Last year we were invited to attend a cocktail gathering for Leni Robredo. It was the second time we met her. My husband and I had a chance to chat with her before the program started and she was still the same simple lady we met a year ago at the milestone birthday dinner of On The Money resident financial adviser Salve Duplito.
When I told Leni, “I saw your ‘80s wedding photo, kamukha mo pala si Pops Fernandez noon!” she was surprised and didn’t know how to react. She ended saying, “Hindi naman.” but check out the photo below, so I still insisted, “Oo, parang Jesi Mendez look of the 80s!” We both laughed.
She became at ease when we started talking about our children. When you put two moms together, chances are their children take center stage in the conversation. She’s a proud mom of three girls Aika, Tricia and Jillian (more on them later). Aside from our exchange of anak stories, she explained to me the difference between awareness and conversion as used in election campaign parlance. She said she just learned about it during the campaign.
Awareness vs. Conversion
Awareness is more about “brand recognition.” In her case that’s the name Leni Robredo. On the other hand, conversion refers to getting the people to perform a specific action. In her case, that’s to vote for her as Vice President. At that time (November 2015), she said that according to her campaign group, she had a low awareness but a high conversion!
People didn’t really know her but those who knew her have decided to vote for her. So the course of action is really to get people to know her. Television is still an effective awareness tool but deemed very expensive. Thanks to social media she is gaining solid ground. She said that they had to really do the rounds to meet people.
Why is her conversion high?
It’s because an interaction with Leni will make you feel her sincerity and simplicity. If you’re looking for a leader who will not pocket your money, you will feel that she’s the one. If you’re looking for someone who will probably let go of her power when it’s time, you will feel that she’s one. But if you’re looking for someone who will provide you with your KBL (Kasal Binyag Libing), or whom you can ask a favor from when she’s in office, she’s not the one.
More about her
More than what you will feel when you meet her personally, her credentials speak well too. So it’s pretty safe to say that she’s okay with both your System 1 (the automatic thinking) and System 2 (the more rational and deliberative way of thinking. (Click Are you voting with your middle finger? to read more about this Behavioral Economics principle).
Maria Leonor (Leni) Santo Tomas Gerona was born on April 23, 1965 in Naga, Camarines Sur, the oldest of the three children of retired Naga City Regional Trial Court Judge Antonio Gerona and Salvacion Sto. Tomas. She grew up and studied elementary and high school in Naga, and went to the University of the Philippines, Diliman for college where she finished a degree in Economics. She was quoted as saying, “My life was all planned before. After graduating, I would go straight to law school and be a lawyer like my father. But I graduated in 1986, just after EDSA, and somehow EDSA changed that.”
Instead of going straight to Law School, she worked with the Bicol River Basin Development Program (BRBDP), an agency tasked to undertake integrated area development planning in the three provinces of the Bicol region. That was where her love story with the well-loved public servant, the late Jesse Robredo, started.
It was a whirlwind romance as they were married the year after they first met, but not without a promise by Jesse to his father-in-law that Leni would still become a lawyer as earlier planned. Leni finished her law degree at the University of Nueva Caceres in Naga, and passed the bar in 1990.
As the wife of the mayor of Naga, she raised their three daughters (with the active involvement of Jesse) and worked with the grassroots organizations of their place. In 1989, she founded the Lakas ng Kababaihan ng Naga Federation, an organization that provides training and livelihood opportunities for women. In 2007, she served as the coordinator of Naga City based Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligan (SALIGAN), which made use of paralegal education and networking to obtain growth and development.
She had been involved with grassroots advocacies; thus, her mantra is Para sa mga nasa laylayan ng lipunan. She is passionate about narrowing the gap between the rich and poor in our society.
Thrust into Politics
With the untimely death of her husband Jesse on August 18, 2012 due to a plane crash, the quiet widow, together with her three daughters were thrust into the limelight. From a relative anonymity (i.e. on a national scale), Jesse gained widespread recognition when his exemplary work in Naga and DILG Secretary were made known nationwide. The Filipino people were “craving” for an honest servant leader and there was an outpouring of sympathy for the Robredo family and grief over losing a good public servant.
After a long thought process and utmost convincing from the administration in order to break the VIllafuerte dynasty in Camarines Sur, Leni ran for Congress in 2013. She won by a landslide as the representative of the third district. In her less than three years of being a congresswoman, here are some of the bills that she passed: People Empowerment Bill, Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination, Full Disclosure Policy, Healthy Beverage Options, Participatory Budget Process, Freedom of Information.
Last year, after Grace Poe gave her No to the public proposal of Mar Roxas to be his Vice Presidential running mate, Leni was “rigorously wooed.” She had to wait for the Yes of all her daughters before she finally accepted the daunting challenge of running for the VP.
Here are some of the questions asked and her answers to them during the cocktail event. Even if it’s a long process, I like transcribing what candidates actually said. It’s when you listen again that you observe the nuances of the answers and that’s where you catch the sincerity, the consistencies and inconsistencies of their answers. That’s when you discern if the answers uttered were straight from the heart or just sound bites coached by their campaign managers.
QUESTION: Will you court the vote of the INC?
“I will court the vote of everyone. Yong INC naman mga Pilipino din. Pero siguro kung ang usapan ay iboboto ka namin pag ganito, iba na yon. Pero when you ask for help, you ask for help from everyone, especially if the help is in the form of votes. Not only the INC pero lahat naman. Sana hindi dumating yong time na sasabihan ako na iboboto ka lang naming pag ganito. Kasi between my husband and myself, ako yong hindi politiko, I’m very straightforward e. Pag minsan win-a-warn ako na hindi mo dapat ganyan kausapin kasi dapat mas diplomatic. Kasi baka sabihin ko e di huwag!”
MY QUESTION: May I ask a lighter question? Would you like to give us a peek into Robredo household? You have three daughters and I know about your stand on keeping your simple lifestyle. If you’d be elected as the VP, how much change are you willing to accommodate? I also read somewhere that your youngest wants to be an actress. Would you allow her to be the next Kris Aquino?
(There was laughter about the last part of the question.)
“Yon ang pinakamadaling sagutin. Hindi. Baby pa siya.”
Then Mark Yu, our host interjected, “By the way Leni, Rose has three sons.”
Leni went on to answer my question.
“Sige a peek into the Robredo household. I think Carlo already told you that in Naga we live in this small apartment complex, which is owned by my in-laws. We occupy one door of the apartment. It’s where the children grew up. We don’t have plans of leaving that apartment. It’s small but it’s big enough for us. You know ‘nong namatay na ang asawa ko, pakiramdam namin sobrang laki na ng bahay for us.
Dito sa Manila we live in a condominium unit that my mother in-law owns. This was the condo unit that my husband occupied when he was DILG Secretary. It’s a small two- bedroom condo, and we also don’t have plans of transferring. OK na kami don. Yong mga anak ko at saka ako, we only occupy one room. Also in Naga even when my husband was still alive, mahilig kami sa latag. Dito sa Maynila ganon din. I think I was telling you earlier that my youngest is 15, she’s in Grade 10 but still sleeps beside me, holding hands pa kami matulog. Yong dalawa kung panganay nakalatag sa paanan namin. Happy kami. Happy na naman kaming ganon.
There is no desire to have a house of our own. I think that was the legacy of my husband. Parating sinasabi ng asawa ko noon na dapat ang public official marunong mag-control ng desires. Kasi yong desires yong nakaka-tempt. When you wish for something more than what you already have or when you wish for something more than what you really need, that’s when you start getting tempted.
Aika, my eldest is 27. She worked with Chevron for quite some time, joining them after she graduated from college at the Ateneo. She took up ME (Management Engineering). When my husband became DILG Secretary, he wanted Aika to take up MBA. Sabi ng asawa ko, ‘Bakit hindi mo i-try mag gobyerno? Kasi makakatulong sa ‘yo pag nag MBA ka, para hindi lang presyo ng langis ang lagi mong inaaral.’ But my eldest daughter didn’t want to join the government. But all of a sudden when my husband died, she already wanted to try government. Ako na yong ayaw sa kanyang pumayag. Because yong salary that she was going to get from the government was only about a third or a fourth of the salary she was getting at Chevron. But she did. She worked with the Office of Civil Defense. But effective November 1 she resigned to help me in the campaign. Yon yong guilt feeling na I have to deal with everyday.
My second daughter, Tricia, is 21. She’s in first year proper sa Ateneo School of Medicine. She also wants to take a leave of absence during the second sem to help me campaign. Pinag-aawayan pa namin hanggang ngayon. Kasi sabi ko if she takes a leave for one sem she will be late for one school year but she said, ‘Mom I’m the youngest in the batch so it really wouldn’t matter.’ Ultimately, it will be her decision. Gagawin ko until kaya kong pigilian.
But for my youngest, Jillian, kahit gusto nya, hindi talaga puede, she’s only 15.
All the girls are helping me out now. The two older girls represent me in places I cannot go to. Tomorrow my second has no classes so we will be in three different locations – Zamboanga, Iloilo, CDO. Ang rule ko lang sa amin, laging may maiiwan pag gabi para may kasama yong bunso. Kami kami na lang. We have a household helper who has been with the family since Jesse was still single. She’s the one taking care of all of us.
I think what makes us happy is kuntento na kami kung ano ang nandyan. Walang paghahangad. Walang desire na magkaron ng magandang sasakyan, magandang bahay. Happy na. Kasi yong asawa ko ganon naman. I think that’s one of the most important things that he was able to teach us. Yong mga bata lumaki na walang paghahangad. And I think it’s a gift.”
QUESTION: We know that politics is full of compromises. In your case, where would you draw the line?
“Everyday I ask myself that, ‘How much of myself am I willing to give? How much of myself am I willing to lose just to win the elections?’ I don’t think I can answer that now. I think everyday is a struggle. Everyday you pray that you have your values intact. Everyday just try to remind yourself who you are. Hindi ko masasabi na hindi ako magiging masama. Yong struggle oras oras, araw-araw. Kailangan lang talagang ipinagdadasal. Hindi ko masasabing never akong ma t-tempt, never akong magiging masama. Tingin ko walang puedeng makapagsabi non. But I think what will make me strong against all these is the awareness of my vulnerabilities. Alam ko na may mga panahon na mahina ako. Kailangan talagang nilalabanan, nilalakasan ang loob. But I am glad that I’m following my husband’s example. He was able to survive for 21 years without losing himself, there’s no reason why I cant. But I can’t promise you that I will never be bad. I need all the prayers in the world. That’s what all government officials need considering the many temptations, not just of money.
I think the greater temptation is temptation of power. It is bigger than everything else.”
FOLLOW UP QUESTION: What was the most difficult ethical issue you encountered?
“I haven’t encountered one yet but I might be encountering now that I’m running for the Vice Presidency. Tinatanong ako ng iba who are helping me. You need money. You need all the money that you can raise. And I don’t accept from everyone. I think I’ve discussed this with Mark. Huwag na lang si ganito, huwag na lang si ganon. So when I arrived, Mark was assuring me that everyone here will not ask for anything from you. When I was running for congress I also needed money but I had to scrimp and scrimp and save because if I accept money from those na hindi ako sigurado, that’s where the compromising will start.”
FOLLOW UP QUESTION: Please tell us of one situation where you have been caught in any such position.
“Luckily, I haven’t been put in such a situation and I hope it doesn’t come to that. Ang pinakamahirap lang talaga yong fund raising. So everytime Mark organizes a fund raising, we always discuss about the background of people attending. I think I’m lucky that my husband’s reputation preceded me. People are more careful in dealing with me. Even in Congress, meron pagkakataon sa congress kung nagkakatanungan, ‘Nilapitan ka ba nito?’ Pero wala talaga sa akin. Maybe they trust me na agad, and because they assume that I’m like my husband, which is a good thing.”
QUESTION: There’s a chance that you will be elected as VP and Mar won’t be elected at President, how will you handle that? Usually when a VP is not allied with the President, there’s really no job given.
“I hope it doesn’t happen. I hope we both win so I can really be utilized. But if it happens, we won’t have any choice naman di ba? I hope the President will recognize what I can do. I will ask for an anti-povery project, not a cabinet position. I see the Vice Presidency as an opportunity to fight for what I’ve been fighting for and working for all my life. You can translate to services for those who had not been given attention before. Sayang, if I will just be a spare tire. I’m running with the imagination that I’ll be given work that will help me make a difference in the lives of Filipinos.”
QUESTION: What are you views on the anti-poverty and feeding programs?
“If you’ve heard of other candidates talk about feeding programs in schools, I don’t think it will work in the long run. If you feed and feed and feed, you will be spending money but you will not be solving the hunger problem. In our district we’re working with what is already there. The feeding centers are for 3 – 5 year olds. Ang gusto namin buntis pa lang inaasikaso na. So that pregnant women will not give birth to malrnourished babies. Existing feeding programs of DSWD buy from established farmers. Yong ginagawa naming ngayon, we look for the poorest of the farmers. We were able to organize 30 groups of farmers in my district. These are farmers where the average monthly income is P1,800, way way way below the poverty line. These are farmers with no pieces of land of their own and don’t have access to capital. They don’t have access to input and crop insurance. So nakiki-farm lang sila. We organized these farmers and asked help from DENR to provide them with all the support services that they need. We put DSWD, DENR, DAR altogether and they agreed. Ang ginagawa ngayon binibigyan din ng access lahat ng mga farmers. And the agreement is that everything that they produce will be bought by government so sigurado sa income at yong binibili ng govt yon na yong ginagamit sa program. It’s still a pilot but it’s doing very well. Pag na expand ito, we will be addressing two problems at the same time – hunger and poverty.
But there is more. We benchmark the hunger and poverty programs in Brazil. They have community restaurants. Yong community restaurants nilagay nila sa slum areas but these are subsidized by big businesses, mga CSR nila. One meal is about 1 real (about 30 pesos). Pinuntahan namin, kumain kami don. The average number of customers is around 2,000 at lunchtime. Maybe if we can have that in our slum areas, the poor communities can also greatly benefit from the project.”
Leni has come a long way
From a low 5% last year, Leni has moved up the surveys to 24% as of the latest SWS survey conducted from March 4 – 7, 2016 via face-to-face interviews with 1,800 voters. She is still third to frontrunners Escudero and Marcos but she registered the biggest jump of 5% from the February survey.
In the mock elections conducted by the Fund Managers Association of the Philippines (FMAP) on March 5, 2016 during their convention, Leni was a landslide winner garnering 71% of the votes, while her presidential running mate Mar Roxas was also on top at 48%.
The choice for the Vice President is just as crucial as that of the president, as he/she will just be a breath away from the presidency. If you really want to forge ahead in our battle against corruption and inefficiency, and sustain the economic growth momentum, make that choice wisely. Take a look at our VP options and it’s an easy choice, especially if you’re tired of hearing the preposterous “glorious years” claim, and the hollow sweet talk that somehow wins the “Heart” of others, I think you’ll agree with me when I say, “It’s a no-brainer, it’s Leni Robredo!”
- I will speak at the Kidzania about Financial Literacy on May 7, 2016 at the Kidzania Parents Lounge at 9:30am.
- I will speak at the Bureau of Treasury about Financial Literacy on March 31, 2016 at 3pm.
- I will give a talk about blogging to CFAs on April 6, 2016.
Rose Fres Fausto is the author of bestselling books Raising Pinoy Boys and The Retelling of The Richest Man in Babylon (English and Filipino versions). Click this link to read samples – Books of FQ Mom Rose Fres Fausto. She is the grand prize winner of the first Sinag Financial Literacy Digital Journalism Awards. Follow her on Facebook and You Tube as FQ Mom, and Twitter & Instagram as theFQMom.
ATTRIBUTIONS: Image used from Philstar.com, dzmm.abs-cbnnews.com, bicoltoday.com, Seal of the Vice President of the Republic of the Philippines, put together to help deliver the message of the article.