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Philippine VP quits Cabinet after Duterte order

[MANILA] Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo said she will resign as housing secretary on Monday after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered her to stop attending Cabinet meetings, a development that could galvanize opposition to Duterte.

Ms Robredo said she received a text message from Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco relaying the president's instruction. Not attending the Cabinet meetings would make it impossible for her to perform her duties as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, she said in a statement on her website.

"From the very beginning, the president and I had major differences in principles and values," Ms Robredo said. She had expressed concern over rising extrajudicial killings related to Duterte's war against drugs and has opposed the burial of former President Ferdinand Marcos at the Heroes' Graveyard, which Duterte endorsed. Thousands joined the protests against the former dictator's burial last month. The former leader's son, Bongbong Marcos, lost to Ms Robredo in the vice-presidential race in May. He filed an election protest and asked the Supreme Court to void Ms Robredo's proclamation.

Ms Robredo's resignation could signal a period of struggle is looming, with Mr Duterte drawing a "clear divide" between the administration and its members, according to Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute of Political and Electoral Reform in Quezon City.

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"The president is trying to consolidate his own forces, anticipating a political struggle," Mr Casiple said. "He drew the line, and I think he's trying to force the hand of a relatively weak opposition." Ms Duterte may have wasted the opportunity for national unity with his decision to exclude Ms Robredo from Cabinet meetings, he said.

Ms Robredo, who was not on a ticket with Duterte during the May elections, will remain vice president, a position that's is elected separately from the president. The two are are from rival political parties.

Ms Robredo said in her statement that she had chosen to ignore warnings of a "plot to steal" the vice presidency, "but the events of recent days indicate that this plot is now being set into motion. I will not allow the will of the people to be thwarted." "Irreconcilable differences" between the nation's top leaders led to Ms Robredo's resignation, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said in an interview with DZBB radio.