Philippine V-P quitting Cabinet post over 'plot'

Ms Robredo says a text message from Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco telling her to "desist from attending all Cabinet meetings starting Monday" was "the last straw".
Ms Robredo says a text message from Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco telling her to "desist from attending all Cabinet meetings starting Monday" was "the last straw".

MANILA • Philippine Vice-President Leni Robredo is quitting her Cabinet post as housing secretary over what she says is a "plot to steal the vice-presidency".

"I had been warned of a plot to steal the vice-presidency. I have chosen to ignore this and focus on the job at hand. But the events of recent days indicate that this plot is now being set into motion," she said in a statement yesterday.

Ms Robredo said a text message from Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco telling her to "desist from attending all Cabinet meetings starting Monday" was "the last straw".

She said she would hand in her resignation today.

In a radio interview, Mr Evasco said President Rodrigo Duterte had told him that his "differences" with Ms Robredo had become "irreconcilable".

AT THE LIMIT

The line has been drawn.

MR JOHN NERI, a political columnist with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, on the ties between Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice-President Leni Robredo.

"The line has been drawn," observed Philippine Daily Inquirer political columnist John Neri.

Ms Robredo belongs to the opposition Liberal Party of former president Benigno Aquino.

Mr Duterte had baulked at appointing Ms Robredo to his Cabinet, saying he did not want to offend former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Mr Marcos ran against Ms Robredo for vice-president, but lost by 263,473 votes, a slim margin considering that about 40 million votes were cast in last May's elections. Mr Marcos has claimed fraud and is asking the Supreme Court to order a recount.

Still, Mr Duterte relented and appointed Ms Robredo as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) in July, in an effort to reach out to Mr Aquino's supporters.

But Mr Duterte has publicly talked about his political debt to the Marcoses. He thanked them for delivering a vote-rich province in the northern Philippines. He has also said he would rather see Mr Marcos take his place if he is unable to finish his term for health reasons.

To repay his debt, Mr Duterte allowed the Marcoses to bury the remains of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos - who died three decades ago - at the national heroes' cemetery last month.

Mr Duterte insisted that the elder Mr Marcos, as a former soldier and president, deserved a plot at the cemetery. The Supreme Court backed him.

That set off a spate of rallies in recent weeks staged by anti-Marcos activists, who see the burial as an attempt to revise history and whitewash human rights atrocities as well as plunder committed under the Marcos regime.

Ms Robredo had opposed the burial.

She has had other differences with Mr Duterte. She criticised the extrajudicial killings that have blighted Mr Duterte's violent and controversial anti-crime drive and opposed the reinstatement of the death penalty.

The 52-year-old widow has also called out Mr Duterte for his misogyny.

Mr Duterte, 71, joked about ogling at Ms Robredo's legs during official meetings. Ms Robredo said it was inappropriate as it objectified women.

In her statement yesterday, Ms Robredo also lamented "obstacles" thrown her way as HUDCC chair.

She complained, for instance, that the budget for all housing agencies has been slashed by more than 19 billion pesos (S$543 million).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2016, with the headline 'Philippine V-P quitting Cabinet post over 'plot''. Print Edition | Subscribe