more independent, resolute and uncompromising Supreme Court. Let us guard the process in order to make sure that only those who respect and believe in the rule of law will be appointed,” Drilon said.

“If we are not vigilant, the administration can have a full control of the judiciary as it has of the other branches of government.” 

Senator Francis Pangilinan, acting LP president, said he was saddened by the latest development.

“We believe the Vice President should have been treated with greater respect,”  he said. 

Another LP member, Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said Robredo could not serve in the Cabinet where she was treated poorly and even disrespected.

“How can she serve in a Cabinet that bars her from attending regular meetings?”

Senator Risa Hontiveros said the relationship between the President and Robredo was “abusive and toxic.”

From the start,  she said Robredo was not given enough support to fully exercise her task as the HUDCC chairperson. As if by design, she was intended to fail. 

“Worse, as a woman, she was disrespected and objectified on many occasions, by no less than the President himself. Her way of dressing was made the object of sexist remarks, she was subjected to inappropriate advances and was even reduced to well-rounded knees,” Hontiveros said.

His text message telling her not to attend Cabinet meetings was “intolerably disrespectful,” she added.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said Robedo’s resignation was expected “right from the beginning” because she belonged to a different political party.

“Cabinet officials are alter ego of the President.  It would be awkward if you are an alter ego of the president, and yet you contradict the President,” Alvarez said.

He added that the appointment of Robredo to the HUDCC was merely a presidential “accommodation.”

Parañaque Rep. Gus Tambunting said it was Robredo’s personal decision to resign from the Duterte Cabinet.

“That is her choice and we should respect it. It is her prerogative to resign,” Tambunting said.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman urged the LP to rethink its alliance with President Duterte’s PDP-Laban.

“Righteous indignation impelled Robredo’s quitting her Cabinet post since no self-respecting official must suffer any further the grave assaults on her person and position,” Lagman said.

Lagman said “the LP’s disengagement from the supermajority and assuming the role of political opposition will strengthen  the authentic minority as an indispensable institution in a democracy.”

“The break will also further energize efforts to contain and oppose administration policies violative of the Constitution and inimical to the people’s welfare,” Lagman added.

Alvarez said the PDP-Laban would have no problem if the LP decided to leave the supermajority.

The Marcos camp said Robredo’s exit from the Cabinet was long overdue.

“Leni Robredo has just shown her true colors,” said Marcos’ legal counsel Vic Rodriguez. “Her departure from President Duterte’s Cabinet is long overdue given her very obvious adversarial attitude and opposite stance from his policies.”

Rodriguez said whether Robredo was fired or she resigned is definitely not the business of former senator Marcos. “However we take strong exception to her statement on not letting the vice presidency to be stolen from her and the will of the people to be thwarted.”

“Such a pronouncement is the height of hypocrisy,” the lawyer said, saying that it was Robredo and the LP that stole the vice presidency from Marcos. With Joel E. Zurbano and Rio N. Araja

Topics: Secretary Leoncio Evasco , Vice President Leni Robredo , President Rodrigo Duterte , Cabinet , Secretary Martin Andanar , Resignation
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