Strangers, then estranged: Key ‘Dubredo’ moments in 2016

Patty Pasion
Strangers, then estranged: Key ‘Dubredo’ moments in 2016
Here's a look back on how the relationship of President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo went full circle just months into the new administration

MANILA, Philippines – To describe 2016 as an eventful year for Philippine politics would be an understatement. It was an exciting and exhausting year for Filipinos who witnessed a tense election season and a transitioning administration.

Political highlights for this year would not be complete without the dynamics between President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo, who ran in different tandems in the May elections.

The two leaders – polar opposites – were strangers to each other even after they had won their respective races.

They eventually warmed up to each other after their first friendly meeting – in full public view in Camp Aguinaldo at the start of the new administration – showed them smiling as they chatted with each other. Later, Duterte offered Robredo a Cabinet position, which she accepted.

Their relationship, however, cooled off towards the end of the year. The President’s reference to Robredo – initially jokes about her “beauty” and her “short skirt” in his public speeches – later mutated into allegations that the Vice President’s political party was hatching an ouster plot against him.

From a “welcome to the Cabinet” phone call to Robredo in July, to a text message sent through another Palace official ordering her to stay out of Cabinet meetings, Rappler looks back at the key moments of the relationship of the country’s top leaders in 2016.

‘Beautiful Leni’

During the campaign, Liberal Party standard-bearer Manuel “Mar” Roxas II was Duterte’s favorite whipping boy – he insisted on Roxas’ “fake” Wharton degree even after the school itself verified it. Duterte, however, only had good things to say about Roxas’ running mate.  

Less than a month before the elections, Duterte was asked what government position he would give Robredo, if he won. He said he would make her “assistant president,” similar to the deputy mayor’s office he created in Davao City when he was mayor.

Asked why, he said, “Maganda siya. Maganda talaga siya (She’s beautiful. She’s really beautiful).”


Separate inaugurations

For the first time in history, Filipinos witnessed two separate inauguration rites of their president and vice president.

Robredo, who was not invited to join Duterte’s inauguration in Malacañang, was sworn into office at 10 am of June 30. Two barangay captains administered her oath.


At noon, Duterte took his oath before Justice Bienvenido Reyes as the 16th President of the Philippines.


First meeting

Departing from his campaign statement that he would consider a position for Robredo, Duterte repeatedly said in media interviews that he could not accomodate her in his Cabinet. He cited political realities (they belonged to different political parties) and his relationship with Robredo’s rival, former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, who would get hurt.

Robredo had been trying to pay a courtesy call on Duterte since both of them were proclaimed winners but to no avail. Finally, on July 1, they met for the first time as guests at the change of command ceremony at the Armed Forces of the Philippines, where they were a seat apart.

The two shook hands and seemed to warm up to each other. Duterte offered Robredo his coconut water. The President even joked to Robredo during his speech: “I would have preferred to be seated beside you but nandiyan si Defense (Defense Secretary Deilfin Lorenzana is there).”


What Robredo described as a “cordial” first meeting then led to her first formal visit to the President in Malacañang where she assured him of her support, even without a Cabinet position.


‘Hello, Leni’

Days after the first formal meeting in Malacañang, Duterte offered Robredo to head the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC).

The offer was made through a call in the middle of a PTV interview that was recorded for broadcasting later. The reporter asked the President whether he would give Robredo a Cabinet position. Duterte responded through a phone call to the Vice President.


Good afternoon. Nandito ako sa opisina ngayon. Tinatanong ako ni Rocky Ignacio sa Malacañang Press kung bibigyan ko raw kayo ng puwesto sa Gabinete. ‘Yan ang tanong niya. Puwede kong sagutin?” Duterte asked Robredo over the phone.

(I’m here in the office now. Rocky Ignacio of Malacañang Press is asking me if I would give you a position in my Cabinet. That’s her question. Can I answer it?)

Puwede ka [sa] housing, Ma’am? Can you be the housing secretary?” he said. Robredo accepted the position, noting that public housing is an advocacy she shared with her late husband, former interior secretary Jesse Robredo.

Presidential jokes

Duterte is a known ladies’ man. He had admitted on the campaign trail that he had many girlfriends. Although he is not romantically linked to Robredo, she, too, had been the subject of his “admiration.”

During a visit to a military camp, he joked that soldiers won’t follow a beautiful president like Robredo should she choose to run in 2022.

“You won’t listen to a female president, you will just stare at her because she’s beautiful. I keep looking at [Vice President Robredo] in the Cabinet meeting,” Duterte said.

He also described Robredo as “lady-like and kind” and that he had no problem with her.

But sometimes Duterte’s remarks involving Robredo, which he said was his way of warming up the audience, bordered on the inappropriate.

In a speech at the 3rd anniversary commemoration of Super Typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban City, Duterte teased Robredo for wearing a “dress shorter than usual in one Cabinet meeting.”

He also admitted that he checked out her knees at the time and intended to tell her, “Ma’am, mag-shorts ka na lang kaya (Ma’am why don’t you wear shorts instead)?”

Robredo laughed it off but later issued a statement on Duterte’s “tasteless remark.”

“When President Duterte made inappropriate remarks, I deliberately chose to ignore these. There are larger and more urgent issues we confront as a nation that demand our collective attention,” she said.

“But many were bothered and offended by it. As we all rightly should. Tasteless remarks and inappropriate advances against women should have no place in our society. We should expect that most of all from our leaders,” Robredo added.

‘Break-up’ text

Public housing chief for just 5 months, Robredo resigned from the Duterte Cabinet after receiving a text message from Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. He told her that she had been disinvited to that Monday’s Cabinet meeting. And all others after that.

The infamous text message that went viral on December 4 relayed instructions from Duterte, through Special Assistant to the President Bong Go, ordering Robredo to “desist from attending all Cabinet meetings.”

Robredo officially filed her letter of resignation on December 5. She said the President’s order makes it “untenable” for her to continue serving as housing chief.


Palace officials cited that Robredo’s “irreconcilable differences” with Duterte that prompted the directive. (READ: LIST: Where Duterte and Robredo part ways

The Vice President believes it was her strong opposition to Duterte’s decision to allow the hero’s burial for dictator Ferdinand Marcos that caused the rift. But Evasco denied this.

The incident revived speculations of an alleged plot to unseat Robredo and install Marcos Jr. But Duterte himself assured Robredo that she would serve term until her term ends in 2022. (READ: Marcos camp: Robredo stole vice presidency


Robredo has expressed her readiness to take on a new role – to lead the opposition, if this meant fighting for the things she believed in. She stressed that the success of the government also lies in taking notice of dissenting voices.


Though expected to become more vocal on administration policies that she is opposed to, Robredo had also said that she would continue to reach out to Duterte. Can a healthy, critical collaboration ever exist between the two leaders? –

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Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.