By Perry Diaz
When Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo entered politics 2013, little did she know that within four years she’d be propelled to the second highest position in the country – the vice presidency. Some people call it “fast track” ascension; some call it luck; and a few call it destiny. But as the country’s vice-president since June 30, 2016 – just a little over five months in office – many people now believe that Leni is destined to assume what the country needs: a servant-leader whose compassion for the poor transcends policy.
Before entering public life four years ago, Leni led a simple and down-to-earth lifestyle. She graduated from the University of the Philippines with a degree in Economics in 1986. That was the year the People Power Revolution erupted. Inspired by the revolution, Leni deferred her law studies and went to work as a researcher for the Bicol River Basin Development Program, a government agency that was responsible for planning the development in the three provinces of the Bicol region. It was here where she met her future husband, Jesse Robredo, who was then the agency’s Program Director. They got married the following year.
A few years later, Leni obtained her Master’s Degree in Business Administration at San Beda College. After getting her MBA, she went to law school at the University of Nueva Caceres where she earned her law degree in 1992. She passed the bar exam in 1996 and went to work in the Public Attorney’s Office, where she took up the defense for cases pursued by her husband, who was then the Mayor of Naga City.
Fate and destiny
With 26 years of experience in serving the people – mostly poor – in the Bicol region, Leni sharply honed her “people skill,” which prepared her for a life of public service. However, she didn’t realize that fate – and destiny – would catapult her in a trajectory that would lead her to the vice presidency… a heartbeat away from the presidency.
With the untimely and sudden death of her husband Jesse from a plane crash in 2012, who was then the Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) under the administration of then President Benigno Aquino III, Leni was encouraged by Liberal Party stalwarts including President Aquino to run for a congressional seat to represent Camarines Sur’s third district.
Her first foray into politics was one of the most – if not the most – watched contests during the 2013 mid-term elections. Pitted against Nelly Favis-Villafuerte, a member of the powerful Villafuerte dynasty, conventional wisdom dictated that Leni didn’t stand a chance of beating Favis-Villafuerte. The odds were just too great. But she won! She occupied her district’s congressional seat in Metro Manila and commuted by bus to and from Naga City once a week. She could have availed of a government-paid chauffeur-driven sedan but she didn’t.
In 2015, Aquino prodded her to run for vice-president when the LP couldn’t find a strong candidate to field against several seasoned and nationally recognized senators. With no track record of winning in nationwide elections, Leni didn’t stand a chance of beating them.
When Leni began her vice-presidential election campaign, she was the underdog with only 1% approval rating in the surveys versus the 44% of Chiz Escudero, who wan then the front-runner. By April 2016, just two weeks before the elections, Leni climbed to the top of the leader board at 26% and tied statistically with Bongbong Marcos’ 25%. Leni won the vice-presidency by a razor-thin margin over Bongbong, which led Bongbong to file for recount.
But Bongbong wants the recount the precincts in which he got zero votes. However, he doesn’t want the recount of Leni’s zero-vote precincts, which she claims was four to five times as many as his.
Newly elected President Rodrigo Duterte who won in a landslide due mainly to his populist appeal to the common people and a promise to end illegal drugs, criminality, and corruption in three to six months, appointed Leni as Chairperson of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC). However, the appointment did not dwell too well with Bongbong whom Duterte is openly supporting in his electoral protest against Leni. The case is now pending before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), which consists of members of the Supreme Court. Interestingly, the Supreme Court, by a 9-4 vote, recently ruled to allow the burial of Bongbong’s father and namesake, the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos to be buried in the Libingan Ng Mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery). Does their vote indicate that PET would likely declare Bongbong the winner of the vice-presidential election; thus, replacing Leni as Vice President?
With the political currents shifting erratically, speculation is rife that there is an insidious plot for Bongbong to replace Leni. The obvious one is for Bongbong to win the recount, which many believe would be done by hook or by crook. As to how they’d do it hookedly or crookedly, depends on many factors, including an attempt of Duterte to amend the Constitution to convert the government system to a federal system. Or, perhaps, into a parliamentary system where Duterte would remain President as the head of state and Bongbong who would be Prime Minister as head of government?
This reminds me when the elder Marcos changed the Constitution to a parliamentary system with him as President and Cesar Virata as Prime Minister. With a large majority of congressmen – many of them were LP turncoats – serving as rubber stamp for a Duterte-Marcos alliance, there wouldn’t be a need for Bongbong to run for President in a national ticket. All Duterte has to do is to convince the turncoats to make Bongbong the Prime Minister. And with the LP reduced to about 30 congressmen and a handful of senators, they could hardly function as an opposition party. There won’t be any opposition party! Does that remind you of the dark era of the Marcos dictatorship? Yes, it’s déjà vu all over again.
The battle begins
Last December 4, Leni resigned from the Duterte Cabinet after she received a text message from Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco to “desist” from attending Cabinet meetings. In her letter, Leni said: “I had been warned of a plot to steal the Vice Presidency. I have chosen to ignore this and focus on the job at hand. But the events of recent days indicate that this plot is now being set into motion.
“From the very beginning, the President and I had major differences in principles and values. Since I assumed office, I have been consistent in my opposition to issues such as the burial of former President Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, extra-judicial killings, reinstating death penalty, lowering the age of criminal liability, and sexual attacks against women.”
In a press conference following her resignation, Leni declared her readiness to lead the political opposition to a Duterte-Marcos conspiracy to steal the vice-presidency. “This is not a time for fear. This is a time for conviction and courage.” She concluded, saying: “We have fought this battle before and won. We will never let anyone revise our history and twist it to turn evil into good. What is at stake here is our collective future.”
And now, the battle begins. Quo vadis, Leni?