Philippine Elections: Leni Robredo Is the One That Got Away
We are not ready for a leader like her. As a friend said, “We get what we tolerate.”
In the early 90s, we experienced many hours of power outages, 3 to 10 hours at a time. Without electricity, we used candles to light up our dinners and school work.
Our president was Fidel V. Ramos who, they said, inherited the power problem from Corazon Aquino, the country’s 11th president. Reports said she failed to build enough power plants, thus, the struggle to keep our houses lit from evening to dawn.
I don’t recall how long this lasted, but this was my earliest memory of Philippine politics: power outages, thievery, and fanning myself through the sweltering heat.
The memory of politics from childhood
The Philippines has had a corrupt government since the day I was born. That’s what I’ve been conditioned to think by what I saw on TV, heard on the radio, and from conversations heard at home. When I grew into an adult, they proved to be true.
Now that I’m older, my beliefs about our government have not changed at all. Politicians pull dirty tactics to win, and, when they do, they amass money and power out of greed. That’s how it has always been.
But there is one woman who shattered that belief. She is Leni Robredo.
A woman at work
Leni, as her supporters call her, is a development worker, lawyer, and presidential candidate for 2022 elections. She is our current Vice-President, who was unfortunate to have been placed side-by-side Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte is known for his misogynistic attitude, sees strong and educated women as weak and dumb. You can imagine what their relationship is like.
Leni never wavered against him. Instead of complaining, she went to work.
As Vice-President, her response to COVID-19 was beyond outstanding. Despite limited funds, her office deployed mobile clinics, provided personal protective equipment and free transportation to health workers, and gave jobs to the unemployed while the country was on lockdown.
Where did the money come from? Volunteers, non-government organizations, and sponsors who trusted her leadership.
No wonder her office earned the highest audit rating from the Commission on Audit for three consecutive years. Every peso spent was accounted for.
During calamities, she visited far-flung areas by boat, motorcycle, or bus, regardless of distance and weather conditions.
Leni is never short of achievements, yet, she remains unassuming and modest, always sharp and straightforward.
Her home in Metro Manila is a simple apartment she doesn’t own. She lives with her children who were scholars from top schools in the Philippines and abroad. Tricia is a doctor from Ateneo de Manila University, Jillian took a BA in Mathematics and Economics from New York University. The eldest, Aika, took her master’s degree in Public Administration from Harvard Kennedy School.
Theirs is a simple, decent family, living a fairly secluded life in the province of Camarines Sur. In 2012, tragedy struck. Her husband, Jessie Robredo, then Secretary of the Interior and Local Government under the Aquino administration, died from a plane crash. The nation mourned his death.
Road to the presidency
Leni vowed to never enter politics where her husband thrived, but she did anyway, first as a Congresswoman.
Fast forward to October 2021 — Leni filed her certificate of candidacy for the presidency. It surprised many Filipinos. It also mobilized them.
In the seven months that she campaigned to become president, I witnessed not only an organized group disseminating information but a movement that filled the big and small corners of my country with quiet grace and strong conviction.
Seeing thousands of people cooperate, I joined too.
I biked on the streets with other supporters for a short caravan around my city.
A few days before election day, my family and I joined the meeting held in Makati City which turned out to become the biggest political rally in history. A report said 800,000 people came.
We wore pink, raised our flags and fists, sang our songs, and partied like a big family. There was nothing special in what we did because thousands more did the same, and did so much more.
Leni is like no other political figure. She inspires Filipinos to move, get involved, and help those in need. Her campaigns evolved into a podium for volunteerism, art, business, and culture to merge and provide for communities and inspire the youth. No hidden agenda, just pure service.
The president that got away
She is an aspiration. She is the servant leader who lines up for hours to cast her vote, the politician that breaks the stereotype. She is a model citizen, a woman who goes above and beyond for her daughters, as much as she does for the Filipino people.
Jillian, Tricia, and Aika say in their interviews that the best thing about their ‘Mama’ is her presence.
This image she painted for us in the past year makes us like, love, and trust that she can lead this country and be excellent at it. Her character at home showed her character at work. After watching interviews and reading anecdotes about her, I found that these two were never far apart.
Leni might not be the leader we deserve. Not yet. Her kind of leadership is elusive. It’s good, true, and only for people with pure intentions and ready for radical change.
The campaign and actual elections proved that still, a big chunk of the voting public chooses those who have stolen from us, killed us, and got away with what they have done.
Bongbong Marcos Jr. is poised to win the elections by a landslide victory. According to the unofficial results, about 30 million out of 65 million registered voters cast their ballots for him.
In her speech after the May 9 elections, Leni asked her supporters to never give up on the work that they started, to keep their eyes open and their love for the Philippines alive. The seed had been planted and now, the real work begins. She is humble in all of her victories; she remains gracious in defeat.
We are not ready for a leader like her. Not yet. As my friend said, “We get what we tolerate.”
If we keep choosing to look over past injustices instead of lifting ourselves by electing a clean and honest government, what will become of us in the next 5, 10, or 20 years? After years of struggle between people and government, did we learn anything at all?
I find it hard to believe. It’s hard to accept this victory. Whether the numbers are right, or the data coming out of the vote-counting machines were manipulated before the ballots came and counted, this win is unacceptable for millions of Leni’s supporters.
We gave his father a hero’s burial in 2016. Her mother, guilty of seven cases of graft and supposedly spending time in prison, is a free woman. Now we give their son the highest post in the land. Did we just put their family back in power?
Leni Robredo has no taint of corruption; she is the candidate in all of our dreams. Yet, we chose the opposite.
We did not learn from the horrors of the Martial Law that ushered in a wave of crimes against the Filipino people. We did not forget. We have yet to learn the lessons that we need to become a better people, a better nation.
If we keep doing the work we are supposed to do, someone like Leni might come along to lead us, or if we’re lucky, by Leni herself. Now is not the time.
Odyssa is the author of Like A New Sun Rising: A Collection of Poems on Love and From Where I Stand: A Collection of Poems on Travel. Be a Medium member by clicking here. To subscribe to her stories by email, click this.