What have you done for the country?

These days, the query—what have you done for the country? (Ano bang nagawa mo para sa bayan?) – is a galling trick question intended to mock and discredit. The malicious interrogator does not want you to state how you perform your civic duties, on the contrary, he wants to embarrass you by implying that you do not pass muster. I have seen an array of politicians shield their misdeeds with that trick question, or hurl it at their rivals like a poisoned javelin. It is a favorite interrogation of the spokesperson of the Chief Executive, of a former presidential assistant, as well as of a gaggle of trolls. Anyone who wants to put you in a bad light tries to rattle you with that question.

VP Leni Robredo is often the convenient target of that spiteful query. She was not given a Cabinet position like all other vice presidents in our recent history, so her detractors make it appear that she has done nothing.  She was also disallowed from attending Cabinet meetings. In contrast, President Joseph Estrada appointed his vice-president, Gloria M. Arroyo, Secretary of Social Welfare and Development, a very strategic position for anyone with presidential ambitions. VP Gloria always attended Cabinet meetings, was seated at the right hand of the President, and participated in the debates and discussions without restraint.

As for VP Leni Robredo, in 2016, she was grudgingly appointed chairperson of the HUDCC (Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council), a frontline position with cabinet status, at least during Pres. Estrada’s time. Mrs. Karina David was Estrada’s HUDCC chairperson, the housing czarina, but after a bit more than a year, she confided that she was being pressured to resign because a paramour coveted the position.

On 6 December 2016, only five months after she was at the helm of HUDCC, VP Leni was unceremoniously dismissed via SMS from a Malacañan office. What did she do to merit presidential displeasure? Was it because she cut the red tape so 46,000 families could avail of low-cost housing and she had 17,000 homes constructed for victims of typhoon Yolanda? Was she becoming too successful for comfort? According to the grapevine, VP Leni was reported to have said that without political squabbling, the HUDCC could attend to many more families subsisting in the fringes of society.

However, in 2020 and to everyone’s disbelief, VP Leni was appointed Co-chairman of the Inter-Agency Committee Against Illegal Drugs (ICAD), a more perilous position than the HUDCC.  Her friends and allies begged her to turn it down because it looked like a trap, but hardwired for optimism, the Vice-President accepted, poured all her energy, legal expertise and managerial competence into the job. She began by conferring with various institutions involved in the drug problem. After 19 days, she was fired!  Apparently, the President resented her talking to institutions he claimed were critical of his anti-drug policies. That was a blessing in disguise because she could re-focus on the projects of the Vice President’s Office. Twice she had proven her willingness to cooperate with the present dispensation, twice she was fired just when she was getting good results.

Although VP Leni has been relegated to the fringes of the national phantasmagoria, she is tirelessly serving the country and its people.  Her genuine dedication has inspired a corps of volunteers and a battalion of private sector donors. Here are her five basic programs in broad strokes : (1) Ahon Laylayan Coalition, the flagship, has established a common agenda with the grassroots ; (2)  Angat Buhay is a public-private partnership to alleviate poverty in the poorest communities; (3) Istorya ng Pag-asa is local history in the making;  ordinary people tell their extraordinary stories of strength and resilience; (4) Biserbisyong Level Up forms community learning hubs, distributes gadgets for online classes, provides livelihood training programs for families in rural areas and urban poor communities  (5) Response to Covid-19 pandemic provides dormitories and transport for frontline health workers in Metro Manila and Cebu; hot meals for health workers; distribution of PPEs. At least 45,000 testing kits were sent to the Philippine General Hospital and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine. The Office of the Vice President, with its modest budget has disbursed at least Php505.3 million for the Covid response program. Although VP Leni has fastened herself to the task, there is always someone who wants to put her down.  With mysoginist bile, the head of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission instructed the National Bureau of Investigation to check out VP Leni’s activities because she “is competing with the government.” Surprisingly, the president fired the duod.

What more can a President Leni Robredo do for our country? Among many other things, she will give us honest, competent, strategic, servant and shared leadership.