MANILA, Philippines – On the eve of the celebration of the 31st anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution, Vice President Leni Robredo challenged President Rodrigo Duterte to use his leadership to "wage the war that truly matters" and "stop the lies" that distort the truth.
It was the strongest speech yet that the Vice President has delivered on the country's state of affairs, two months after she was eased out of the Duterte Cabinet.
During a forum at the University of the Philippines on Friday, February 24, the Vice President said, "Mr President, we call you to task." (READ: The essence of EDSA: Change is within us)
She added: "In behalf of the Filipino people, whose daily struggles are escalating, we ask you to focus on the war that really matters: the war on poverty. Our people are hungry, jobless and poor. Please use your leadership to point the nation towards respect for rule of law, instead of disregard for it; to uphold the basic human rights enshrined in the institution, instead of encouraging its abuse." (READ: Robredo hits 'growing culture of apathy, impunity, lies')
The Vice President urged Duterte to exercise his leadership by ensuring respect for the rule of law and human rights. "Be the leader you promised to be, and stop the lies that are distorting the truth in our society today," Robredo said.
She took the occasion to criticize the arrest of Senator Leila de Lima, which happened on the same day.
"On Friday the nation woke up to a worrying scene; a senator and a staunchcritic of the president was escorted into police custody. The message was loud and clear: anyone who dares speak dissent is not safe."
Robredo said Filipinos should speak up and not be afraid to defy the "brazen incursions" into their lives.
"Not all is lost in the Philippines. The People Power Revolution asks us to remember that there is cause for hope," she said. "Never forget that liberty rightfully belongs to our nation and its people. Never forget that together, we can make a stand for every Filipino who suffers injustice, for those who have been betrayed and neglected, and for those who continue to aspire for progress in our country. Never forget."
The other guests at the UP forum, which was organized to commemorate the revolt that ousted the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, were Liberal Party president Senator Francis Pangilinan, former National Security Adviser Jose Almonte, former Commission on Elections chairperson Christian Monsod and journalist Raissa Robles.
Robredo acknowledged Filipinos' frustrations with what happened after EDSA. "We hear the grumbling of some Filipinos. Democracy has failed because it hasn’t solved poverty. Is that really true? Or is it us who have failed democracy?"
She asked Filipinos not to take for granted the freedoms that were won 31 years ago.
"Perhaps it is time for us to look at what we have contributed to democracy instead of the other way around. Perhaps it is us who need to remember the lives lost and the sacrifices made so that our society today will be free and enjoy the liberties we take for granted," said the Vice President.
She noted that after the revolution, people slowly started to look for saviors again.
"The real success of EDSA was that it proved the power of the people: that when our citizens come together in courage and in hope, we can be the change that we aspire for our country. Therein lies the problem. After we reclaimed our democracy in 1986, our contributions ended. We started looking for saviors to save us again. We forgot that the Constitution and our democracy’s real foot soldiers are the people themselves," Robredo said.
"Do we keep our faith in our individual goodness, or should we opt to follow larger-than-life, self-proclaimed saviors, who promise to remove our suffering in six months? No, we don't need false prophets of change who claim that they are the people's last hope," she asked.
The Duterte administration's celebration of EDSA is muted, with the President choosing to skip the main event at Camp Aguinaldo on Saturday, February 25.
It was Duterte who allowed the burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Heroes' Cemetery.
Robredo defeated the heir of Marcos, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr, in the last vice presidential race.
A Duterte ally, Marcos is contesting Robredo's victory through an election protest filed before the Supreme Court, which also sits as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal. – Rappler.com