Leni Robredo: The hinge of fate
Summing up his life philosophy, the legendary British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was quoted to have said:
“[S]uccess is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”
In his arresting new book “Churchill’s Shadow,” historian Geoffrey Wheatcroft provides a compelling overview of the British leader’s unexpected ascent to mythical greatness. Churchill didn’t start out a giant, after all. From his deplorably premature praise for Italian strongman Benito Mussolini to spectacularly erroneous predictions on the future of warfare, Churchill spent a huge chunk of the inter-war period as a subject of ridicule and derision by the British elite and its military commanders. But at his country’s darkest hour, he proved the mettle of his leadership. As World War II reached the British shores, Churchill deftly mobilized his people — and the English language — with steely determination against an existential enemy.
Though compassionately mild-mannered and consciously non-confrontational, duly elected Vice President Leni Robredo appears to carry with her the same Churchillian strains of determination and stubbornness in trying to serve her people no matter the roadblocks thrown her way.
It wasn’t until recently that I got the chance to watch the documentary “The Kingmaker.” As expected, former first lady Imelda Marcos dominated the narrative with her characteristic self-indulgence, astonishingly narcissistic reading of history, and inimitable penchant for fiction and self-aggrandizing mythology.
But arguably the true revelation in the documentary was the feisty and uncompromising face of Leni Robredo. Entering the 2016 elections as the ultimate underdog, she proved unfazed by the early electoral dominance of the Marcoses and the resurgence of authoritarian nostalgia. One saw a fit, youthful, and charismatic Robredo maintaining, with unshakable conviction, a visceral optimism in the wisdom of the electorate and, more broadly, the progressive trajectory of history toward justice and freedom.
In retrospect, her stunning triumph against the Marcoses shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
“The Kingmaker” is a reminder of the quiet but towering determination that eventually made Robredo such a compelling candidate in the 2016 elections. Crucially, the documentary is also a great reminder of the immense, if not unprecedented, challenges that she would face once elected into office.
From Day 1, Robredo found herself squeezed between a hostile President who eventually ejected her from the Cabinet, and an emboldened Marcoses who tried to dislodge her from her position by deploying alternative facts, court politics, and legal maneuvers.
Robredo also had to withstand the part-engineered, part-cyclical backlash against liberal reformism. But her uncanny ability to survive this three-front offensive is a testament to her character and leadership qualities.
If only her team could pay more attention to systematically emphasizing the Robredo brand of governance, which has only grown during the pandemic and is far more progressive, grassroots-driven, and inspiring than traditional liberal politics. After all, the world-renowned “Naga model” of governance under her late husband Jesse Robredo, a subject of countless “best practices” academic studies, has served as a lodestar for other progressive leaders such as Vico Sotto.
Ahead of fateful elections next year, Robredo has emerged as an anchor of compassionate and proactive leadership, extending assistance to medical frontliners, rural communities, the urban poor, communities needing state assistance, and any Filipino yearning for plain civic sanity at this time. Her office has been a bastion of transparency and accountability, regularly topping the Commission on Audit reviews in the past three years.
And she has achieved all these even if her office budget is nine times smaller than the Pharmally Pharmaceutical contract the Duterte administration awarded to that dubious firm. Just as impressive is Robredo’s selfless emphasis on consensus-building, most evident in her expressed willingness to support other top contenders for the presidency, from Sen. Manny Pacquiao to Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, to ensure that the Philippines gets a much-needed break next year.
The public has yet to know what her decision will be for the coming elections. But whatever that will be, it’s a safe bet that this woman will never give up fighting for the Filipino people.
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