Philippine VP quits Cabinet in new Duterte dilemma

AP News
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Posted: Dec 05, 2016 9:52 AM
Philippine VP quits Cabinet in new Duterte dilemma

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine vice president resigned her Cabinet post Monday after citing irreconcilable differences with President Rodrigo Duterte, who had banned her from attending Cabinet meetings, in a new political dilemma for the leader.

Leni Robredo, who stepped down as housing secretary but will stay on as vice president, spoke of "major differences in principles and values" with the brash-talking president and a plot to remove her from the vice presidency. Duterte accepted her resignation "with a heavy heart" and immediately named a replacement.

In the Philippines, presidents and vice presidents are elected separately and often come from rival political parties, like Duterte and Robredo.

In her resignation letter, Robredo told Duterte that she "exerted all effort to put aside our differences, maintain a professional working relationship and work effectively despite the constraints." But she said Duterte's order banning her from Cabinet meetings had made it impossible for her to do her job at the housing agency.

"Remaining in your Cabinet has become untenable," she said.

A human rights lawyer and respected political newcomer, Robredo said at a news conference that she would stay on in her elected post as vice president, adding that she would continue her anti-poverty projects.

"We will not allow the vice presidency to be stolen because that is against the voice of the majority," Robredo told reporters.

Robredo suggested that the Duterte administration may be supporting former Sen. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., her closest opponent in May's vice presidential election. She did not mention the alleged plot to oust her from the vice presidency in her resignation letter.

Marcos Jr. is the namesake and son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was overthrown by a 1986 "people power" revolt. Robredo actively joined that uprising.

"We have fought this battle before and won," Robredo said. "We will never let anyone revise our history and twist it to turn evil into good."

Robredo's resignation comes amid a political storm over Duterte's decision to allow the burial of the long-dead dictator Marcos in the country's Heroes' Cemetery and a bloody crackdown against illegal drugs that has alarmed Western governments and human rights watchdogs.

Robredo is the second official to resign from Duterte's administration in less than a week. Maria Serena Diokno quit as head of the government's historical commission last Tuesday to protest Duterte's decision to allow Marcos' Nov. 18 burial in the cemetery.

Robredo has cited her strong opposition to the burial, the drug killings, Duterte's plan to reimpose the death penalty and "sexual attacks against women" among the issues on which she differed with Duterte, who took office on June 30.

The last straw, she said, was when she was notified Saturday by Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. through a text message about the president's order for Robredo "to desist from attending all Cabinet meetings" starting Monday.

Evasco said Duterte decided to bar her from Cabinet meetings because of her "irreconcilable differences" with the Duterte administration.

Robredo, 52, did not provide details about the alleged plot to remove her from the vice presidency, but her electoral victory has been questioned by Marcos Jr., a friend of Duterte.

Marcos Jr. lost by a slim margin to Robredo, the widow of a popular politician who built a name as an honest, hands-on provincial mayor who wore slippers to work and reached out to the poor in the countryside.

Robredo's husband died in a plane crash in 2012, and she later acceded to widespread calls for her to enter politics.