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It was Leni’s day

One weekend some months ago, I was browsing the goods at the Body Shop outlet at the UP Town Center when who should walk in but then vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo and her three daughters.

I had my grandson in my arms and immediately the three girls made a beeline for him and raised a fuss. Leni and I had met some weeks before at the Inquirer offices, and when I expressed surprise that she still had time to go shopping with her daughters, she explained that she had just arrived that morning from a campaign sortie and had grabbed at the chance to have some “bonding time” with the girls who had themselves been busy campaigning for her.

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To remember the occasion, we posed for a group shot, one of the Robredo girls (I forgot who) carrying our Anakin, who had refused to let go when I gestured to him to come to me. I planned to post the photo on FB when I got home, but somehow the task got lost in the shuffle. Now our little apo has the honor of posing with the Vice President-elect of the land, in the arms of one of the three most famous daughters in Philippine politics.

My favorite among the “photo-ops” that took place at the House of Representatives soon after the swearing-in ceremonies is that of the new Veep seated while her girls made their own wacky poses behind. It speaks clearly not only of the little family’s high spirits on the occasion, but also of the deep ties that bind them. These ties must have been what saw them through the grueling months of the campaign, as they, together with their army of volunteers, struggled to make their way up from “1-percent voter preference” to take the lead against a formidable array of opponents.

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Initially, when news seeped out that the Liberal Party was looking at Leni as a possible running mate for Mar Roxas, I was against it. Doubtless, the LP members were banking on the “reflected glory” of the late interior secretary Jesse Robredo whose stock ironically soared after his death in a plane crash. But Leni at the time had said publicly that she felt she wasn’t ready. After all, she went into politics only after Jesse’s supporters urged her to contest the House seat in their home district, which was in danger of falling into the hands of a political dynasty. From a novice congresswoman to vice president? Sounded like a foolhardy venture to me.

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Yolly Ong, who has retired from chairing her own advertising agency but keeps busy with all sorts of causes, including helping manage Leni’s seemingly quixotic run, in a note to sisters in the TOWNS (The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service), explains just how formidable Leni’s challenge was.

When she accepted last September the offer to run alongside Roxas, her awareness level was at 54 percent. This might seem adequate enough, but Ong says “a national candidate needs to have close to 100 percent awareness to stand a chance.”

Leni herself, when she met with Inquirer editors and reporters, acknowledged that her greatest handicap was her low awareness level. But she confidently quoted then senator (what a loss to the country!) Serge Osmeña’s observation that she enjoyed a “high conversion rate.” That is, many people had yet to know her, but once they met her, they came away convinced of her worthiness for the post and determined to vote for her.

Maybe this is why among all the vice presidential candidates, it was Leni who visited the most number of provinces, stumping even in markets and remote towns.

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Arrayed against Leni, notes Ong, were senators who had been in the public eye for years, and had at least six years of national exposure. Her “staunchest rivals,” says Ong, notably Chiz Escudero (as running mate of Grace Poe) and Bongbong Marcos (who ran with Miriam Defensor Santiago), “had been campaigning for three years prior to filing their candidacy.” Perhaps tongue in cheek, Ong observes that “BBM enlisted an army of trolls that effectively revised history (remember the clueless girl who complained about everyone focusing on that “Martial Law thingy”?—RJD). Chiz married Heart.”

Early in the campaign, says Ong, Leni’s partisans had considered “riding on the reputation” of the late interior secretary who had made his name by his effective, innovative local government management as longtime mayor of Naga and then as head of local governments. But this, said Ong, “was a double-edged sword.” Perhaps they were afraid that Leni would be criticized for frequently invoking Jesse’s memory (as Cory Aquino did of Ninoy), raising suspicions that she was nothing more than a grieving widow. In the end, the “Leni team” decided to abandon this track, although I note that Jesse’s “tsinelas leadership” (because he loved roaming his city with his feet shod in rubber slippers) was invoked when a pair of yellow slippers became the central symbol of the Robredo campaign. It remains a powerful symbol to this day.

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Thanks to our President-elect who chose to sit out the proclamation in his comfort zone of Davao, proclamation day belonged to Leni and her girls, who basked in the limelight of media attention.

I found most admirable, indeed, that Leni had kept her counsel (mostly) to herself during the counting and canvassing even if Bongbong Marcos kept making noise about allegations of cheating and maneuvers at the highest levels of the Commission on Elections. The Marcos camp, it is said, is even today preparing “millions” of pesos to fund a recount and an electoral protest, which by many estimates could reach as much as P100 million.

Well, good luck to BBM is all I can say. And to Leni, who braved the odds and prevailed, all we can do is to promise to stand by and behind her as she strives to be a voice of decency, democracy and compassion in this new government.

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TAGS: Bongbong Marcos, Elections 2016, leni robredo, Yolly Ong
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