By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
It’s a mistake to think that V.P. Leni Robredo is weak because she lacks bombast, and doesn’t resort to cheap theatrics or use brute force. Servant Leader Leni Next Gen Edition by Prof. Ed Garcia (San Anselmo Press, 2021; Danton Remoto, Editor), with contributions by Gemino H. Abad, Jim Pascual Agustin, Albert Alejo S.J., Bam Aquino, Gay Ace Domingo, Philip Dy, Hazel Lavitoria, Dean Mel Sta. Maria, Chit Roces-Santos, and Doods Santos shows how at every stage of her reluctant but remarkable political journey, Leni Gerona Robredo has acted with the courage of her moral convictions and the highest ethical principles: tiyaga, trabaho at dasal. All throughout, she has been supported by a loyal team which shares her values. Together they have inspired others. Witness the many Facebook Groups, i.e., Team Leni Robredo, The Leni Republic, Busy Presidente Leni Robredo, Leni Robredo Volunteers for Good Governance, and I Am Ready for Leni, to name a few.
There are also signs of hope in the successor generation, such as the incumbent Pasig Mayor, Vico Sotto, another David who felled a Goliath political dynasty. For Leni Robredo, she has done it twice: first was her overwhelming Congressional win against the Villafuerte’s, then her narrow but decisive victory over the Marcos juggernaut, which like the Eveready bunny just keeps going, but is unable to move on.
Prof. Ed Garcia gave Leni a 1.25 when she was in his Poli-Sci class at the U.P. Taking on her late husband Jesse’s mantle of public service, Leni Gerona Robredo has been like a lotus afloat in the cesspool of Philippine politics. Garcia describes our nation’s political morass as like being: “. . . stuck in a time warp: it is 2017, yet we still practice patronage politics that is personality-oriented, family-generated and focused on personal gain over public good. We have a Congress that is deeply involved in the division of spoils, and thus the phenomenon of the super majority. The barriers between political parties have broken down since it is the dispensation of committee chairmanships and choice positions that seem to rule the day, rather than the choice between different platforms of government, or philosophies of governance.”
Robredo has walked bravely and unbowed into the chamber of horrors cum Augean stables that is Philippine politics. When this Administration disrespected the Vice Presidency by excluding her from Cabinet meetings, she resigned with her dignity intact. As Garcia declared: “the Vice President’s resignation has underscored the importance of the politics of principles, the imperative for respect in governance. It shows a three-fold respect for truth, particularly historical truth, respect for life, and all human rights, and respect for women, and their rights.”
Garcia also talks about how Leni is able to “walk in the shoes of the other.” However, with Leni, there is no othering, or cruelly excluding and discriminating against those who are not of her socio-economic class. She began her legal career as a lawyer with the NGO Saligan, working to give more in law to those who have less in life. Leni has been consistent in her preferential option for the poor: magsilbi sa mga nasa laylayan ng lipunan.
Just as her husband’s tunay na pagkatao (true humanity) was symbolized by his humble tsinelas, one of the most endearing stories about Leni was of how the sole came off of a pricey pair of Bally leather pumps, a pasalubong from her biyenan that she only used on special occasions. This special occasion was Jesse Robredo’s being laid out in state in Malacanan. However, when shoes are kept in prolonged storage in our humid climate, the glue crumbles, even if they are Bally of Switzerland.
In her own words, Leni relates how “After the honors, we marched behind the casket with PNoy and were on our way to Kalayaan Hall, when I felt the entire rubber sole of my right shoe falling off. I tried dragging my right foot, para hindi matuluyan (so the shoe wouldn’t totally come apart) pero every step that I did, nararamdaman kong lumalala siya (I could feel it just getting worse). . . Nakarating ako sa loob ng Kalayaan Hall na wala na yung ilalim ng sapatos ko. (I reached Kalayaan Hall with my bare right foot scraping along the floor.”
Anyone who shares that kind of embarrassing personal story clearly has no grandiose delusions about herself. Now think of how Imelda Marcos, mother of Leni’s tiresome rival BBM, overcompensated for her barefoot childhood by using smidgens of their gazillions in ill-gotten wealth to buy herself thousands of pairs of designer shoes. Leni even remembered to express her appreciation for the PSG who had smoothly retrieved her detached rubber sole from the red carpet. Perhaps she can chuckle with us at the ridiculous spectacle she must have presented during what should have been a solemn moment, because her husband Jesse would have found it funny too.
Someone who can transcend her sorrow and pain, to walk barefoot into Malacanan when duty calls is worthy to lead. During the dawn of the New Age, as the Philippines was spiraling downwards into the authoritarian depths of Marcosian Martial Law, there were tales of how a woman in white would rise in the east to save us from ourselves. Half a century later, her time has come.
Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (In Real Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction--but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.