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Politics

The curious case of the Philippines' post-less vice president

Unique election system pits president, deputy against each other

MANILA -- Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo currently holds no cabinet position, an extremely unusual situation brought about by the country's election system, leaving her with effectively no political power even as she continues to criticize President Rodrigo Duterte's hard-fisted policies.

On Dec. 3, Robredo received a text from Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco: Duterte wanted her to "desist from attending all cabinet meetings starting this Monday, Dec. 5." On Dec. 4, Robredo said she would step down from her position as chairwoman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council. The next day, Duterte said he accepted her resignation "with a heavy heart."

Robredo remains vice president. But the post mainly exists so there is someone to take over if the president dies or falls from power, and she has almost no executive power. Jejomar Binay, vice president under former President Benigno Aquino, used to hold the same cabinet portfolio as Robredo, and his predecessors also had various roles in the cabinet. It is highly unusual for the vice president to have no duties within the administration.

Robredo said the instruction to refrain from attending cabinet meetings ultimately led her to resign from the HUDCC post. But "from the very beginning, the President and I had major differences in principles and values," she said. She has often stood at odds with Duterte, such as over his brutal crackdown on drugs, the burial of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos at a heroes' cemetery, and the restoration of the death penalty. It seems that Duterte has finally gotten rid of a thorn in his side.

The vice president said she will continue to oppose the drug war and other measures even while supporting the administration. She said she will not be afraid to disagree and will stand against the return of a dictatorship. She intends to keep speaking from outside the cabinet as a leader of the political opposition.

It was unfortunate for both sides to be elected together despite wildly different values -- the result of the Philippines' unique electoral system. Though presidential candidates often have vice presidential running mates, the two are elected separately. This seems to reflect the idea that all politicians must be chosen directly by the public, but it also means that the president occasionally ends up with an unexpected deputy.

Duterte ran in the May elections with vice presidential candidate Senator Alan Cayetano, while Robredo partnered with presidential hopeful Manuel Roxas, who served as interior secretary under Aquino and had the former president's endorsement. Duterte won by a landslide while his running mate flopped. Robredo only narrowly beat rival Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the former dictator.

Robredo's win seemed to have deeply bothered Duterte. Their inaugurations on June 30 were held separately for the first time in history. The two did not meet until July 1, over a month after the vice president was elected.

The situation has calmed for now, but tensions remain. "I had been warned of a plot to steal the vice presidency," Robredo said on Dec. 4 while announcing her resignation. Marcos filed a protest against the election results with the Supreme Court. It is unclear when the ruling will come out, but there is a possibility that Robredo will lose the post.

Duterte is close with the Marcos family. He introduced Marcos to a group of Filipino expatriates while visiting China in October, saying there will be a new vice president if the latter wins his suit.

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