December 16, 2021 - What’s not to love and like about Leni? Nothing.

What is to love and like about Leni? Everything!

Anyone who has met her in person will surely agree.


I had the honour and privilege of meeting Philippine Presidential candidate Honourable Vice-President Leni Robredo in 2007 when she was Naga City’s First Lady, also then a public servant, prosecutor at the Public Attorney’s Office assisting inmates and other disadvantaged kababayans who needed access and representation in our flawed justice system.

Her husband, the late Honourable Naga City Mayor and Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary, Jesse Robredo, hosted me and my UBC students during our month-long Studio Course doing City Planning research work. I knewLeni Robredo was there, asking questions, interested in what this batch of 20 students from Canada, guided by their Filipina professor were doing in Naga. She always kept behind the scenes, not wanting to be the centre of attention.

She has been consistently like that -- always putting other people and the public interest work they do in the focus, not her.

Life, for Leni, is not about Leni. Life for her is about others, for others.

Maria Leonor (Leni) Gerona Robredo was born on April 23, 1965. She’s the only second woman to occupy the Office of the Vice-President, honored with an ISO 9001 Certification in 2015, for her Office’s Quality Management System. After finishing her Bachelor’s degree in Economics at the University of the Philippines in Diliman in 1986, she worked for the Bicol River Basin Development Program where she met then Program Director Jesse Robredo who became their husband. They have three daughters - Jessica Marie (Aika), Janine Patricia (Tricia), and Jillian Therese (Jillian) – all accomplished scholars and young professionals.

Dedicating her new life as spouse and mother, Leni continued her law degree at the local University of Nueva Caceres and was admitted to the bar in 1997. She worked at Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) and headed SALIGAN (Sentro ng AlternatibongLingapPanligan), a legal advocacy group, for ten years.

I heard of her public service record and Gender and Development advocacy in Naga City and Bicol region through my national contacts in the national women’s movement during this period from 1998 to 2008. In 2016, the Government of Thailand honored her with an “Outstanding Women of Asia” Award for her women’s empowerment and gender equality work. In the same year, the NGO Filipina Women's Network (FWN) chose her for the “Most Influential Filipina Woman of the World” award.

It would not be until after my next visit to Naga in 2008 when I had the chance to actually meet her up-close.Mayor Jesse invited me to dinner, accompanied by Leni and his Planning Office staff, at a Chinese restaurant on Magsaysay Avenue. She was dressed modestly in her black buttoned-down blouse on top of knee length khaki-colored skirt, black comfortable pumps. With no make-up on her dimpled elegantly chiseled face, shoulder-length black hair, and big, bright, almond brown eyes, Leni’s glowing aura was enough to lightened up the dining room and Jesse’s company.

She did not engage in idle talk during the night. She has the gift of discernment, a gift that guided her on those long days of October when she contemplated on her decisions to run for the presidency. Whenever she spoke that night, her words were measured, profound, and meaningful.

The third time I met Leni was at a public meeting with her constituents in Bicol, talking with farmers’ groups. She was already a Congress Representative for Camarines Sur 3rd District, elected in 2013, only a year after Jesse’s untimely death. I happened to be in Naga with colleagues from De La Salle University Robredo Institute of Governance for another meeting on “The Engaged University” and we were invited to attend the public consultation. She spoke from the heart in flawless Bicolano about issues that mattered to farmers and other constituents, answering questions with utmost patience and reverence for truth. She showed her gifts of clear communication, active listening, the sincerity and grace as a welcoming host.

Learning more about her life from media, I later attributed these gifts to her disciplined upbringing under the guidance of her father, a Judge, and her mother, a teacher at Unibersidad de Sta. Isabel College, where she attended in elementary and high school. Jesse himself taught undergraduate courses at Sta Isabel for free during his term as Mayor, donating back his salary to support local scholars at this private school.

As Congress Representative for Camarines Sur, Leni became Vice-Chair for Committees on Good Governance and Public Accountability and was active in eleven House panels for legal reforms, authoring landmark bills such as the Anti-Dynasty Bill, the People Empowerment Bill proposing partnerships between local governments and civil society through a people's council in every local government unit, an innovation long practiced in Naga City; Healthy Beverage Options Bill to regulate the availability of beverages to children in schools; Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Bill prohibiting discrimination based on ethnicity, race, religion or belief, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expressions, language, disability, HIV status, and other status, and corresponding penalties for these;  the Participatory Budget Process Bill institutionalizing citizens’ participation in the budget process; the Freedom of Information Bill to strengthen citizens’ right to information held by governments; and The Tax Incentives Management and Transparency Act (TIMTA), among other progressive reforms.

I have no doubt Honourable VP Leni Robredo is the most qualified, most competent, and most committed among all current presidential candidates. She is the only one who can, and will, dutifully and effectively lead our country during one of darkest times in Philippine history.

Her Economics background at the University of the Philippines would be helpful in steering our economy away from the doldrums, suffered under six-years of mismanagement exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Her Law background at the University of Nueva Caceres and her unflinching concern for social justice will bring back decency, strength of character, and high ethical standards to the top Executive Office, and honorably represent the country at international bodies, official meetings and negotiations.

Her untainted record in public service -- as public prosecutor, Congress Representative for Camarines Sur, and as Vice-President of the Republic serving during very difficult and polarizing political climate –much proven in her grassroots engagement with local communities across the country to address their urgent basic needs during the protracted pandemic – food, transportation, masks and other personal protective equipment, health clinics.

She is not just another Corazon Aquino. Like Cory, she has the decency of spirit, the charisma of a reformer with strong pro-democracy instincts and respect for basic human rights. But unlike Cory, Leni is no ‘plain housewife’ to a popular politician. She has the political credentials and experience she has already put to good use in her decades of public service from the Public Attorneys Office in Naga City to the Office of the Vice President in Quezon City.

Contrary to some critics who see Leni as another “yellow oligarchic” candidate in a pink dress, the Robredos of Naga City are no oligarchs. They are solidly middle-class, raised as critical thinkers who understand the precarity of their class location and also the privileges that come with middle-classness useful in pursuing the public good – the double consciousness around elite and non-elite statuses, the skill at navigating power without being corrupted by its temptations, the ability to hold the centre and unite those at the peripheries towards common causes. Jesse was able to use these with solid integrity in his 18-year record of Naga City, the city that managed in a few short years to move from third-class to first-class City and receive more than a hundred national and international awards for good governance.

Naga City was Leni Robredo’s training ground as a public servant, Jesse her mentor, and Bicolanos her first political fan base of ardent supporters and vocal admirers.

Her unwavering faith and trust in our people are remarkable. And people have returned back her trust by organizing and galvanizing the grassroots to support her candidacy. Against all odds, with no money to buy votes or rent big venues for her campaign, she garnered more votes than Bongbong Marcos in the Vice-Presidential elections in 2016. And I have no doubt that if our elections are really free, honest, and fair, she will again beat BBM in this next round.

Leni’s supporters are the critical thinking types who are fed up by corrupt traditional politicians who in this race are bonding and banding together against Leni. And for good reasons. As SolitaMonsod, Leni’s former professor at the UP School of Economics, wrote, these trapos are quaking in fear. Because when Leni gets elected and Filipinos realize why good honest governance and public service are preferable and possible, they would be hooked in truth-telling and voting for capable and dedicated candidates like her, thus, ending their reign of greed, plunder, and corruption.

Leni is the type who could not be bothered by what her rivals are saying about her or telling their supporters. Leni has the focus of Yoda, the fund-raising abilities of Obama, the flair and style of Michelle, and the professionalism and political acumen of an Angela Merkel.

Her grassroots supporters– especially the youth, including those in the global diaspora of voting migrants around the world -- are the ones responding to her detractors. They defend Leni’s record - talking about her credibility and program of action for the country and convincing them through thoughtful conversations why they are voting Robredo-Pangilinan in the coming elections. Her Kakam-pinks, as Leni supporters call themselves are a real volunteer-based grassroots movement Leni Robredo can count on to contribute to post-election community and national development efforts.

The coming May 2022 national election is perhaps the most important election our voting generations, especially our youth, will face in their lifetime. Just like how it was for us in February 1986 when every vote mattered to oust the dictator Marcos who had violated the Constitution and mustered all means to keep himself and his cronies in power.

Leni came of voting age in 1986 and knew what was at stake. Then, as it is now, the stakes are even higher. The difference is that she is not an ordinary voter now; she is the one people are voting into power in an election where the stakes are so high, the consequences so significant, our country could not afford the high costs of another six years of Duterte-by-proxy rule, or a tandem that would bring back to the highest halls of power the heirs of two autocrats bearing their surnames.

That would be the Philippines’ death knell, consigned to another category within the league of failed states among Banana Republics, the only country that brought back to power the son of the dictator his own people ousted 35 years ago. Tragedy redux. Let this not be our future.

Leni Robredo is our only hope for real change for the good of our country and future generations. She is the one with integrity, truly lovable and deserving of our respect and love.

Pink – the colour of love and poetics of care – is a most fitting symbol for Leni’s persona and campaign. When Leni speaks of a “radical love,” she is uncompromising. It must have taken some strong courage from her Higher Being, the gift of discernment, and real radical resolve to run for the Presidency -against the big moneyed oligarchic factions of the Marcoses, Dutertes, Arroyos, and Estradas, and their allies. She is capable of using her radical love for the nation and for Filipinos towards non-reformist, radical reforms – not contradictory words in Leni’s worldview -- to shake up our economy and systems of political governance.

I am sure the double meaning in this article’s title was not lost in you, my dear readers.

We love her because she is loving and sincerely loves us back.

She loves Filipinos and the Philippines and she is willing and ready to serve.


 

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