[OPINION] ‘Bakit si Leni Robredo for president?’: Proven integrity, transparency, accountability and the heart of a true public servant

Vice President Leni Robredo

LENI ROBREDO is my President. She is NOT the lesser of two evils. She is NOT capitalizing on the gender vote as a woman. She is NOT capitalizing on the sympathy vote being a widow herself like Cory Aquino. Leni Robredo is the BEST candidate the Philippines needs during this very important chapter in our nation’s history. And it seems, all the different chapters of her life story have prepared her for this biggest calling of her life.

Maria Leonor “Leni” Santo Tomas Gerona Robredo was not born to a rich family, nor was she a part of any political dynasties. She did not even dream of becoming a vice president nor a president. But she knew she always wanted to be a lawyer like her father.

Leni was born in Naga, Camarines Sur, the eldest of three children of the late Naga City Regional Trial Court Judge Antonio Gerona Sr. and Salvacion Santo Tomas, an English professor at the Universidad de Santa Isabel in Naga.

Leni’s parents raised their children in a modest family, instilling in them the values of faith, hard work, integrity and the commitment to be true public servants through their own life examples of fighting for justice and education. These are the core values that made Leni aspire to follow in her father’s footsteps.

Leni completed her elementary and secondary education in the same school where her late mother was a teacher. She went to the University of the Philippines in Diliman, stayed in a university dormitory living a simple and frugal life she was used to and studied diligently to obtain her bachelor’s degree in economics in 1986.

While she promised her father that she would be a lawyer like him someday, she decided to work first to save money and help pay for her law education. She worked as a researcher for the Bicol River Basin Development program, a government agency responsible for integrated area development planning in the three provinces of the Bicol Region.

Serendipitously, it was through this temporary pre-law school job that she met then-program director Jesse Robredo, who was smitten by Robredo’s beauty, grace, intelligence and personality. As Leni shared on video, it was a whirlwind romance that lead to marriage in 1987. Her parents, especially her father, were initially against it, but gave his blessings when Jesse made a sacred promise that he will help Leni graduate from law school and become a lawyer as she promised her parents.

Leni attended law school at the University of Nueva Caceres while she was already a wife to Jesse who by then already started serving Naga as Mayor since 1988.

In her video, Leni said she had to juggle her time being a student, a wife, a mother while in law school. She also had to work part-time to help pay for her tuition because the meager salary of mayor won’t be able to pay for all the expenses of their growing family. And so with blood, sweat and tears, and the grace of God, Leni graduated in 1992.

The growing responsibilities of being a mayor’s wife, mother, part-time worker and reviewing for the bar exam did not daunt her. She remained steadfast in fulfilling her promise to her father and to herself that she would be a lawyer and fulfill her God-given destiny no matter how hard it would take. In 1997, Leni Gerona Robredo passed the bar exam on her second attempt and became Atty. Leni Gerona Robredo in 1997.

In her video, Leni intimated how her journey to be a lawyer humbled her and made her realize how she wouldn’t have achieved her goal without God’s grace. This sense of gratitude made her decide to use her profession to give back and help those in need.

Hence, Leni served in the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) in 1997. From 1998 to 2008, Leni became the coordinated efforts of SALIGAN — a Naga-based alternative legal support group, encouraging young legal professionals to be leaders committed to visiting rural communities to provide legal services to people who couldn’t afford to hire their own attorneys.

Under Leni’s leadership, SALIGAN also conducted legal advocacy to improve the system of delivering justice for all, by proposing amendments and new legislation based on the needs of marginalized communities. SALIGAN’s services later included helping women to acquire capital to participate in competitive markets.

But Leni’s advocacy to empower women dated back to 1989 when she founded the “Lakas ng Kababaihan ng Naga Foundation”, which provided training and livelihood opportunities for women.

Jesse Robredo was appointed Secretary of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) by the late President Noynoy Aquino from 2010 up to his untimely death in an airplane crash in 2012.

Leni Robredo and daughter with the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo

Mourning and carrying on her shoulders the responsibility of raising their three daughters as a single parent, Leni found strength and continued sense of purpose in accepting the calling to carry on her late husband’s legacy of good governance. As her bio stated, she stepped into the political arena in 2012 when she won as Representative of the Third District of Camarines Sur.

As Representative, Leni would go even to the most remote areas of Camarines Sur to check on her constituents face to face. She would visit with them, get to know and understand their needs to author legislation to help them.

Her advocacies in government are reflected by her committee leadership and membership. “During this time, she was Vice Chairman of two committees: Committee on Good Governance and Public Accountability, and Committee on Revision of Laws. She was also part of the Committee of Appropriations; Bicol Recovery and Economic Development; Climate Change; Human Rights; Land Use; Local Government; People’s Participation; Rural Development; Suffrage and Electoral Reforms; Welfare of Children; and Women and Gender Equality,” her bio stated.

Among the laws she passed:

Philippine National Railways Charter Extension – Republic Act RA10638, an act extending the corporate life of the Philippine National Railways for another 50 years which was enacted on June 16, 2014

Sangguniang Kabataan Reform Act of 2015 – Republic Act RA10742, an act establishing reforms in the Sangguniang Kabataan creating enabling mechanisms for meaningful youth participation in nation-building which was enacted on January 15, 2016

Tax Incentives Management and Transparency Act – Republic Act RA10708, an act promoting fiscal accountability and transparency in the grant and management of tax incentives which was enacted on December 9, 2015

Open High School System Act – Republic Act RA10665, an act establishing and appropriating funds for the open high school system in the Philippines which was enacted on July 9, 2015

Graphic Health Warnings Law – Republic Act RA10643, an act prescribing the printing of graphic health warnings on tobacco products which was enacted on November 15, 2014

Decriminalizing Premature Marriage – Republic Act RA10655, an act decriminalizing premature marriages which was enacted on March 13, 2015

Strengthening the Probation System – Republic Act RA10707, an act rationalizing and strengthening the probation system and amending the “Probation Law of 1976” which was enacted on November 26, 2015

Election Service Reform Act – Republic Act RA10756, an act rendering election service non-compulsory for public school teachers enacted on April 8, 2016

And then in 2016, another calling she had to heed: to be vice president of the Philippines.

(To be continued)

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Gel Santos Relos has been in news, talk, public service and educational broadcasting since 1989. She was a news anchor, TV host and radio commentator and public service host for ABS- CBN and DZMM. She is now working on her advocacies independently, serving the Filipino audience using different  media platforms. You may contact her through email at [email protected], or send her a message via Facebook at Facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos. Also on Twitter, Instagram: Gel Santos Relos

Gel Santos Relos

Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to www.TheFil-AmPerspective.com and www.facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos

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