By Giovanni Nilles and Janvic Mateo (The Philippine Star) | Updated July 8, 2016 - 12:00am
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II announced in an early evening press conference at Malacañang that President Duterte called Vice President Leni Robredo yesterday to offer her a Cabinet post to address “persistent questions” on whether Robredo would be part of the official family. AP/Aaron Favila, file
MANILA, Philippines - After two meetings, President Duterte has had a change of heart and offered Vice President Leni Robredo a Cabinet post, as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC).
He immediately got “yes” for an answer.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II announced in an early evening press conference at Malacañang that Duterte called the Vice President yesterday to offer her a Cabinet post to address “persistent questions” on whether Robredo would be part of the official family.
In a statement, Robredo welcomed the decision of Duterte to appoint her as HUDCC chairperson, saying this would enable her to serve Filipinos who do not have shelter and at the same time fulfill her promise to support those in the fringes of society.
While Duterte was on a live broadcast over government station PTV-4, he instructed his special assistant Christopher Go to call the Vice President.
“He asked the Vice President if she would accept a Cabinet post, that of HUDCC. We did not hear the answer of the Vice President, but from the face of President Duterte, we knew that the Vice President accepted the offer,” Aguirre said.
Duterte used the phone of Go during the call aired on PTV-4.
“Pwede ba housing, ma’am? Can you be the housing secretary? Tanggapin mo, ma’am?” the President was heard to have said.
“The executive secretary will hand you the appointment. Mahinto na ito (questions) ma’am, kai tanggapin mo kaya?”
Robredo, Aguirre added, was told to attend her first Cabinet meeting on Monday. The date of her oath-taking, however, was not announced.
The HUDCC and other housing-related agencies were also given to former vice presidents: Jejomar Binay during the time of former president Benigno Aquino III, and Noli de Castro under the Arroyo administration.
“Many of the Cabinet members are happy (about) the development. At last the Vice President is no longer an elected officer without a Cabinet post,” Aguirre said.
He attributed the change of heart to the two “amiable” meetings that Duterte and Robredo had – first at the change of command ceremony at the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City on July 1 and then at the Palace where the Vice President paid a courtesy call on Duterte on Monday.
Reminded that Duterte was previously opposed to Robredo’s appointment to the Cabinet because of his closeness to former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who was Robredo’s closest opponent in the vice presidential race, Aguirre said “it was a reason given by the President at that time.”
“With the passage of time, there must have been a reconsideration of that decision,” Aguirre added.
Reacting to her appointment, Robredo noted that addressing the problems concerning lack of housing had been an advocacy of her late husband, former interior secretary Jesse Robredo.
“Maisasakatuparan ito at mabibiyayaan ang mga nasa laylayan sa pakikipagtulungan ng lahat (We will be able to fulfill this and help those who are in the fringes with the help of everyone),” she added.
HUDCC was among the agencies covered by Duterte’s first executive order, which reorganized several offices to streamline poverty reduction programs of the government.
The agencies covered by the EO will be under the supervision of Secretary to the Cabinet Leoncio Evasco Jr.
Following their first meeting, Robredo said she was no longer expecting an offer of a Cabinet post from the President.
“I am ready that I won’t have a post. In fact, we already have a lot of discussions with the private sector,” she said in Naga City on Saturday.
She said it would be a bonus if given a Cabinet post, “but if there won’t be, we are also ready.”
On Tuesday, Robredo said she informed the President during her courtesy call that he would get her full support with or without a Cabinet post.
Against death penalty but for federalism
Earlier in the day in Marawi City, Robredo said she was against the revival of the death penalty being pushed by Duterte but stressed that any disagreement with the policies of the current administration would not affect her support for the President.
“Ever since, I have been an advocate against death penalty,” she stressed.
But Robredo said she was open to the proposal to change the system of government to federalism, noting that her late husband was an advocate for local autonomy.
However, the Vice President said some questions about the proposal must be answered, particularly on the readiness of some regions to stand on their own.
“A lot of municipalities are heavily dependent on IRA (Internal Revenue Allotment). The locally generated funds are small. I want to know how will that be resolved,” she said.
Robredo also expressed support for the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, noting that criticisms such as lack of consultation might be remedied.
“This is an important first step so we can move forward,” she added.
Speaking before local officials and supporters in Lanao del Sur also yesterday, Robredo paid tribute to the achievements of former president Aquino and expressed confidence that the current administration would continue to bring progress to Mindanao.
Robredo said Duterte would ensure that progress is achieved in Mindanao as he himself comes from the south. “I think he will not neglect us,” she said.
“The benefits that Lanao del Sur has received in the past five years, we can expect that (to continue) at least in the next three years,” she said in Filipino.
“The challenge to our local officials is how to maximize those that we receive,” she added.
Paying homage to Aquino, Robredo said a lot of projects were initiated in the province during the past administration.
“There is no reason for us not to expect (that progress will continue) because the new president is from Mindanao,” she added.
The Vice President went to Marawi City to lead the ceremonial oath taking of local officials and attend the celebration of 57th Araw ng Lanao.
It was the first trip of Robredo to Mindanao following her assumption of the second highest post in the land.
She thanked her supporters for helping her win in the province in the recent elections.
“The office of the Vice President is always here to support you,” she said, expressing confidence that the local leaders would work together for the benefit of the people.
“I will never forget that when I was in need, you were there to support me,” she added. “We will pay it off with service that you will not be ashamed of. You will not regret that you chose me.”
Meanwhile, Robredo on Wednesday called on artists to guide the government on how it could help them in their struggles.
“I understand that many of you are among those who are overworked and underpaid… The least the government can do is to help you out, make life easier for you without thinking so much on making a living,” Robredo said during the unveiling of an art exhibit at Solaire Resort and Casino in Pasay City.
“I am very honest that I need you to guide me and make me understand how we can help you,” she added.
Robredo urged artists to continue being a source of inspiration, saying their craft should be a unifying force for the Filipino people.
“We do understand the value that you give to society,” she said. “I hope that from now on, we will be able to work together.”