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People who know me cannot believe why I hesitate to support and advocate for Vice President Leni Robredo. They cannot imagine why a young professional like me, a millennial with a college degree, will not vote for the assumed strongest and genuine opposition candidate.
Like many freedom-loving Filipinos, I dread the Marcos comeback and the possible cementing of Duterte, Arroyo, and Estrada into power. Hence, I also thought voting for Robredo would be the easiest and smartest way to beat Marcos and his cohorts once and for all.
She sports a sterling public service record. Remember her notes during the CNN Presidential Forum? They prove her penchant for data-driven plans, and they set her apart from the current administration’s style of governing from a toilet. All these, coupled with her apparent rising popularity, make her the best candidate to defeat the Marcos-Arroyo-Duterte-Estrada (MADE) team-up.
Yet, I realized that no matter how noble-sounding and data-filled her platforms are, they are just motherhood statements that do not directly address the ordinary Filipinos’ woes. Her slogan – Sa gobyernong tapat, angat-buhay lahat – makes her look genuinely progressive and all-inclusive, but a critical examination of it will reveal her refusal to take definitive pro-people stances.
Her five-point hanapbuhay para sa lahat lacks a concrete articulation of a minimum wage that will allow Filipino families to live decently. It also lacks actions that will stop corporations from finding ways to continue practicing labor contracting; Robredo does not address the proliferation of manpower agencies that corporations use to circumvent the anti-contractualization provisions of the Labor Code.
Her platforms also conveniently left out the Oil Deregulation Law and Rice Tariffication Law, when challenging these two laws is more relevant today than ever. She is yet to speak about making education truly free and accessible from the control of private profit-making institutions. She does not speak, too, about a mere possibility of a tax system that does not pass on the burden to income-dependent Filipinos.
To all these – raising salaries to a decent and humane rate, completely eradicating all manner of labor contracting, easing the tax burden of salary-dependent families, revisiting laws that favor corporations, making quality education truly accessible to all – Robredo’s response is dangerously safe: Just lay everything on the negotiation table. Pakikinggan, pag-aaralan lahat ng panig. Mahalagang marinig natin lahat.
Beyond the economic and social realm, she also dilly-dallies on explicitly articulating people’s concerns in her platform. In her politics, she still has to issue a strong condemnation of the Anti-Terror Law and its horrendous arm, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). Instead of denouncing the NTF-ELCAC, she took the middle ground – again – and even expressed her interest in rehabilitating the task force.
For the countless women and children who are victims of abuse, Robredo’s standard pakikinggan-lahat-ng-panig response is a painful slap. She could have taken the most humane action of legalizing divorce and decriminalizing abortion instead of choosing to open her ears to all and accommodating the sentiments of the male-dominated Roman Catholic Church.
For the LGBTQ+ community, Robredo’s middle-ground policy gave birth to a false dichotomy of religion-sanctioned marriage versus civil union. If the desire is to create an inclusive society, her play-safe stances brought us nowhere closer to this. Instead, they have resulted in further discriminating the so-called straight from same-sex couples. (After all, she admits that she borrowed her proposed same-sex civil union from Pope Francis.)
She handles the climate emergency in the same manner. She prefers to study the impacts of reclamation rather than outrightly banning it and all other ventures that profit at the expense of our environment.
What prevents her from taking concrete stances on people’s issues? If she is true to her promise of pakikinggan lahat ng panig, why not listen now? What is there to listen to, the opinion of investors and religious leaders?
To some extent, Robredo’s play-safe responses give her a democratic, inclusive facade. It gives her an image of a leader that accommodates all, from the richest to the poorest. When compared to the prospect of an authoritarian rule, such a leadership brand makes her look like a people’s champion. Her false democratic facade is so effective that angat-buhay lahat convinced thousands and inspired supporters to adopt her standard lines of pakikinggan lahat ng panig.
But her refusal to side with the people inevitably implies that poor and marginalized Filipinos will have to vote for her before she acts on their issues. Inevitably too, her middle ground policy strengthens the grip of those already established in our unfair society – super-rich families, big corporations, traditional politicians, far-right elements in the military, and intolerant religious leaders. She chose to open her slate to out-and-out traditional politicians, all the while giving a very narrow opening to progressive voices. Her slate stands on the premise of big-tent politics, where the marginalized are often left out.
Robredo’s campaign can only be faithful to its angat-buhay lahat slogan through a paradigm shift. But without breaking away from the myth of trickle-down economics and big-tent politics, and without courageously taking the people’s side, her campaign will remain as it is. It has all the democratic trappings we want but lacks the uplifting of lives most Filipinos need. – Rappler.com
An educator by profession, Arli Joshua Atienza now works in heritage advocacy and learns traditional poetry.