Normally, a top female official of the Philippine Government is addressed as “Madam” out of respect. Lately, however, we’ve been seeing current “vice president” Leni Robredo being addressed as “Madumb” — a play on the words “madam” and “dumb”. This is likely an outcome of some confusion on the part of many Filipinos as to how one should regard a title that normally commands respect but, at the same time is filled by a person who has so far exhibited behaviour that erodes respect.
Based on recent surveys, it is quite evident that Robredo is suffering what seems to be an irreversible decline in the respect and confidence she attracts from the Filipino public. A recent popularity survey conducted by Pulse Asia put Robredo at “the second to the lowest rating among the 5 top officials”. Even more disturbing is the manner with which Robredo’s Office of the Vice President (OVP) merely dismissed these survey findings insisting that elections are still “a long way away” and that “the VP is still focused on working to help our Filipinos get past the crisis of COVID-19, and recover from the calamities of the past few months”.
Does that necessarily mean Robredo is dumb?
Perhaps not. Although popularity is essential to seizing power in a “democracy” such as the Philippines, there are many people who are qualified leaders who do not win that game. Look no further back than the ascent to power of former President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III in 2010 and it becomes clear that dumb won over intelligence in that instance. Unfair, right? But that’s democracy for you. Popularity wins in a democracy. In that sense, Robredo’s alleged dumbness does not necessarily make her less viable as a person who could lead the Opposition to an electoral victory in 2022.
What created and continues to add to the impression that Robredo is “dumb” more likely comes from how she projects herself under the harsh glow of the media spotlight. Robredo’s public relations (PR) team have sought this spotlight aggressively but had evidently not shown much competence crafting good messaging and theatrics and prepping and coaching their client to ensure her appearances elicit the “right” responses from the public. Indeed, if said PR team were actually truly worth their salt, they could even have turned Robredo’s perceived dumbness into an asset — much the same way as good poker players are able to convert a bad hand dealt to them into a win. Marilyn Monroe, for example, is one of Hollywood’s greatest celebrities and, though reportedly fairly intelligent in real life, successfully pulled off her “dumb blonde” act. To be fair, life did deal Monroe a pretty awesome hand that gave her all the right assets to make it big in Hollywood. This raises the question as to whether or not the “dumb” act is right for Leni Robredo.
Indeed, covering Robredo is hard work. Because she prefers to speak in “Taglish” (a kind of pidgin language popular in the Philippines), her sound bytes often need to be translated to normal English by news editors. And because she lacks any semblance of a vision or strategic roadmap she could potentially apply to presidential campaign, there is not much that more high-end columnists and analysts could work with when writing “intelligent” political commentary about her. Even her most rabid cheerleaders in mainstream Big Corporate media like Maria Ressa of Rappler and “investigative journalist” Raissa Robles evidently struggle to cough up the goods.
Maria Ressa interviewing Robredo back in 2016 clearly had lots of air to fill specially when she quizzed Robredo at the beginning of the conversation. Ressa asked Robredo “what has changed in the Philippines?” from the time she supposedly won the vice presidency and qualified the question further saying “let’s talk big picture first”. To that question, Robredo could only stammer out an incoherent response frequently peppering her sentences with “I don’t know”. Her most substantial answer was, “It seems like we are in a very different sphere already in the sense that so much of what is happening now I couldn’t imagine to have happened in 2010”. Check out the segment from 2:09 to 3:10 in the following video.
For her part, Raissa Robles has spent the better part of Robredo’s term merely parroting the vice presidential sound bytes and not much else — certainly not much in the way of providing her readers any real insight on just what sort of president Robredo would be if she successfully pulled off a win in 2022. In one of her more recent “reports” involving Robredo, all the Professor could really tell us is that “Vice-President Leni Robredo criticised the president’s reliance on a Chinese vaccine, saying more needed to be done to stem the spread of the virus”. Aren’t we all glad Robles is around to tell us these things?
Suffice to say perhaps the only really unfair aspect of the public perception that “vice president” is “dumb” is that you need to be a true virtuouso makeup artist to do a winning PR job on Leni Robredo. Ressa’s 2010 interview of Robredo was a case in point. You could tell from Ressa’s hand gestures and tone of voice that she was just short of directly prompting Robredo with specific words to say. Interestingly enough a key takeaway from that interview was this gem…
“I’m now in a position to make dreams happen. In the sense that there was so much I wanted to do before but my power and my authority was limited and now I’m in a position where I can get things done,” she said.
Interesting because one of the first dumb things Robredo did was to fall out of Duterte’s favour thanks to her being unable to step up to the task of government and let go of her former role as Opposition partisan back then. For example, rather than air her gripes as to why she had failed to deliver any results as Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) chairperson at the time, she opted to routinely make sumbong to the media. Not surprisingly, Filipinos have since learned to see past this routine drama of hers and have increasingly described her as a “media whore” who remains stuck in campaign mode despite already being the presumptive “vice president”. That eventually led to her being kicked out of Duterte’s cabinet and effectively sidelined. If Robredo was actually serious about acquiring the “power” to “make dreams happen”, her access to the centre of power where things happen should have been the first thing she should have secured.
Does the title “Madumb” fit the bill as far as “vice president” Leni Robredo is concerned? It’s hard to argue that it doesn’t. The Opposition need to reassess their options and really think about whether this “dumb” act will fly over the coming campaign months leading to the 2022 national elections.
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