Interview with Vice President Leni Robredo
MIKE NAVALLO: Vice President Leni Robredo urges the government to make COVID vaccines more accessible instead of discriminating against the unvaccinated. I spoke with the VP and she also commented on a recent report which showed her topping the list of presidential candidates with the most Facebook ads ahead of the May polls. Here is that interview.
VP LENI: This conversation cannot even be considered until after government has already exhausted all possible means to bring vaccines to the people. Ito nga ‘yung parati kong sinasabi na we should offer reasonable incentives. We should run a proper communications and behavior change campaign. ‘Pag masyadong centralized ‘yung– ‘yung vaccination– vaccination center, mas– mas konti ‘yung pumupunta. Pero if you– if you make it very very accessible, then ang daming dumadagsa.
Medyo nagfi-flipflop ulit tayo kasi ‘di ba Day 1 ang daming hindi pinasakay. Day 2, sinasabi na exempted dito ‘yung mga– ‘yung mga, ano ‘to, mga manggagawa. So, this will create another round of confus– confusion kung sino ba ‘yung pwede ba makasakay. And you were saying, discriminatory talaga ‘to if we– if we saw on the news, ‘yung mga ini-interview, it’s– it’s not because they did not want to be vaccinated.
MIKE NAVALLO: Now, to be fair to the government, recently they initiated itong vaccination through the pharmacies, and they’re also giving away Kalinga kit, similar to your program. What do you make of this? Is this a sign of improvement?
VP LENI: Oo naman. Hindi dapat minamaliit. Any– any initiative that will bring good to the people, hindi na dapat pinagkukumpara. ‘Yung sa’kin, ‘yung pag-aadd ng mga vaccination sites, okay ‘yun. Ako, ‘yung– ‘yung parati ko nang suggestion is to the vaccination down to the barangays, nae-experience talaga namin the more accessible swabbing and– and vaccination is, mas marami talaga ‘yung nae-engganyo to submit themselves, to submit themselves to vaccination, to submit themselves for– for swabbing.
Making the vaccinations available in pharmacies, this is a very good move, but something that we– we could have done many months ago to– to have– to make it more accessible. ‘Yung– ‘yung isa pa nga– ‘yung isa pa nga, Mike, siguro sa mga malalapit sa mga– sa mga transportation hubs, mga terminals, sa mga ano ‘to, sa mga LRT, MRT stations, baka dapat accessible din ‘yung swabbing saka vaccination kasi this is where people conglomerate eh. And wala– wala nang necessity for them to miss work.
MIKE NAVALLO: It’s interesting, Madame Vice President, that you’re ramping up your antigen testing through Swab Cab at a time when the DOH said they will just prioritize testing for certain groups, so testing is not required for everybody else unless they develop symptoms.
The logic now seems to be everybody get– everybody’s going to get COVID anyway. So, let’s just focus on treating them, and not testing.
VP LENI: Ang dami ngayong nagpa-positive na either asymptomatic o mild symptoms. And, nakakatakot pa nga itong asymptomatic saka mild symptoms if they don’t get tested kasi if they don’t get tested kasi if they don’t get tested, they might be going around infecting more people. ‘Di ba ‘yan naman ‘yung pinakasadya nung testing eh? ‘Yung pinakasadya nung testing na ma-contain mo ‘yung virus, and if– if we are not able to contain the virus, kailan pa matatapos ‘yung surge na ‘to?
MIKE NAVALLO: Kumusta, Madame Vice President, ‘yung mga operations ninyo? For example, Swab Cab, ‘yung Vaccine Express, and ‘yung Bayanihan E-Konsulta program, did you experience a surge of, you know, request or calls or even ‘yung talagang nagpapa-vaccine or nagpapa-test?
VP LENI: ‘Yung– ‘yung Vaccine Express saka ‘yung Swab Cab namin, mas ano siya, mas manageable in the sense that we don’t go there without partnership with the local government unit kasi ayaw namin na– na mag-overlap ‘yung mga protocols. Mas pinakanahihirapan kami ngayon, Mike, with Bayanihan E-Konsulta kasi ‘yung Bayanihan E-Konsulta is a telemed– telemed service, a free telemed service where we depend on volunteer doctors, volunteer non-medical personnel to do bridging calls, et cetera. Pero this particular surge, hirap na hirap kami kasi ‘yung onslaught ng mga patients wanting to be covered by the program sobrang dami. And we– we needed to manage everything kasi ang pinaka-ayaw namin, Mike, is meron kaming– meron kaming na-register na mga pasyente ta’s hindi namin sila nababalikan soonest possible time. So, we– we try– by– by managing everything, sabi namin we will put a cap: 400 patients a day only.
And you know, noong first day, I think January 3, ‘yun ‘yung first day noong grabe ‘yung surge. Naka-400 kami after 3 hours and 30 minutes. And then the following day, it was just over an hour. Siguro two days na over an hour. Alam mo, since then, until– until yesterday – ‘yung today hindi ko pa nakikita – pero yesterday, we closed after 9 minutes. So, ganoon siya.
MIKE NAVALLO: 9 minutes.
VP LENI: 9 minutes. We open– we open at 8:00, and at 8:09 we had 400– 400 patients already. Ganoon siya ka-grabe.
MIKE NAVALLO: So, it actually begs the question, Madame Vice President, how is your office able to do this with a budget of just around 900 million pesos last year as opposed to say, for example, the DOH? They have 42 billion pesos, which they transferred to the procurement service of the DBM, which led to the Pharmally controversy, and yet, we’re seeing comparisons. For example, I know you don’t want comparisons, but for example the COVID kit. ‘Yung care kit ninyo. Sabi nila ‘yung Kalinga Kit ng DOH parang budget version ng kit ninyo because it doesn’t have the oximeter, the thermometers, which are actually very vital if you are undergoing COVID.
VP LENI: When the pandemic started last year, we already made sure that our budget– the budget of the OVP is already a COVID budget. Meaning to say, all the non-essential things – ’pag sinabi ko non-essential, non-COVID-related – we won’t focus on them anymore, muna. Halimbawa, ‘yung COVID care kits, a large part of that is funded by the Office of the Vice President. Halimbawa, ‘yung mga Swab Cab. ‘Yung binibili namin na mga testing kits, while we also receive donations, pero a large part of that is coming from the budget of the Office of the Vice President. Gustong sabihin, we are very mindful that we’re in the middle of a crisis and we make sure that our budget is responsive to the crisis we’re going through. ‘Yun ‘yung number one.
Number two, we’re actually very fortunate that since 2016, we have– we have Angat Buhay already. Angat Buhay is our anti-poverty program and the main design of Angat Buhay is really collaboration between our office and many private and development partners. So, because we have a network of volunteers, we have a network of partners already, it was really easy for us to– to, you know, ask help from people who can give help.
Tapos, ‘yung pangatlo din, ang staff din namin kasi, Mike, trained na sa crisis situations. Since 2016, we already have a DRR team, na paparating pa lang– halimbawa, paparating pa lang ‘yung bagyo nagpre-preposition na kami. So, ano ‘to, these are men and women who have been trained to act very, very urgently.
MIKE NAVALLO: And one issue that came up as of recently, Madam Vice President, is that you topped the Facebook ads spending with 14.1 million, and of course, critics have used this against you, why you’re spending a lot on Facebook. Your supporters have said these are actually paid for by volunteers and your spokesperson said as much. But really no centavo spent by your campaign on these ads?
VP LENI: Ako, from the official campaign, not that I’m aware of. Ang alam ko talaga, Mike, karamihan– karamihan talaga– karamihan talaga dito mga– mga volunteer groups. I understand why our volunteers feel the need to do that because it has been clear over the past five years and going into the campaign na grabe talaga ‘yung social media machinery ng kalaban. Naka– ito nga sabi ko, totoo sigurong hindi nag-aads, pero maraming mga gastos na hindi “over the table,” [laughter] hindi above board. Alam natin na marami silang ginagawa, na gumagastos sila, pero hindi ito pareho ng Facebook ads na you can actually compute and quantify. So, maraming–marami ding mga experts ang nagpo-point out na meron silang troll armies, merong–yung machinery nila ay talagang involved in massive disinformation campaign.
So, sa gitna ng ang daming fake news at panlalait– alam naman natin na ako, isa ako sa mga nasa receiving end ng marami nito. Kaya marami talaga sa mga–marami talaga sa mga volunteer groups namin, ‘yung perception nila, kailangan talaga nilang– kailangan nila talagang tumulong. Actually, marami silang ginagawa na mga fundraising activities na hindi naman ‘yun napupunta sa’min. Wala kaming central repository ng lahat ng mga– ’yung pondo na nanggagaling sa lahat-lahat ng mga fundraising efforts. But alam ko na our official campaign team is– is looking for ways on how we can– parang we can have a mechanism na, na susundan nito. I think they have also been talking to the many different groups, informing them na pagpasok ng Feb– Feb 8 ay hindi na pwede. Hindi na pwedeng ang daming ginagawa na hindi namin alam, kasi siyempre mabibilang na ‘yun for us.
MIKE NAVALLO: And to what extent, Vice President– Madam Vice President nagfa-factor ‘yung mga fake news against you? Kasi ang daming lumalabas ‘no? Early on in your vice presidency, you have been called “lugaw,” you have been called “fake Vice President” and then later on, even– even now, as late as now, you have personalities who are actually spreading lies against you. How do you intend to deal with this?
VP LENI: Sa end ko, I admit that our initial approach to the problem did not work. Kasi ‘yung pinaka–
Mike: Which was? What was your initial approach?
VP LENI: Not to mind them. Ako, parati kong sinasabi dati, Mike, na “shrug them off,” “rise above them” kasi hindi naman totoo, hindi naman ‘yan papa– at the end of the day, what is true and what is good will be what will prevail. Pero mali ako eh. I did not even attempt to correct many of the fake news being– being said about me. Kasi lies repeated again and again become the– ‘di ba? They become the truth. We have reported disinformation and fake news purveyors already before concerned agencies–wala pang nangyayari doon. We are also hoping for better efforts from social media platforms. In fact, we have met with some of them before already asking what– what they– asking them what they are doing to combat what has been happening online, it’s not easy.
It’s not easy kasi ‘yung vehicle na ginamit for disinformation is social media. Because social media works on algorithms, parang na-saturate na talaga ‘yung mga distribution channel such that mahirap nang i-penetrate, mahina– mahirap i-penetrate ‘yung mga bubbles na na-create. So ang nangyayari ngayon, parang nag-eecho chamber na. Nag-eecho chamber so– so what we’re doing now is really encourage all our volunteers to go out– to go out, not just depend on social media but to actually reach out in their own circles and help us spread the truth. Kasi nga kung social media only na hindi naman namin sila kayang sabayan because they have an infrastructure for that, ‘yung sa amin lahat naman organic lang.
MIKE NAVALLO: But how do you feel, though, that some of the surveys are saying ‘yung mga binabato sa inyo, for example, ‘yung math problem, ‘yung 4– 4 times 40 then ‘yung use of the word nerve and then lugaw? I-compare mo doon sa mga binabato sa Marcos family or kay BBM, for example, he has been called a tax convict, accused of lying, ‘yung family niya accused of corruption, torture, killings, historical revisionism. Of course, there’s that Tallano gold, yet in the surveys, he figures higher, hee polls higher. 53 percent according to the Pulse Asia survey in December, you are at 20 percent. So how do you feel about that, ‘no?
VP LENI: Ako– ako I would have to admit– admit that it has been so frustrating. So frustrating kasi halimbawa, unang-una, maraming accusations ang hindi naman totoo. ‘Yung– halimbawa, ‘yung 4 times– 4 times 40 is equal to 1,600, ang dami pa ding ini-insist– ang dami pa ding– ang dami pa ding nag-iinsist noong– noong paraan nila, when in fact, people I was with in that press conference can attest that we were talking about 4 times 10 times 40. Pero parang– di ba parang nakaka– nakakapagod din na ine-explain mo pa.
MIKE NAVALLO: Pero Pulse said na based on its 2021 monitoring of election-related inaccurate stories, kayo daw ang number one top victim. The most– and the one who benefited the most is Bongbong Marcos and when you talk to Bongbong Marcos supporters, some would say na, “Ay iboboto ko si Bongbong because kawawa ‘yung Marcos family, lagi silang inaatake sa media.” What do you make of this? ‘Yung efforts ba, for example, of filing cases to disqualify Bongbong or cancel his Certificate of Candidacy sa Comelec, can we say na at some point, nagba-backfire ba ‘yun and parang nagiging kawawa ‘yung Marcos family to galvanize support for them? Are you seeing that happening?
VP LENI: Ako– ako it can be either way kasi, eh. It can be either way, Mike. Pero sa akin kasi, ako I will be very honest with you na hindi ko siya– I am not allowing the cases to affect the way we are doing the campaign. Sa ’kin as a candidate, mas mabuting talunin ko siya sa eleksyon. Mas mabuting talunin ko siya sa eleksyon despite his numbers now.
Pero ako malakas ‘yung loob ko, Mike, kasi unang-una, tinalo ko na siya in 2016. And in 2016, I also started with very low numbers, mas mabuti-buti na nga ngayon. Mas mabuti-buti na ngayon kasi in 2016, I was number 6 of 6 candidates. I had to– I had to, you know, talagang literally igapang ‘yung sarili ko paakyat and I was able to do it. So ang– ang sinasabi ko lang na ngayon nga na mas marami ’yung mga volunteers na very invested, lalong ‘yung possibility na kakayanin, nandiyan. ‘Yung disqualification case– cases are– are stuff na outside of what we’re fighting for. Meaning to say kung meron siyang mga– meron siyang kailangan panagutan, panagutan niya ‘yun. Pero labas ‘yun sa laban naming ito. Kasi I want to be very focused on really correcting all the misinformation that has been– that they have been propagating and successfully pushing– pushing forward.
MIKE NAVALLO: How– how do you intend to do that, though? Historical revisionism, for example, how do you intend to counter that? And if I may just ask you, how about the myth of the Tallano gold?
VP LENI: Ako talaga ‘yung number– ‘yung number one sana, Mike, na sana ‘yung mga kandidato, i-submit ‘yung sarili nila to– to debates. I-submit ‘yung sarili nila to events or– or forums na may– may opportunity ‘yung tao na i-confront sila about the many accusations against them. Kasi, pag– pag hindi mo ito iko-confront, halimbawa– halimbawa ‘yung Tallano gold, I think his lawyer was already confronted about that and rather than say na it is true or it is not true, ang sasabihin, “Hindi ko alam.” Kung iiwas ka– iiwas ka dahil– siguro dahil mataas na ‘yung numbers ko, hindi ko na kailangan sagutin ‘yan, o hindi ko na kailangan mag-appear dito, lugi ‘yung taumbayan. Lugi ‘yung taumbayan kasi hindi siya nagkakaroon ng opportunity to confront.
MIKE NAVALLO: Merong reports, ‘no, that 11 mayors from supposedly Camarines Sur have reportedly thrown their support behind Bongbong Marcos Jr. sa sarili mong bailiwick. Are you confident you will have the backing of your hometown and the Bicol region in 2022?
VP LENI: Yes. Noong 2016, noong 2016 when I was running for VP, halos walang malaking pulitiko dito sa Bicol region na nag-throw ng support for me and I– I was expecting that pero there were five of us Bicolanos out of six candidates pero I still got almost 70% of the Bicolano vote. Ngayon laban na to, ako lang ‘yung Bicolano and pati ‘yung suporta ng mga Bicolano now is unlike– was unlike– is unlike 2016.
Noong 2016 mas ano pa, mas mahiyain pa ‘yung mga tao to go out pero now ‘yung, ‘yung, ‘yung galaw talaga Mike nanggagaling sa ordinaryong mamamayan and they have been doing so much.
MIKE NAVALLO: How about endorsements? Because you’ve– you’ve received the endorsement of the cabinet secretaries of former President Fidel V. Ramos, you have celebrities supporting you also, how significant are these endorsements? And, talking about endorsements, the fact the– the Left– the talks with the left and progressive groups have not really prospered.
VP LENI: I am really grateful for the trust and support na ipinapahayag natin– sa atin, from local– sa atin, from local officials, public servants, different sectors. Actually ‘yung from local officials Mike, pleasant surprise ‘yun sa akin. I– I know for a fact kung ano ‘yung political environment sa atin now and ako maiintindihan ko kung marami ‘yung hindi willing to go out publicly to support us. Pero ako, nagulat ako na there are actually big local politicians, very respected ones, who have been very public of their support for us so I’m very very– I’m very very grateful.
‘Yun namang sa Left, parati ko naman sinasabi na we are willing to work with those who share our values. Hindi man pormal siguro alliance natin sa kasalukuyan, we are always willing to work with them on an issue to issue basis based on our shared values.
MIKE NAVALLO: And one issue, Madame Vice President, that you received a lot of flak eh ‘yung position niyo in NTF-ELCAC. Have you clarified that with progressive groups or people from the left who were voicing their dismay and criticizing you over your– actually that was a press statement, right?
VP LENI: Actually many times over already. When I had a meeting with AFP, pareho naman ‘yung pananaw namin na hindi mare-resolve ‘yung issue of insurgency and terrorism pag– ang hindi– pag hindi mo– pag hindi mo sinagot ‘yung root cause of the problem. Agree ako on whole of government approach, agree ako on working– working with the local government units. It doesn’t mean na agree ako sa red-tagging. It doesn’t mean na agree akong ginagamit itong harassment tool.
Of course I don’t expect everyone to share my view pero gusto ko lang i-clarify na I agree with the mandate. I– I agree with the objective. What I do not agree with is the manner by which they are operationalizing some of the things that they have been doing and– and during the meeting with AFP I have been very vocal about the things I am not comfortable with.
MIKE NAVALLO: Of course in the elections, there’s only one winner. In case you lose, what’s next for Vice President Leni Robredo?
VP LENI: Ako Mike, alam mo, I– I was a development worker and an alternative lawyer for many, many years. I have just been a politician for close to nine years. So, para sa akin, it will not be difficult for me to go back to the life I was lead– leading before my husband died and before I entered politics. That is working very, very closely with the margins. I will still continue with all my advocacies. Siguro dagdagan lang ngayon Mike. Before kasi ang advocacy ko is really empowering through legal education, pero siguro ngayon I will also be heavily involved with education. That is, education and governance. That is actually the main focus of the Jesse M. Robredo Foundation.
MIKE NAVALLO: Lastly Vice President, what’s at stake at May 2022 polls? I mean, how important is it that we elect the right leader for the next six years in the Philippines given where we are now?
VP LENI: Ako kasi Mike, the– the 2022 elections is not just a fight between two or more candidates but it’s actually a decision that we have to make. Ano bang klaseng pulitika ‘yung gusto nating manaig sa atin? Ano bang klase ng governance ‘yung gusto nating manaig sa atin?
Kasi, what I’m offering is so– for example lang ‘to. What I’m offering is so different from what Mr. Marcos is offering. ‘Yung the kind of politics, ako– ako para sa akin mas transformative, ayoko ng patronage politics. Sa akin ‘yung gusto kong pulitika na ‘yung pulitika hindi siya masama.
So, para sa akin, there’s so much at stake, pero what’s at stake is not just my winning or losing this elections but what– what is the direction that we would want our government to take in the next six years.
MIKE NAVALLO: Our interview with the Vice President Leni Robredo and just a clarification we started with the question on her take on the no vaccination, no ride policy of the Department of Transport–