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Leni Robredo: Female leaders shine during a crisis

By PhilSTAR L!fe Published Jan 26, 2022 7:30 pm

Leading contenders for the presidency share their views on a number of issues in one-on-one interviews with "Asia's King of Talk" Boy Abunda.

During the presidential interviews, candidates answered the same questions and were given equal time to answer them.

The Philippine STAR  and  PhilSTAR L!fe will be carrying excerpts from the interview with Vice President Leni Robredo, who talked about her stand on the environment, her COVID-19 pandemic response plan, cyberpornography, and the West Philippine among other issues.

ON MINING & THE ENVIRONMENT
Where do you stand on the issue of sustainable versus a total ban on mining? Why?

Ipapawalang bisa ko (ang EO). When you talk about the environment it’s so important that you empower those who will be affected; that you give stakeholders mechanisms so that their voices will be heard. Many laws need to be passed, like the Land Use Bill. This will declare which are the no-mining zones. 

Second, those areas designated as mineral sites according to the Land Use Act, we have to make sure that it’s the locality that benefits — especially the indigenous peoples — not the businessmen or foreigners. The locals can safeguard many things like the environment. 

We need a law that criminalizes and penalizes social media sites for them to be accountable and responsible.

We’ll rationalize the different offices so they don’t overlap, like the DENR, the MGB of the Climate Change Commission; we’ll make sure that accountability is also clear, that even in choosing who heads these offices, the voices of stakeholders and environmental advocates will be heard. 

ON COVID-19 AND THE PANDEMIC
Given the unpredictability and viciousness of this virus, what would be your program to combat COVID-19?

We shifted from one initiative to another. We started by providing PPE sets, followed by shuttle buses for frontliners, then dormitories, until we helped the community marts, etc. 

So it was a series of so many programs, but we learned a lot of lessons from that. No. : we really need a sense of urgency in responding because every second counts. We felt that you can’t just move when your plan is perfect. If I become President, I’ll expand that. But I already have the benefit of science, of lessons from other countries. We know what countries performed better than others, so we should learn from them. 

I’ll make sure I’m on top of the day-to-day COVID response, that the whole of government — all the agencies, all the LGUs — are working harmoniously, because what’s lacking now is that they're all doing something but they don’t have a conductor. 

We learned that that the pillars are testing, tracing and management of the disease, yet we keep insisting that we’re not going to do a lot of testing because it’s not necessary. Contact tracing two years after the pandemic — we're still not doing it right. Our hospitals still lack health workers. When it’s a time of crisis, you have to micromanage because people's lives are on the line.

A frontliner wearing protective suit is seen at the Manila COVID 19 Field Hospital in Manila on Jan. 2022.

ON POVERTY
How will you deal with the urgent problems of joblessness and hunger in the country if you become President?

These are the local industries. We classified them into three: the first are blue industries — maritime and fisheries — because the Philippines is an archipelago. So the opportunities are there. The green economy — agriculture and climate jobs and manufacturing because manufacturing is an opportunity and gives jobs. Third, we call them “gold industries” and these are tech and digital industries because our team sees that opportunities here are huge and this is the future. 

The government should invest here in local industries. We really need to help micro-entrepreneurs. We know that a large percentage of our businesses are small and they're the ones that generate a lot of jobs for us. So my proposal is we should, No. 1, give a conditional stimulus grant for small businesses on the condition na huwag sila magtanggal ng empleyado. 

No. 2, they need access to capital, even low-interest loans for businesses that can pay back loans. 

No. 3, they need access to the market, and we tried this many, many times over…for example, our farmers need the government to buy their products because the government needs food to give to the people. Aside from ayuda, which is short-term, we need unemployment insurance for those who lose jobs not through any fault of theirs. At least they have a safety net. What’s long-term is you give them a chance to work. 

ON OVERSEAS FILIPINO WORKERS / MIGRANTS
How will you balance the economic contribution of OFWs and the unquantifiable social cost of migration?

Our overarching principle is yung mga kababayan natin, magtatrabaho sila abroad kasi yun yung gusto nila. What I mean is it’s by choice, not by necessity. The problem now is that even if they don’t want to leave their families, they don’t have a choice because there are no available jobs here. So we need to fix our economy. For example, there are OFWs who’ve retired abroad who want to retire here but they can’t leave the country they’re working in because of healthcare, because we can’t offer to them what those countries offer. 

We're not a narco country. The drug problem is huge. And I believe that we have to pursue it with much vigor. But there is a way of doing it. 

Those who leave and go abroad, we need to give them a chance if they can get better jobs here. For example, many of us are seafarers. We have so many seafarers but only a small percentage of them are official. When you look at the salaries of the official versus the unofficial, ang layo. But the government has the capacity to provide programs for those whose ambition is to be a seafarer abroad. 

In Naga we already started a migrant resource office that attempts to reduce the social cost, meaning to say it gives chances to the families left behind that anytime they want to contact their family and have money sent to them, there are financial literacy programs, there’s a whole program.

It's impossible not to have OFWs, but they don't have to go abroad unless they want to.

ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND PORNOGRAPHY
How will you handle the issue of cyberporn?

We don’t have a law that seeks to make accountable the social media sites. Whatever they put out on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, whether porn or fake news, we don’t have control over it. So we need a law that criminalizes and penalizes social media sites for them to be accountable and responsible; that it shouldn’t be accessible to people who aren’t ready to process — in this case, your example of kids that get addicted to that because it’s accessible. Social media sites should make sure that their content is accessible only to those who can digest it mentally and psychologically.

Parents have a responsibility too. Actually this is what Maria Ressa was fighting for. Even before she won the Nobel Peace Prize, social media platforms had been abused in many varied ways already in many countries. 

ON RAPE-RELATED ABORTION
Is it time to enact a law on abortion that would allow pregnant rape victims the choice of legal and safe abortion?

I will be very honest with you: this is a topic that I’m very conflicted about because of the data that you have mentioned. I was a member of an NGO that really pushed the decriminalization of abortion to avoid unsafe ones, but the reason I’m so conflicted about it is because my faith teaches me na bawal talaga yung magpatay. The only thing allowed — legal abortion — is if the mother’s life is endangered. If the mother's life is in danger they allow it in very rare instances, and I think that should continue. 

Many resort to practices that are not medically safe. So I’m open to discussing decriminalizing abortion, but if you ask me now if I’m for or against it, I am against abortion.

ON DRUGS
Are we already a narco country? What is your program to counter the drug problem?

I was given the opportunity to be ICAD (Interagency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs) co-chair for 18 days, but those 18 days gave me enough opportunity to assess what was wrong with the anti-drug program and at the end of the 18 days we put out a comprehensive assessment on what was wrong and what we felt needed to be done.

The first is how to maximize ICAD as the interagency task force. The reason why sobrang street-level enforcement yung anti-drug campaign, na dapat sana whole-of-government approach. Nakakatulong doon sa much emphasis on street-level enforcement kasi yung chairman is PDEA. For me, the chairman of ICAD should be DDB, the Dangerous Drugs Board,  because it’s policymaking. If the chairman was DDB, there is a greater chance of a whole-of-government approach.

We're not a narco country. The drug problem is huge. And I believe that we have to pursue it with much vigor. But there is a way of doing it. 

ON THE NATIONAL DEBT
If you win as President of the Philippines, how will you tackle the payment of our national debt?

I will honor the commitments because the integrity of our country depends on it, but I’ll make sure that what we learn — especially in the last few years when our debt really piled on — I’ll make sure that the money we loaned went to the things that they were supposed to, and that the return to us is a thousand-fold, because if we loan and the return is not that big, why did we even loan? It’s not bad to loan if you really need it and the returns are greater than what we borrowed. But loaning is bad if it goes to corruption. 

If we look at the debt to GDP ratio, we started pre-pandemic at 44%. That meant we still had elbow room to loan. So, because we needed a lot of money during the pandemic, it was okay to loan, but now if we look at the debt-to-GDP ratio, it’s at 60% already —wala na tayong elbow room. 

We should exert a lot of effort to increase our GDP. We will fix the government, we will fix the institutions, we will regain the trust of the people in the government because that's the only way we can strengthen our GDP and growth rate. 

ON CORRUPTION
It’s not enough that I say I am not going to be corrupt, but I will say that my commitment as president is that I’ll make sure to legislate the mechanisms that prevent corruption. 

What are those mechanisms? Making sure that all government procurement processes are transparent. 

I filed a full-disclosure bill even without need of requests from the people. Everything the government spends, every contract, should be available to the public. Twenty percent of the budget should go to debt management. 

ON THE WEST PHILIPPINE SEA
If all diplomatic efforts fail, as president, do you think the Philippines is strong enough and prepared to fight a defensive war against China to protect our territorial soil?

We have an arbitral ruling that favors us. The ruling says that the West Philippine Sea is ours and because it’s ours, we're going to fight for it. All our efforts should be focused on what will meet the best interests of the Filipino and the country; it’s not only sovereignty but also the livelihood of our fishermen. 

Now we’re coming to a time that we’ll have a problem with a supply of electricity — these are the resources going to come from the West Philippine Sea. This is our sustainability as a country, so we should be fighting for that. I am all for nurturing our very important relationship with China, but that relationship should be based on mutual respect and adherence to international law.

That decision of the arbitral court — we should leverage so the coalition of nations is with us in protecting the West Philippine Sea. 

ON THE CONSTITUTION FOR PRESIDENTIAL QUALIFICATIONS
Is it high time to amend the Constitution on the qualifications to run for President of the country?

For me, it’s not yet time to change this provision.

I know a lot of people who say, why is that the minimum of requirements for becoming president? But I read it; I read the discussions, the debates. When the framers of the 1987 Constitution… and the reasons why the qualifications are so minimal is because they want to give a chance to some people who don’t finish school because they don’t have the opportunity. So they don't want to close the way for people like them. While there are different viewpoints on this, I understand why they put those requirements. And it’s true we would have wished that the President is better prepared, but we put a lot of premium on not closing the doors on people who have not been given the opportunity, who didn’t enjoy the same privileges that others had. And I agree with them. 

ON PRESIDENT DUTERTE’S STATEMENT THAT ‘MAHINA TALAGA SI LENI’ AND ‘MAHINA SA DISKARTE’

(Laughs) Yung diskarte, nakikita iyon hindi sa salita kundi sa gawa. Yung diskarte sa ordinaryo natin na pangaraw-araw na buhay, eto yung ability mo na gumawa ng paraan, na magtrabaho ng maayos despite the difficulties.  Pinakita ko over the years, na yung mga difficulties, yung mga roadblocks na tinapon sa aking daan, nalagpasan ko yung lahat, dahil sa diskarte. 

FAST TALK

Q: ON WHY YOU SHOULDN’T VOTE FOR… BONGBONG MARCOS

A: No. 1, sinungaling; pangalawa, in the difficult moments hindi siya nagpapakita

Q: MAYOR ISKO MORENO

A: Hindi klaro yung paninindigan sa maraming bagay 

Q: PING LACSON

A: Maraming salita pero kulang sa on-the-ground na gawa (Lots of talk but lacking in on-the-ground action).

Q: SENATOR MANNY PACQUIAO

A: Ito malungkot ito, Boy, pero yung kabutihan ng loob kasi sa atin, hindi sapat.

Q: WHY SHOULD WE VOTE FOR YOU?

A: Ako, pinakita ko nitong krisis na ito, and many other crises in the past, na ang mga babaeng leader nagsha-shine during crisis. And pinakita ko iyan sa maraming trabaho namin dito sa OVP (Office of the Vice President), marami kaming mga krisis na nalagpasan with flying colors. 

Q: On Duterte and the ICC desire to investigate crimes against humanity, for the sake of the victims. Will you allow ICC?

A: I would allow them to investigate in the country. I would be very transparent. If we’re not hiding anything, we don't need to be afraid. 

Justice is what this is all about. So if I were President I wouldn’t just allow them to come in, I would also propose that we become a member of the ICC again because it's so important to keep government in check.