Leni Robredo: A symbol of hope
On May 9th, 2022, current Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, competes against the late dictator’s son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, in the presidential elections in the Philippines. Robredo hopes to replicate her come-from-behind victory from 2016. In the vice-presidential election that year, Robredo narrowly beat Marcos Jr. by some 250,000 votes and won. Marcos demanded a recount three times, which later showed that Robredo had ended up with even more votes than originally counted. Compared to six years ago Robredo now faces an election shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic and a campaign backed by thousands of volunteers for her which are collectively known as “kakampinks”,Robredo’s very own supporters from different social classes and sectors.
This time, the race between Marcos Jr. and Robredo is not as close as it has been six years ago. Less than a week before the elections, Pulse Asia released the latest results from its presidential survey conducted in mid-April, 2022. Marcos Jr. maintains a significant lead with 56 percent and almost zero movement compared to the previous survey numbers. Robredo still holds second place with a 23 percent vote preference. Pulse Asia maintains a ± 2 percent error margin at the 95% confidence level and polled 2,400 people face to face for its survey.
On October 7, 2022, Pink became Robredo’s campaign color for the 2022 elections as she wore a blue blouse with a pink ribbon when she announced her presidential bid. In a press conference, the presidential candidate clarified that she had not planned on the campaign color, “but this has been the color of the groundswell of volunteers”, a color of protest and a symbol of a much larger battle. Through pink, Robredo is moving away from yellow which is affiliated with her political party, the Liberal Party, to stress her running as an independent candidate. Robredo decided on this step to show inclusivity and to unite the opposition against the current Duterte administration as well as against the possible comeback of a Marcos in power.
The Marcos regime was known for murder, torture and the disappearance of political opponents without a trace. Ferdinand and his wife Imelda are also said to have diverted billions from the state treasury over the years. The current President Rodrigo Duterte is best known for his bloody so-called “war on drugs” which led to the killings of ten of thousands during his reign.
In an interview with Nobel Laureate Maria Ressa, Robredo says that she just became “a symbol of the power of the ordinary Filipinos raring for after six years under President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime”. Seeing thousands of people raising their hands in the air while placing their fingers in an “L” shape to signal “Laban” (fight) and cheering her name, she compared their energy to that of Filipinos who ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. in February 1986. Back then another woman, Corazon “Cory” Aquino, symbolized democracy and became president after the Philippines were ruled under martial law for almost two decades.
Political and Professional career
Following her husband’s footsteps who served as Secretary in the government and died in a plane crash in 2012, Robredo entered politics in 2013 and won a congressional seat. Before her career as a politician, she worked as alternative lawyer and economist. She initially was engaged with the Public Attorney’s Office which, in the Philippines, serves to defend the poor. Furthermore, she also worked in the development sector, joining a non-governmental organization of lawyers who journeyed to remote villages and island communities to promote legal advocacies and to provide legal services to impoverished rural people and the marginalized sector.
When Robredo won the vice presidency in 2016 and was elected alongside populist President Rodrigo Duterte, she became the most powerful figure of the opposition. In the Philippines President and Vice President are elected separately which frequently results in the election of candidates from rival parties. As a staunch critic of President Duterte’s deadly “War on Drugs”, Robredo has been at the receiving end of misogynistic assaults and disinformation propaganda. While these attacks often belittled her leadership and the work of her office, Robredo’s political track record shows a different picture than the one fabricated.
Leni Robredo successfully transformed the Office of the Vice President (OVP) into an advocacy-driven department geared towards uplifting the lives of the Filipino population living in poverty. The flagship program of her office, Angat Buhay, mobilized resources from over 370 partner organizations which eventually helped to alleviate poverty of around 600,000 Filipino families nationwide. Under Robredo’s leadership, the OVP received the highest audit rating from the Commission on Audit (COA) for three consecutive years and was certified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) after a successful audit of its quality management system. During the pandemic, even with a limited budget, Robredo launched various initiatives such as raising donations to purchase equipment for health workers and COVID-19 testing kits, offering free shuttles and dormitories for front liners, as well as providing meals to stranded individuals. Robredo received high regard from the masses for her hands-on projects which also lead to an increase in the 2022 budget by the Senate for her office.
Future in Pink
Should Robredo win the presidential elections on May 9th, she would be the third woman to lead the Philippines. Robredo is running with a program that centers on good governance which she believes would uplift the lives of Filipinos. She has laid out a comprehensive plan to “free” the nation from the challenges of the pandemic, promote human rights and put an end to what she has termed “a culture of violence” in the country. In addition, Robredo aims to address the current educational crisis after schools remained closed for almost two years during the pandemic as well as to generate jobs and support small businesses. Robredo also plans to improve public services in general and provide social safety nets.
With attendees of thousands, Robredo’s campaign is a never before seen movement by volunteers. The big events across the Philippines, which have been dubbed “people rallies,” are mostly organized by local volunteer groups. Supporters of Robredo are also going door-to-door across the nation to converse with other voters and explain Robredo’s program and plans. In a campaign driven by a message of hope and “radical love”, Robredo reminded her supporters to be “humble and be open”, and to listen mindfully to those who do not necessarily see her fit for the presidency. Having been subjected to disinformation as the face of the opposition, this is the way Robredo’s camp and supporters chose to break down echo chambers and counter disinformation not only from the highly trolled online space but also by holding the line of truth offline, on the ground.
With only a few days before the election, which many are describing as the most crucial one in modern Philippine history, Robredo’s camp ramps up a schedule of campaign rallies targeting hundreds of thousands of supporters to show up onsite. On the celebration of her birthday in April 2022, a record-breaking of around 400,000 supporters showed up to back Robredo and her team. However, time might be running out and the large rallies still need to be reflected in the opinion of the public. On the other hand, although it feels like a miracle for her to increase votes for her by more than 20 percent during the last campaign days in order to beat Marcos Jr., Robredo’s supporters will not let go to hope for that miracle to turn into reality.
Rocel Lazaro is Communications Officer at the FNF Philippines office in Manila.