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Of iron fist, inclusivity, and public service: How Leni Robredo fared in 'The Jessica Soho Presidential Interviews'

By NICK GARCIA Published Jan 23, 2022 3:58 pm

Vice President Leni Robredo on Jan. 22 said courageous leadership isn’t based on gender, amid perceptions that her motherly image is inferior to an iron fist.

Robredo was responding to GMA Network’s Jessica Soho, who interviewed presidential candidates in the upcoming 2022 national elections regarding their stance on several issues. She was asked to react to comments that the country needs a president with an iron fist instead of a mother like her.

“Depende sa kung paano mo dine-define ang kamay na bakal,” Robredo said. “Kung ang kamay na bakal, pagpapakita ng katapangan, in many stages of my life, pinakita ko ito.”

She cited the trials and tribulations in her life, including the tragic death of her husband Jesse Robredo in a plane crash in 2012.

“Nawalan ako ng asawa, lumaban ako. Nung kumandidato ako bilang congresswoman, kalaban ko isa sa pinakamatinding political dynasties sa lugar namin, pero lumaban ako,” referring to her underdog victory against the Villafuerte clan matriarch, Nelly, for the congressional seat in the third district of Camarines Sur in 2013. Robredo was a development worker back then before entering politics.

Robredo also recalled being in the same situation in the 2016 vice presidential race, as the sole female candidate against five incumbent male senators. “Pero nagtagumpay ako," she said.

But even with those dark-horse victories, Robredo’s stint as vice president posed even more challenges as she had to deal with President Rodrigo Duterte giving her the cold shoulder while in office.

It’s all good at first, when Duterte appointed Robredo in his Cabinet as chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council in July 2016. But even as a member of the cabinet, Robredo also criticized Duterte’s policies, particularly his bloody war on drugs.

Fast forward to December, Duterte instructed Robredo to “desist” from all Cabinet meetings, prompting her to just resign from her post.

In the years that followed, Duterte has time and again belittled Robredo’s capability to lead just because she’s a woman.

In November 2019, Duterte appointed her as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs after her statements that the government’s war on drugs must be "tweaked" because it’s “clearly not working.”

In the interview with Soho, Robredo noted that she accepted it, despite “knowing for a fact na parang pumapasok ako sa lion’s den.”

After 18 days, however, Duterte fired Robredo for her supposed “missteps,” including meeting with various stakeholders and foreign agencies. He also said that he couldn’t trust her.

But Robredo remained headstrong and carried on with work, even performing duties outside of the vice presidency.

So kung katapangan lang naman, hindi ito nakikita sa gender. Nakikita ito kung paano ka nagdedesisyon sa maraming aspekto ng iyong buhay.

She even told Soho that she’s been working 18 hours a day, “on the average,” based on her average daily sleeping time of about six hours.

Robredo's office eventually earned an International Organization for Standardization certification and the highest audit rating from the Commission on Audit for the third consecutive year.

“So kung katapangan lang naman, hindi ito nakikita sa gender,” she said. “Nakikita ito kung paano ka nagdedesisyon sa maraming aspekto ng iyong buhay.”

Promoting inclusivity by going independent

During the interview, Robredo clarified that she did not “abandon” the Liberal Party by running as an independent candidate. As it stands, she’s still the party’s chairperson.

“Kaya ako nagkandidato as independent kasi gusto naming di ilimita sa partido namin iyong makakasama sa labang ito,” she said, adding that she hopes to convey the message that they’re “open to everyone, even to those not belonging to the party.”

[B]aka fresh start ito para sa bansa natin na iyong uupong presidente...presidenteng bukas sa kahit anong partido

She also expressed confidence that an independent candidate like her has a fighting chance in the presidential race. Soho noted that in the country’s election history, no independent candidate has ever won the presidency.

“There is always a first time,” Robredo said. “Iyong sa akin, tingin ko nga, baka fresh start ito para sa bansa natin na iyong uupong presidente, di lang presidente na galing lang sa isang partido pero presidenteng bukas sa kahit anong partido.”

Frustrations in ‘failing’ to unite opposition

Robredo also bared that she’s “frustrated” when talks of forging a united opposition fizzled out.

“Iniisip ko sana ito best chance to unite,” she said.

But Robredo said that the failed unity talks may have been for the better, as when she ultimately announced her own candidacy in October 2021, several figures have come together to show their support.

“Gusto kong sabihin na kahit siguro di ko na-unite iyong mga presidential contenders, naging successful tayo in uniting so many groups na non-politicians,” she said. “At ito ay nagbibigay sa atin ng inspirasyon.”

Robredo also acknowledged that it may already be too late to push for unity talks at this point, especially that the presidential bets have already filed their respective candidacies, and that the public already has preferences.

“Pero hindi imposible,” Robredo said. “Sana magkaroon pa rin ng pagkakataon.”

Controversial stance on vote-buying

Soho also asked Robredo about her most controversial pronouncement yet regarding vote-buying.

Back in October last year, Robredo told Filipinos that should they be in a situation that vote-buying takes place, they may opt to take the money as it’s theirs to begin with anyway. Though she reminded them that they must still choose candidates based on their conscience.

Robredo’s pronouncement has drawn mixed reactions, with Commission on Elections spokesman James Jimenez expressing his disapproval on Twitter.

"I disagree with the notion of taking the money and voting according to your conscience," Jimenez said. "Vote buying is an election offense regardless of financial situation or noble intentions. Di dapat ginagawa, at di dapat sina-suggest yan sa mga botante."

Jimenez's tweet was also flashed on the screen as Soho asked Robredo if she still stands by her take on the matter.

Robredo did not categorically answer yes or no, but stressed that she's always been against vote-buying as it remains rampant.

"Iyong sa akin, tayong mga di naniniwala sa pagbili ng boto, anong gagawin natin? Iyong realities on the ground, nangyayari siya e," she said, seemingly reiterating her original stance.

Lahat kasi nag-uumpisa sa pagiging mabuting halimbawa. Sa hindi pag-condone sa masasamang ginagawa

She emphasized that the onus is not on presidential candidates like her, but on the national government, Comelec, and the Philippine National Police to go after those who practice vote-buying.

"Di natin nai-implement iyong batas nang maayos. Dahil dito, lalo lang namamayagpag iyong mga namimili ng boto," she said.

Robredo, however, said that she'll lead by example and push for clean governance.

"Lahat kasi nag-uumpisa sa pagiging mabuting halimbawa. Sa hindi pag-condone sa masasamang ginagawa," she said.

Create jobs, strengthen health and education sectors

Asked what she’ll prioritize if elected in office, Robredo said she will focus on creating jobs, especially that many Filipinos have been left jobless due to COVID-19.

“Number one talaga, trabaho. Dahil sa pandemic, ang daming naghirap, ang daming nagsara,” she said. “Iyon talaga iyong tututukan natin.”

Robredo, however, noted that jobs will only be created with good governance and a sound economy.

“Ifi-fix natin ang institutions, ima-maximize natin ang opportunities of local industries,” she said.

Robredo said she’ll also strengthen the health sector and the education system, which have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

“Itong pandemic ay na-reveal iyong lahat ng mga systemic ills ng ating healthcare system,” she said. “Sisiguraduhin natin na iyong access to medical care, access to healthcare…available siya kahit sa mahihirap.”

“Pangatlo, iyong education. Lagi kong sinasabi na kailangan na tayong magdeklara ng education crisis even before the pandemic. Iyong ating mga lagay sa mga international assessments, kulelat tayo. Kaya iyon ay tututukan natin,” she added.

Papanagutin kung bakit nila hinahayaan iyong kanilang platforms na magamit sa kasinungalingan

Robredo also said that under her administration, social media networks would be held responsible for allowing fake news to proliferate in their platforms.

“Papanagutin kung bakit nila hinahayaan iyong kanilang platforms na magamit sa kasinungalingan, kung bakit hinahayaan nilang…mamayagpag sa kanilang platforms,” she said.

The vice president has long been on the receiving end of attacks from trolls but noted that “walang nangyayari sa aming mga reklamo.”

Rookie in politics, veteran in public service

Soho also quizzed Robredo whether she’s ready to become the next president of the Philippines despite being the most inexperienced politician among the candidates who have been interviewed.

Robredo has nine years of experience in public office, since she won Camarines Sur’s third district congressional seat in 2013. But because of her late husband’s two decades of service as Naga City mayor, she said she’s long been exposed to a politician’s job.

Nakita ko na iyong iba't ibang sides of the coin. Ang aking pagsisilbi ay talagang nasa laylayan ng lipunan

“Pero long before I became a politician, I was already a public servant.”

“Nakita ko na iyong iba't ibang sides of the coin. Ang aking pagsisilbi ay talagang nasa laylayan ng lipunan,” she said, adding that her experience in helping the poor before entering politics proved to be helpful in her work as congressman and eventually as vice president.

“And para sa akin, ito iyong mahalaga na iyong nakaupo, iyong puso niya ay nasa pagsisilbi talaga sa pinakamahihirap,” she added.

She also cited the “Leni Lugaw” insult against her, which her detractors have long been using following her feeding program initiative among grassroot communities.

Over the course of the country's uphill battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, Robredo’s office has also gone beyond giving bowls of lugaw and has been providing free testing, care kits, and COVID-19 vaccines to the marginalized.

The lugaw image, however, is here to stay, with Robredo saying that it has already become a symbol used by her supporters.

"Iyong mga volunteers ngayong 2022, iyon din (lugaw) iyong na-associate nila sa akin,” she said. “So iyon ang paraan nila para ipakita yung pakikiisa.”

At ang tingin ko, iyong dapat na maging susunod na pangulo, iyong pangulo na merong capacity and ability to inspire

Ultimately, Robredo said she’s fit for the country’s highest office because Filipinos need a leader like her who will not only shoulder all the country’s problems but also inspire them to find solutions in their own little ways.

“Sa akin kasi, iyong solusyon ng lahat na problema ng ating bansa hindi siya nakasalalay sa isang tao,” she said. “Nakasalalay siya sa lahat ng Pilipino. At ang tingin ko, iyong dapat na maging susunod na pangulo, iyong pangulo na merong capacity and ability to inspire.”

“As vice president, ito iyong aking na-achieve. I was able to inspire so many para mag-collaborate,” she said. “Kaya marami kaming nagagawa sa Office of the Vice President because we have inspired confidence. That is what I can contribute as the president.”