If Rodrigo Roa Duterte fancies himself to be a modern-day Achilles, his heel must definitely be his misogyny. He cannot take criticism, most especially from women, probably because his youth was controlled by a dominant mother. When Vice President Leni Robredo made her observations on the drug war known to the public – as she should, being the second highest official of the land – quite predictably, Duterte could not restrain himself from a misogynist kneejerk response. He threw a challenge in Robredo’s way, for her to take the reins as anti-drug czar and try to solve the drug problem in 6 months.
A thousand things wrong
There were a thousand things wrong with Duterte’s challenge. In the first place, nobody made any promise about doing the job in 6 months. Only he did. Secondly, it took him more than 3 years before throwing up his hands in abject surrender to the fact that he could not do it at all, whether in 6 months or 3 years. To therefore challenge anybody who never made a 6-month promise to solve the drug problem, or any national problem for that matter, is a testament to Duterte’s brand of leadership. It is the kind that does not accept responsibility and accountability for anything, least of all fulfilling promises and having a word of honor.
Taken by the public as another one of his tantrums, Duterte’s offer appeared as a joke. Robredo humored the President and Sal Panelo by asking them to put the offer in writing. This was to be the start of the macho gambit that cost Duterte his bravado, and gave Robredo the face of a serious political challenger to the Duterte legacy (whatever that might be). Duterte appointed Robredo as ICAD co-chair using rare Malacañang stationery.
Again, there were a thousand things wrong with this appointment if Duterte’s dare to Robredo was to be taken seriously. There was no such position to speak of. The ICAD did not provide for the position of a co-chair to the PDEA Director. Second, it was not clear what power and authority were vested by law on an ICAD co-chair, especially one who joins the inter-agency committee without any government portfolio, or agency to represent. Third, the appointment did not comply with Duterte’s own conditions when he threw the challenge at Robredo. There were no full powers assigned to Robredo to take charge of solving the drug problem in her own way. It also did not give her the power to appoint key law enforcement officials to implement the direction she wanted for the anti-drug campaign to take. For all intents and purposes, it was a lame duck position, and from day one it was apparent that this was how Duterte intended it to be.
The joke turned against the jokers
Then came the clincher. To everyone’s surprise, including Robredo’s own allies in the opposition, and despite its equivocal character, Robredo accepted the appointment. Malacañang was obviously stunned, especially Duterte’s closest allies, including Senators Bong Go and Bato dela Rosa. All of a sudden they could not offer Duterte a clever comeback, except undermine Robredo from day one by saying she could not possibly kill drug lords (Go) or have the experience to handle the physical violence the job entails (Dela Rosa), as if Go had already killed a drug lord and Dela Rosa accomplished anything through violence.
From thereon, the ersatz nature of Duterte’s appointment of Robredo as “anti-drug czar” unraveled as a gamble that Duterte could not simply win. On day one after accepting Duterte’s challenge, Robredo came out slugging like a boxer prepared for a 12-round bout. Malacañang was simply not prepared for this challenger. In the first place, Duterte’s dare was mainly a boast that was never intended to be taken seriously.
Thereafter, for every day that she met with foreign officials, drug rehabilitation advocates, law enforcement officials, and community leaders, Robredo looked every bit “presidential,” taking charge of things where the Duterte administration has only fumbled. She had to be attacked. When that did not work, she had to be intentionally frustrated by putting up roadblocks to her every move.
This is what pushed things to absurdity. In what could only be described as a ridiculous move to contain Robredo to the fake mandate Duterte conferred on her, PDEA Director Aaron Aquino refused to give her the list of drug lords in the ICAD’s order of battle. Aquino said the supposed anti-drug czar did not need to see the list to fight the drug lords. Social media exploded with sarcastic comments on Aquino’s logic that was uncannily Dutertarian, ie, self-contradictory and outlandish in its dismissive absurdity.
Malacañang realized it could not go on every day blocking and frustrating Robredo without also looking like clowns. To top it off, Robredo could not simply be frustrated. She went on attempting to fulfill a mandate that was simply a joke that turned sour for the administration. And in taking this joke seriously, Robredo had Duterte’s sycophants realize that the joke was already on them. It was the joke that kept them crying. By now, it was already apparent that Duterte and his minions were in panic. Something had to be done fast.
Made to look like the idiots that they are
After barely 3 weeks as ICAD co-chair, Duterte fired Robredo. Malacañang wove a tapestry of incoherent reasons to explain the President’s action, but by now it was already clear to the whole nation (except of course to the regular die-hard zombie DDS fanatics) that the real reason was the fact that the whole Duterte administration was starting to be seriously threatened by Robredo’s rise to presidentiable stature in such a short period of time. Suddenly, Robredo’s single platform as ICAD co-chair, a position that did not even have real powers, was worth thousands of Go’s recycled Malasakit Centers in launching a presidential candidate. And to think also that Sara was still sulking in Davao, devoid of any national relevance, relegated to criticizing the choice of “Manila” as the opening song to the SEA Games ceremony, and reminding us of her relation to the ghostly figure that desperately tried to look alive dancing to the same song.
Go, Dela Rosa, and Panelo were already banging their heads against the wall for going along with such a stupid idea as challenging a woman a hundred times more capable than all of them put together. The Davao clique may get away with idiotic governance in the political culture of Mindanao. But they could not have possibly thought that they could assume national office without exposing their ignorance and poverty of mind.
In the end, Robredo not only made Duterte, et al look like idiots – in such a short period of time and for such negligible exertion of potential, Robredo was able to remind Filipinos of what a true leader looked like and what real leadership meant. Her actions were in contrast to the smoke-and-mirrors pageantry that is the Duterte government, and gave a glimpse of the genuine statesmanship and leadership that a nation truly deserves. Robredo taught not only Duterte, et al, a lesson on Machiavelli, but all of us a refresher on Voltaire and Rousseau.
Senator Leila de Lima, a fierce Duterte critic, has been detained in a facility at the Philippine National Police headquarters for more than two years over what she calls trumped-up drug charges.