[PULITIKULTURA] President Leni
Updated: Sep 6, 2021
By Marian Pastor Roces
There is PLeni to be said about the forthcoming presidency of Maria Leonor Gerona Robredo.
First is that it was always plausible. Now it may simply be a matter of hard work and harder thinking on the part of her jedi. Despite the currency of cynicism—an attitude unaware of its own blind spots—this rise to the top has been made inevitable by the limits of disinformation campaigns in a country of sick, exhausted, hungry people; at numbers like never before.
The Covid-overrun DDS is a spent force. The ones still cashing it in from the pandemic are exposing themselves and it is never a pretty sight. The insanities produced by impunity make the devil nauseous. Recall the OWWA disinformation maven sitting in the overseas workers office that bought overprized sanitary napkins from a non-existent hardware.
Electoral vote tampering, the old favorite in despots’ tool kits, will be deployed because these despot types can’t help themselves. It will conjure magics on numbers but not on public credulity. It might install a Duts 2.0, but an electorate nearly crushed by too many deaths and too little food will know who really would have won. Bullshit won’t fly. Even if electoral fraud succeeds, there is already a spectral President Leni who will be the symbol of the betrayed.
Still, hope is not among the sentiments Leni activists ought foreground in this political season. Yearning—wishful thinking—for an alternative to the sociopath Duterte and ilk may not be among the valuable drivers for political action this time around. Neither are anger, exasperation, nostalgia, or even religious fervor. These are weak drivers, considering.
These make little impression on the politics of cold calculation, which is a monumentally cynical Beast. It looks at hope and outrage as silly. Its manipulations of information flows happen as readjustments per their fine measures of volatile public opinion. Stuff like yearning or longing are just blips on, so to speak, war room screens.
On the other hand, if the various Leni for President formations recognize Leni Robredo for her particular, unusual qualities, then instead of mere hope, this steadily enlarging corps might discover buoyancy; and instead of outrage, a calm and methodical steel. The better to emulate the woman herself.
Leni is steel. Steel is the exact metaphor, not exaggerated at all; and not to be used with words like butterfly. Words like soft, fragile, or delicate are off character. And words thrown at her, like inept, never gained traction.
The Vice President faced the most venal, most vulgar imaginable kinds of character assassination in the last 5 years, funded at staggering levels with plundered monies; at the scale that eroded the reputation of PNoy. She did so with attention to the mind-numbing detail of online combat, with no delusions about the odds against her.
She prevailed with her person intact, largely because of a will to fight her fights with no drama whatsoever. With neither global nor mass support⎯with no cause célèbre aura protecting her ⎯VPL hunkered down and was fine with a small group of young people, the age of her children, to update the practice of politics.
With what seemed like unearthly serenity—from the start of her Vice-Presidency, she confronted and grasped the scale and detail of online assaults with clinical attention—she channeled her outrage into the quietude of a master planner.
The Vice President is a social media natural, almost a native, and understands the odds against her, online and in power circles equally. But odds are differently computed if what is at stake is the chance for development and humanitarian projects to succeed; not perpetration in power.
When she won the seat and became VPL, the economist in her took stock of the merelyceremonial scale of funds allotted to the Office of the Vice President, and the improbability of increase given who the President is. But while she could only have daily, nimbly sidestepped the wrecking ball aimed at her 24/7, she did not allow that artful dodging to have the biggest claim on her time.
She redefined the OVP.
VPL redefined what a Vice President can be beyond the ceremonial, spare-tire idea, during an Administration that would rather she disappear.
VPL raised the ante on social-development and emergency fund-raising from business and global humanitarian networks, and constructed transparent delivery systems for aid and development ideas to the poor and indeed with the poor Her consistent, in fact tenacious view⎯that the work has to be addressed to Filipinos inhabiting the extreme margins⎯is the kind of governance agenda that shows up to be markedly distinct from personal agenda.
Curiously, the perspective and the work are counter-intuitive: the poorest of the poor have not been known to vote at all. The beneficiaries of OVP help may not be counted on to improve VPL’s “winnability”. But here is a particularly personal strength: VPL’s work is not calculated to score political points. She found the OVP to be a workable, albeit limited instrument for easing burdens at this demographic space.
It is precisely VPL’s ability to recognize and seize political opportunity⎯this is the true, uncorrupted meaning of political opportunity⎯to pilot development strategies where these are most needed, that she has become the improbably powerful figure who succeeded in achieving incontestable good while in office. She prevails because nothing is about her.
This personality is confounding. But it is clear that the power of a transparent agenda creates a strange invulnerability. Mainly because zero energy is wasted on contortions to hide lying and cheating, VPL’s persona on the public stage is poised, measured, and balanced.
Hence it would be a failure of analysis⎯especially on the part of her allies⎯ if VPL is characterized as a saintly, politically innocent widow and symbol. There is first of all no point in quasi-religious descriptions, which only produce the contempt of folks like Duterte. And contempt creates unnecessary storms—as VPL would be the first to point out.
But it is even more counterproductive to think her an unfinished, unpolished project of those around her. As Atty. Robredo, human rights lawyer, as Mrs. Robredo, spouse and campaign manager of a model public servant who knew how to win consecutive elections with a compelling and honest brand, and as Congresswoman Robredo who catapulted herself from 0% winnability to the Vice Presidency, the Philippines’ current VPL is the last person to be described as a political ingénue.
Because she neither lies nor cheats nor threatens nor machinates to win and get her projects done, her observers could persuade themselves that she does not know how to play a hard game. In fact, the opposite is very much on display: that it takes an even more deft and astute politician to run, win, and govern with strategies that prosecute change on the side of the common good. VPL has managed so far. Managed superbly. This is not luck.
VPL will become PLeni because she has a Zen-like control while turbulence buffets everything around her. Her political sharpness is discernible to anyone watching carefully: in the way she never telegraphs her moves; in the subtlest calibrations of words from reproof to admonishment to rebuke to dissent to collaborative gestures; in the single-mindedness of her humanitarian track; in her stunning ability to be unprovoked.
VPL is a dear friend and colleague to members of the Liberal Party, which she heads, but she is not defined by the LP and is not heir to the fall-out from its fatal political missteps. She can telegraph her directions to vastly different and conflicting groups of supporters, without any one group appropriating her person. And with no supporter feeling used; nor in a transactional relationship.
Vice-President Leni Gerona Robredo who redefined the vice-presidency will redefine the presidency. And this is because she comes from somewhere way outside the political elite hothouses manufacturing (or just watching) the lies that attempted but failed to mask the ecosystemic interlinkage among the massive death toll, the longest lock-down in the world, ineptitude, and corruption.
Coming from nowhere—and nowhere is a cultural space in which ordinary women like her can master extraordinary skills that are invisible to traditional politicians—the woman named Leni will remain invisible, underrated, wrongly characterized, dismissed, until she secures the leadership of a nation that will surprise itself.
Her presidency will neither emerge from hope nor from comparisons with a nefarious presidency. PLeni will simply arrive⎯an inevitability needing no contrast⎯ because her politics of scientific truth matched to effective humanitarian missions is the only politics that makes sense in a season of death, agony, and hunger.
Marian Pastor Roces works internationally as an independent curator, critic of institutions, and analyst of culture and politics. Through her corporation, TAOINC, she curates the establishment of museums. She is also a founding Partner of the think tank, Brain Trust, Inc.
She has long argued that governance, civil society action, and policy making in the Philippines are weakened by the absence of cultural analysis. Such analysis, in turn, needs to work with updated data. Hence Pulitikultura, Roces' platform for probing the intersection of culture and politics.