An Intimate Dinner with Former VP Leni Robredo

An Intimate Dinner with Former VP Leni Robredo

Apr 22, 2024

I first met Leni Robredo in November 2014 at the 40th birthday party of my friend and news anchor, Salve Duplito. She was then the congresswoman of the third district of Camarines Sur. First impression: Down-to-earth and sincere person. And she also looked beautiful in her bright fuchsia blouse and orange outfit. (Side note: I have always liked that daring combination but never got to wearing it.)

First meeting with Leni Robredo in November 2014 at Victorino’s. Photos also show the birthday celebrator Salve Duplito and the author’s husband Marvin Fausto.

Salve said something like this, “You will like her, pareho kayong tutok sa parenting.” I would later find out that she was a “tiger mom” and a proud one at that. For those who don’t know, tiger mom refers to a mother who is a strict disciplinarian pushing her children to high levels of achievement using methods typical of childrearing in China and other parts of Asia. This was popularized by Amy Chua in her controversial bestselling book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother published in 2011. The one who recommended this book to me was Lance Gokongwei. When I gave him his copy of my very first book, Raising Pinoy Boys in January 2011, he told me, “You should read this book then immediately went to his computer to forward the link to me. The next time I met Leni Robredo was when my co-parent, Jess Lorenzo, invited me to a gathering for her in November 2015, months before she ran and won to become our Vice-President in May 2016. This encounter made me write an article about her (Click linkto read).

The next time we met Leni Robredo at a gathering before her VP elections in 2016.

The other times I saw her again were in shows, talks, and at Gesu where she sometimes heard mass together with her daughters. In all those occasions, she was always calm, kind, smiling, and accommodating to everyone who would request for a photo with her.

Another chance meeting with Leni Robredo at a Dance Recital.

The event wherein I was able to really converse with her was at the wedding of Robi Domingo and Maiqui Pineda. We were both godmothers and seatmates at the church.

On January 6, 2024, the author and Leni Robredo were both godmothers at the wedding of Robi Domingo and Maiqui Pineda.

During our conversation, I mentioned to her that Marvin and I like hosting small gatherings in order to have meaningful conversations, “If I invite you for dinner to our home, will you come?” She readily said yes and we set the date. After the wedding ceremony, when I was with Marvin again, I said, “Guess who’s coming to our house for dinner?” He couldn’t believe how I was able to invite her and set the date so quickly, “Ang galling mo naman, she’s a very busy person!”

That was January 6 when we set our dinner date on March 15. For some reason, Marvin and I decided to just tell our children about it. We wanted to keep it intimate and somehow guarded the information, maybe for security reasons too.

On the day of the dinner, I realized something and said to Marvin, “Hon, baka hindi tayo mapatawad ng mga kapatid natin if they find out about tonight’s dinner and didn’t even give them the opportunity to meet her.” And so, on the day itself, we sent a message to them that they are free to join us for dessert at 8:30 p.m.

The Dinner

The day fell on a Friday during the Lenten Season so I decided to refrain from serving meat, in case she practiced abstinence on Lenten Fridays. We had our homecooked family favorites — Balsamic Caesar Salad, Squash Soup, Grilled Pampano and Sili with Lemon (something I copied from Grapevine), Talong Terrific (my sister’s recipe of ensaladang talong that we used to serve when I briefly ventured in a fastfood stall called Kalye Grill at the Shangri-la Mall), Baked Salmon (our version of the Conti’s bestseller), Tofu Sisig. Then we also ordered a family favorite from Brewing Point, Gambas.

I have this current penchant of using name cards back-to-back with the menu enumerating the dishes in the order following the hack to avoid glucose spikes, as prescribed by the Glucose Goddess. I have her books and we have been following her hacks since late last year: Veggies First, Proteins and Fats Second, Starches and Sugars Last.

If you notice in the menu card, our other home-made favorites are by Marvin: Marvin’s Home-Baked Bread and Marvin’s Homemade Ice Cream. I call Marvin our breadwinner and bread baker rolled in one! We also had Homemade Pandan Tea, using pandan leaves freshly picked from our garden. We served it in two ways: 1.) Chilled and unsweetened together with nuts before dinner; and 2.) Chilled with apple cider vinegar before taking our sweet dessert (another hack from the Glucose Goddess).

I knew that all six family members would like to have a conversation with her and so I figured out the best seating arrangement in order to give everyone an “equitable” access to our guest of honor at the dining table. 

Here are some photos taken during dinner.

All six Fausto Family members talking to our guest of honor during our short cocktails with nuts and our homemade chilled pandan tea.
My carefully planned seating arrangement that gives all six of us unblocked access to the guest of honor. I took out the middle seat on one side because that would block someone’s view of her.
Saying grace before meal, led by Marvin.

We all had a great time during this rare opportunity to break bread with one of our country’s most admired leaders. We talked about a number of things — from pregnancy to parenting to her recent trips to her days as Vice-President, and many more. Her recent trip to Bellagio, Italy was for a month-long residency program of the Rockefeller Foundation. She had the most wonderful time waking up to the view of Lake Como, spending time with the other 11 residents of diverse backgrounds. The studio that she occupied to do her work of writing her book was the same studio occupied by the mentor of Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, when she was on the same program. The working title of her book is Defiant Hope.

I was happy for my sons to hear her tiger mom moves during the growing up years of her daughters Aika, Tricia, and Jillian, who all turned out so well. My dragon mom ways were no match to hers! And the thing is, even if her daughters were not always happy with their mom’s strict parenting while they were growing up, they look back at it now and wonder asking their mom, “Had you been stricter with us in certain aspects, would we have been better in those things? Sana pala pinilit mo kami…

My sister, who lives in the same village, was able to make it to dessert together with her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren. We always tease them of being habitually late for family get together events at home but this time, they were seven minutes early! It turns out, her grandchildren are also big admirers of the former VP. They declared to their parents and grandmother that they should all wear pink! And they did. Among their favorite bedtime books is Dancing Waters, a children’s book about the life of Leni Robredo. That’s why when they finally met her in the flesh, they couldn’t contain their excitement and energy and ended up running around the house.

My daughter-in-law, Sam, didn’t want to miss any of the stories during dessert time. She’s a mother of our two-month old angel and when she needed to pump her milk, she asked permission if she could do it there using her eyelet cover.J

A rare combination

Our former VP and now my kumare has this unique charisma that appeals to different classes in society. Her calmness is her superpower. You can also feel her kindness and sincerity. What Marvin noticed about our conversation is the way she treats the support of people who extended help during and after her campaigns. Nothing of that profuse maraming salamat, utang na loob vibe. He said, “Maybe it’s because she doesn’t consider those campaigns as hers alone but “ours” and that we were all doing it together, not just for her, but for ourselves.” And it’s true, volunteerism can only succeed if it is for the common good.

No wonder, we experienced this rare combination of being start struck and comfortable with her.  

We knew that she had a number of appointments the following day starting early morning with a talk, then other ninang duties plus she was going to travel back home to Naga. And we were so happy and honored to have her precious time with our family from 6:48 pm until around 10:15 pm. Of course, we had to end it with the taking of selfies with her and she said, “Sige, unahin natin sila.” referring to our household staff. They all had their wonderful quick chat with her. One of them was teary eyed, “Ma’am, talagang nag volunteer ako for her noong campaign at sa mga you tube videos ko lang sya nakikita, tapos nakausap ko sya! Sabi ng mga friends ko, “Sana ol!’”

Here are some of our selfies with our guest of honor.

The “essential” selfies with former VP Leni.
Our group picture at the end of the dinner

My friends who learned about the dinner wondered why I didn’t write an article nor post photos right away. My staff also asked, “Ma’am, why didn’t you video interview her for FQwentuhan?” Maybe because I just wanted to savor it to myself first? Besides, I am also on a hiatus on my weekly article because I am focusing my writing efforts on the completion of FQ Book 3. But I guess, something as wonderful as this can’t stay un-shared forever, so I finally decided to share it here.

I wish we could all learn from her — the way she serves and the way she lives her life, no matter what your political inclinations are. It was never in her dreams to be in politics. She considers herself as someone better working at the background but she was put in a position where she had to make that difficult choice and she rose to the occasion, not once but three times. She was not treated well during her vice-presidency, the second highest post in the land. A lot of us asked her during dinner how she was able to keep her cool during those times and her answer was that she doesn’t take things personally and instead of being pissed, she would even try to think where the action of that person was coming from. Indeed, her superpower is calmness and this gives her the space and peace to avoid getting flustered or reacting on impulse. I think a t-shirt like this says it all.

It reminds me of the Tagalog saying, “Ang pikon ay laging talo!” (Sore losers always lose!) But she also learned her lesson about the flipside of being too “deadma” when it comes to nasty lies. In an interview with SheTalks Asia the following morning after our dinner, she said, “My being calm and not reacting is both good and bad. Good in the sense that I wasn’t affected, but bad in the sense that I wasn’t able to respond to the disinformation in the manner that I should have. For example, ang daming kasinungalingan na yong tinatapon sa akin, ang instruction ko, ‘Do not dignify. They are not true anyway.’ But we realized too late that it was the wrong response because when we did not offer an alternative narrative, pinaniwalaan yong narrative nila. That’s how social media works – on algorithms. So, kahit nag-fact check ka, ang fact-check mo nandon na lang sa echo chamber mo.” 

Another topic of conversation we had was how her staff, who were all young, were not the typical flighty millennials jumping from one job to another. They were idealistic but stayed on until the end of her term, some stayed on for the foundation Angat Buhay. This is a reminder for all of us who are frustrated with what’s happening in our country, and world in general. We just have to do our best given our space and skills. It reminds me of the poem on the wall of Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta. I wish to end this article with it.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

  1. Happy birthday to Atty. Leni Robredo who turns 59 on April 23, 2024!
  2. If you want to know where you are in your FQ journey, take the FQ Test. Click here.
  3. If you want to know more about FQ, buy our books. Click here.

This article is also published in Philstar.