Leni’s desperation

When I heard that Vice President Leni Robredo released a statement to the effect that she will pose no objection to the appointment of former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to the Cabinet of President Rodrigo Duterte, my first reaction was: Who asked you, anyway?

Of course, Duterte doesn’t need to clear his Cabinet choices with Robredo. But this is, after all, Marcos, whose name only needs to be mentioned anywhere for Robredo to go into a fit of self-righteous, Yellow-tinted indignation.

Robredo’s belief that opposing Marcos at every venue, and not just concerning his election protest against her, is more important than anything is what cost her a Cabinet post. If Robredo had not decided to be both the leader of the opposition and nemesis of the entire Marcos family, the dead included, she would probably still be serving as Duterte’s housing czarina and would probably never have been disinvited to Cabinet meetings in Malacañang.

After her resignation, Robredo continued on the same theme, second-guessing all of Duterte’s actions and warning of the supposed specter of a Marcos restoration, if Bongbong gains any foothold in the government. She was all vinegar and bitterness, despite the sweet smiles for the camera.

And all of Robredo’s political posturing has only made her lose even more adherents. In the latest public opinion survey, Robredo was the biggest loser, suffering a precipitous 11-percent drop in approval and trust ratings.

Clearly, the anti-Digong and anti-Bongbong positioning was not working. Perhaps it was time for a kinder, gentler Leni, someone who has to do more than grin as she recounts how even the relatives of suspected drug users are being killed by the government in its campaign against illegal drugs.

And so, the New Leni Robredo, who is now waiting for her turn to have dinner at the presidential palace with Duterte, now declares that she won’t object to a Marcos appointment. Even if Marcos seems a cinch to be given the same post that her late husband held at the Interior department, something that the Old Leni would have gone to the streets to protest immediately.

The recalibrating to Robredo’s strategy comes not a moment too soon. She is about to plumb the depths of unpopularity and relocate to the political limbo where many of her Liberal Party colleagues like Leila de Lima, Antonio Trillanes and Kiko Pangilinan seem to have made their home permanently.

Give Leni a little credit for realizing that the death of her political career need not be something preordained. Who knows, perhaps she will even return to the Duterte Cabinet, there to serve shoulder to shoulder with Marcos, if Digong makes her another offer.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Right?

* * *

Only the hometown Mindanao vote was more skewed in favor of Digong. And the Filipinos working in the Middle East were overjoyed when the man they wanted so badly to become president visited them over the Holy Week.

More than 70 percent of the million or so Filipinos working in the Middle East who cast their votes in the overseas balloting program in the last elections chose Rodrigo Duterte for president. And they welcomed him in style—Filipino style—when he went a-visiting last week.

Toots Ople, head of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, which works tirelessly for the welfare of overseas Filipino workers, swears she had never seen anything like it. Ople caught up with Duterte’s party as it was on the last leg of its three-nation tour in Qatar, where the emir had given Filipinos free use of its biggest stadium for the day, in order to have a proper place to meet their president.

Toots almost tearfully recounted how ordinary Filipinos waited for many hours for Duterte to arrive, skipping work (and losing pay for the day) and putting on their Sunday best. All they wanted was to catch a glimpse of the man they put in Malacañang, to listen to him talk to them.

(The previous president, the oligarch’s heir, never went to the Middle East during his entire term. Not that the hardworking Filipinos ever really noticed his absence because he was, after all, never really one of them.)

And Ople, who has had unprecedented access to nearly all presidents since Ferdinand Marcos, first because she was Blas Ople’s daughter and then later because of her blossoming into a workers’ advocate and political operator in her own right, witnessed it all. The Filipinos in Qatar hung on to every word Duterte said, including the inevitable cuss words, interrupting him incessantly with cheers and applause.

On the way home, the President did something none of his predecessors ever did: He brought with him 160 repatriated, distressed kababayan, who had been given amnesty for various offenses and because of legal entanglements that made their trip to the Middle East a living hell.

When Duterte arrived at the Manila airport, he distributed chocolates to the children of the workers he had brought back home with him. It was a gesture that endeared him even more to his countrymen, who appreciated the nod to the tradition of giving pasalubong upon arriving from abroad.

Somehow, I never got to see reports of how the Filipinos in the Middle East welcomed Duterte like he was really the father of the nation. And this is probably why the elitist media missed out completely on the story of his connection with his fellow Filipinos, not just here, but all over the world.

Topics: Vice President Leni Robredo
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