President Rodrigo Duterte regularly spews profanities in public, but his latest tirades against Vice President Leni Robredo is in a class of its own. Although the President has castigated the vice president on previous occasions, the level of malice and vitriol he hurled against Robredo has reached a new high this time.
In a televised public address by the president in the aftermath of typhoon Ulysses, which caused widespread damage and intense flooding in many parts of the country, especially Cagayan and Marikina, Duterte opened his “message to the nation” by calling Robredo “dishonest” and “incapable of truth” for supposedly claiming he was missing in action during the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses. Indeed, the hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo trended on the day Ulysses brought intense flooding. But Robredo never made such a remark herself.
Duterte warned Robredo not to “compete” with him. Not satisfied with his untruthful accusations against Robredo, Duterte laced his tirade with threats, insults and misogynistic remarks, saying, “You, at night, what time do you go home? Do you go home to just one house, or two? I’m just asking. You’re with congressman. In which house do you stay longer?”
The President has gone far beyond all forms of civility in his attacks against Robredo. It clearly shows that he simply cannot tolerate anyone questioning his actions or whereabouts even when it is his duty to apprise the nation of his activities especially during calamities and national emergencies. For him, Robredo is a threat worse than the pandemic. But Robredo is the second-highest ranking official of the land, and it is just right for her to do her share in solving the problems of the nation, as she has done so marvelously and effectively in helping the country cope with the pandemic and the recent typhoons. And this she did even as the Duterte administration has deliberately done everything to consign her to irrelevance and emasculate her office from the very start of her term.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque is in an unenviable position of trying to justify any and all of the President’s embarrassing, uncivil, or tactless act or remarks and missteps. This time, in an attempt to explain away the President’s severe tongue-lashing of Robredo, Roque said that “it wasn’t right” for people to ask about the chief executive’s whereabouts amid Typhoon Ulysses‘ onslaught despite the government’s constitutional duty “to serve and protect the people.”
Roque is justifying the unjustifiable, defending the indefensible. He even attacked the daughters of Robredo, believing they are easy targets, being young women. Well, he should know that Aika, Tricia, and Jillian are strong and independent-minded and like their mother will not be cowed by misogyny. They also have the brilliance and fortitude of their father, the national hero Jesse Robredo. Roque should follow the example of Defense Secretary Lorenzana who apologized for relaying a lie that Robredo used a military helicopter to visit Catanduanes.
Besides, why can it not be right for people to ask for the President’s whereabouts when we all rely on his guidance and assistance in times of a natural calamity, or any other emergency for the matter? The chief executive has the power to mobilize the resources of the government in times like this, and no other public official has the same capability.
Leaders must always be guided by the basic principle that public office is a public trust. Ultimately, public officers are accountable to the people and all public authority emanates from them, the repository of sovereign power. There is something seriously wrong with our so-called democracy when the leaders are living under the illusion that they cannot go wrong; that they are above the law; and can exercise untrammeled powers far and beyond their constitutional duties and legal authority. Indeed, only autocrats cannot face up to any form of criticism or competition from anybody. Fiscalizing and the presence of a robust opposition who constructively criticize the government from time to time is an essential feature of our form of government.
I do think that anti-Duterte partisans might want to bring down the temperature of their critique a notch or two. The truth is that the bad situation we are in is a challenge for anyone who is President of this land. Former Presidents Noynoy Aquino and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo failed their big tests in 2013 and 2009 when Yolanda and Ondoy devastated our country.
As we are buffeted by multiple crises brought about by the pandemic and serious economic downturn not to mention the frequent natural calamities that visit our shores, there is every reason for us to unite, not to divide ourselves. And the people look up to the president and the Vice-President, as our moral compasses and pillars of strength, to sound the rallying cry so that all our people may survive this terrible time.
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