[OPINION] ‘Bakit si Leni?’ She is the best candidate for president in this defining moment in our nation’s history and identity

Vice President Leni Robredo visits a village in Ocampo, Camarines Sur in 2016. | Photo courtesy of Twitter/@lenirobredo

LENI Robredo’s humble beginnings would not give us a clue that she would one day be running for president. The eldest daughter of a Regional Trial Court judge and a teacher in Naga did not come from a rich family nor a political dynasty, nor from showbiz as many people in politics do. She and her siblings were raised in a simple frugal family that valued faith, hard work, education, integrity and service as more important than earthly riches.

These were the core values that guided Leni Robredo all her life, that made her dreamt of being a lawyer like her esteemed father. And if you believe in God’s divine plan, this serendipitous meeting and convergence of the paths of Leni and Jesse Robredo in a job she took just before going to law school materialized because they both, knowingly or unknowingly, saw themselves in each other — the better self they want to be in fulfillment of their sense of purpose.

Leni learned much about good and honest governance from Jesse when he was elected Mayor of Naga, while Jesse said Leni was his conscience who kept him grounded and true to his calling. This was a synergy of forces of two people driven by service for others instead of the feeling of entitlement.

It was through the difficulties and challenges of their journey together that helped made Leni who she is. Because Jesse was not corrupt, Leni had to work part-time while being a mayor’s wife and a mother to help pay for her tuition because Jesse’s meager salary wouldn’t be enough to pay for the needs of their growing family.

With her determination and tenacity, she obtained her law degree and passed the bar exams after two attempts. It was through this challenging journey that made her realize how blessed she had been to fulfill her dream to be a lawyer and keep the promise she and Jesse gave to her parents before they received their blessing for their marriage.

This realization and sense of gratitude sealed Leni’s decision to use her profession not to enrich herself but instead, use her being an attorney to serve the needy and the less privileged. She did this by representing them as their lawyer working for the Public Attorney’s Office and a non-government organization to inspire and lead other young attorneys to help the poor in remote areas of the Bicol Region have access to lawyers. She also founded an NGO that empowered women to be entrepreneurs by giving them access to training and funding to help fulfill their dreams for themselves, their families and community.

Jesse Robredo entered the national stage when he was appointed Secretary of Interior and Local Government under the Noynoy Aquino Administration in 2010. However, his life was cut short by a plane crash in 2012. Mourning this sudden loss while carrying the load of raising their three daughters as a single parent, Leni was also called to continue the legacy of good and honest governance Jesse left behind, amid the grip of corrupt political practices of a family dynasty in their province.

Leni Robredo ran and won a seat in Congress to represent the Third District of Camarines Sur. Her committee leadership and membership were in congruence with her lifelong advocacies: 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.

She also authored and passed bills that mandates transparency and accountability in government, empowered the youth and women, teachers, and voters, as well as improved access of her constituents to better infrastructure, health care, education and justice.

Yet in 2016, she was called to serve not only her constituents in Bicol but the Filipinos all over the nation during the time that Bongbong Marcos, the son of the dictator who we ousted via the 1986 People Power, wanted to go back to power as Vice President.

Leni won the VP race and the Supreme Court affirmed the legitimacy of her victory three times when Bongbong Marcos accused her of cheating and demanded for recount three times, only to lose over and over again to Leni. Had Leni not won, it would have been a Duterte-Marcos government.

Early on in the Duterte Administration, Leni fulfilled her constitutional duty of checks and balances, calling out Duterte for extrajudicial killings in his war on drugs. This was easily deemed as “paninira” by Duterte that has stoked his vindictive nature.

He did not appoint Leni to any cabinet position, and in spite, challenged her to take charge of the war on drugs which she accepted. As her bio stated, Leni “relentlessly sought to steer the anti-illegal drug campaign to a more holistic, data-driven, and humane approach, believing that the fight against illegal drugs is not only the fight of government, but of every community and every Filipino.

Leni went on to release a report, which detailed the current state of the anti-illegal drug campaign, and the various gaps that need to be filled and proposed solutions to these”. As Leni asked for access to information pertaining to the big fish she had to run after, Duterte fired her from that job after 18 days, saying he did not trust Leni.

Leni did not wait for any more appointments from Duterte to serve the people for the position she was elected to. With a very limited budget, her bio said: “Leni led the crafting of its flagship anti-poverty program, Angat Buhay – an endeavor inspired by six key advocacy areas; namely, food security and nutrition, women empowerment, education, healthcare, rural development, and housing. It has reached out to poor communities around the country, through the generosity of partner-organizations and individuals, most of whom are from the private sector.” Yes, that was the start of the “Angat Buhay Lahat’ we have been hearing about these days.

Leni was also the ever-present proactive leader who helped our kababayans navigate our way through the coronavirus pandemic. Her bio stated that “despite limited resources, the Office of the Vice President launched many initiatives, through the help of many partners and donors, aimed at filling in the gaps found in terms of supporting frontliners and communities in need during this time—from providing PPE sets, locally produced protective suits, and medical supplies to frontliners across all regions of the Philippines; to providing free shuttle service and dormitories for frontliners in Metro Manila”.

The Office of the Vice President, as stated in her bio, went on to “distribute relief packs, hot meals, and other assistance to communities; helping locally stranded individuals return to their respective provinces; giving market vendors and tricycle drivers a platform to boost their livelihood anew through community marts; giving livelihood opportunities and assistance to individuals, communities, and sectors who lost their jobs and sources of income; providing distance learning support for students, teachers, and their families; promoting mass testing and vaccination efforts; and providing free medical teleconsultation services to patients, among others”.

Leni and her team were also ever-present and proactive during disasters and tragedies. She was among the “first in government to visit hard-hit areas, including those in the Bicol Region and the provinces of Isabela and Cagayan. Fostering her office’s culture of swift and strategic response, alongside the Filipino Bayanihan spirit, the OVP was able to bring relief assistance to many affected communities and, eventually, also start rehabilitation efforts through the BAHAYanihan housing initiative”.

Leni has said in interviews before that she had no plans of running for the presidency. This had to change when Bongbong Marcos announced he was running for president. Leni had a long talk with her daughters who wished they would just all live a normal life.

Paano na ang sinimulan ni Papa,” was Leni’s response, thinking of the legacy of her husband, and the calling in her own life that was begging to be heeded. She knew she was able to beat Bongbong in 2016. She knew she had to step in faith and do what she can to save our democracy from the Marcos family’s culture of corruption and impunity.

And so VP Leni Robredo ran for president and selected Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan to be her vice president. Both of them have lived their lives as true public servants with no history of corruption and moral turpitude. In fact, the Commission on Audit has given the OVP “an unqualified opinion — considered the highest rating from state auditors — for its financial reports in 2018, 2019, and 2020”.

This is important because Leni and Kiko are running on the promise of transforming the corruption-plagued government into “gobyernong tapat“,  and leadership by example is of paramount importance to deliver on this promise — Transparency, accountability and participative government of the people, by the people for the people.

Leni and Kiko know they need to win back the trust of the people in the government to empower them and help bring out the best in them, reminding us citizens that we all are the answers to our prayers for as long as we all work together for the greater good, abiding by the rule of law, lifting each other up, especially the poor and the marginalized people of society.

The Robredo-Pangilinan team offers a platform that will give opportunities to all Filipinos to uplift our families from poverty through health care, education, and equal opportunities for all, and not just for the rich and well connected.

Leni would tell her supporters in campaign rallies that should she be given the privilege of serving them as President, to not be afraid to speak up and call her out if she has not been governing according to what she promised, according to the oath she would be taking as president, without fear of retaliation.

In this campaign we have seen Leni and Kiko inspire hope in people, bring out volunteerism and the mindset of how we all can contribute according to our gifts and talents to help each other and lift each other up for the good of the country.

Gobyernong tapat“. This elusive dream will be a reality. We have the best candidates, the best public servants that our country needs so badly to help transform not only the government but us, the Filipino people, to be the citizens who deserve the government we have been praying for.

We will use the power of our vote to make Leni Robredo and Kiko Pangilinan lead us toward a brighter, better, stronger Philippines. With the victory of Leni and Kiko in the polls on May 9, the Philippines wins. The Filipinos win. Indeed,” kulay rosas ang bukas“.

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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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