Who is Leni Robredo?

Leni Robredo. Photo: Supergabbyshoe/ Wikimedia Commons

By Jolene Yeo

The world watched as she rose with multitudes of Filipinos in a largely peaceful revolt that ousted Ferdinand Marcos, three decades ago. Today, 52-year-old Leni Robredo has topped the official Congressional count of the 2016 election that she entered, to become the vice president-elect of the Philippines.

Who is Leni Robredo, and how did she rise to become the second most powerful person in the Philippines?

The second “widow in yellow”

“For the second time, a widow in yellow has defeated a Marcos,” said Julio Teehankee, a political analyst with De La Salle University in Manila, in comparing Leni Robredo with Corazon Aquino.

Before joining politics, Robredo was an advocate lawyer and social activist, who focused on helping poor, marginalised rural people and farmers.

She worked for the Public Attorney’s Office – which, in the Philippines, serves to defend the poor. Furthermore, she was also the past president of the Naga City Council for Women, and a member of the Federación Internacional de Abogados (International Federation for Lawyers).

Although initially a soft-spoken woman, Robredo was thrust into politics and defeated members of politically powerful backgrounds. During her time in Congress, she introduced legislation to foster transparency and accountability among officials. She sponsored the Open Door Policy Act preventing the marginalised sector from being denied access to government frontline services and public meeting based on their attire.

Other significant legislative changes Robredo was at the axis of includes the People Empowerment Bill which sought to allow more participation from the people in decision and policy making, as well as the Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Act. The question is, have enacted changes to the legislation reaped positive changes to the lives of Filipinos?

Tsinelas leadership

A viral picture of Leni Robredo waiting for a public bus has gone viral on social media. The Japan Times reported that Filipinos are long used to politicians being driven around in Mercedes-Benz or SUVs with armed bodyguards, explaining the social media frenzy upon seeing Robredo waiting for a public bus.

Leni Robredo’s humble ways and servant leadership style is also associated with that of her late husband, Jesse Robredo, who had a clean reputation as a reformist, and won the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay award for good governance, regarded as Asia’s version of the Nobel Prize. The late Jesse Robredo was also known for this tsinelas (slippers) and shorts outfit, now a symbol of the Robredos down-to-earth approach and leadership style.

The epitome of good governance

The Rappler bestowed on Robredo the title of “the Congresswoman from the third district of Camarines Sur who routed a dynasty”, calling her “the epitome of good governance”.

It posited that Robredo’s accolades, from her impressive educational background with a degree in Economics and Law, her right advocacies, and her track record of empowering the people, would make her an excellent candidate for the role of vice-president.

In her speech marking the second anniversary of Jesse Robredo’s death, Leni Robredo proclaimed that sharing power with the people when crafting policies, programmes, allocating budgets and monitoring implementations is the “heart and soul of good governance”.

She rallied for policy making to not be defined by the crosshairs of policies, economic status or family name, rejecting the trickle down approach. Good governance, she proclaims, always requires three things– transparency of processes, accountability of officials and the people participation.

“Leni must understand that she belongs to the opposite side”

However, all is not rosy for the humble politician. Despite her marginal win over competitor “BongBong” Marcos by a mere 263,473 votes – minuscule in relation to the voting pool of the entire Philippines) – the Philippines Star reported that President-elect Rodrigo Duterte insisted that “there is no compelling reason to appoint vice president elect Leni Robredo to the Cabinet”. It worth noting that while Duterte is from the PDP-Laban, while Robredo is from the Liberal Party.

The vice-president race has not been without its challenges. It was a race muddied by accusations of vote cheating, leveled at Robredo by her staunchest rival, Bongbong Marcos.

In an interview with the Channel NewsAsia, Robredo’s shared her view that “these accusations are really unfair in the sense that it instigates many of his supporters, but there really is no basis for it”.

With automatic elections in place for the second time in the entire history of the country, Robredo herself would be most interested to find out how cheating to be done. While unafraid that Marco’s instigations would be in any capacity to destabilise her vice-presidency, Robredo believes that in may create confusion and cast doubts on the integrity of the election. When asked during the interview with Channel NewsAsia in early May, Robredo said she was confident that she would win the election.

In an opinion article published on the Philippine Star, author Jerry S. Tundag wrote that the whole vice-presidential campaign against Bongbong Marcos was never about his capability, or the lack of it, to hold office as vice president. Instead, the issue was about martial law and Bongbong being a Marcos – son of the former dictator – and Leni being on the opposite side of it all. Political dilettantes go further to say that Robredo’s attacks on rival Bongbong Marcro were irrational.

For example, she was quoted in an interview to have said that “the Marcoses should be perpetually disqualified from running for public office because of the magnitude of abuses, wealth they stole”.

After all, Duterte himself said that “Leni must understand that she belongs to the opposite side”.