Memories and lessons from Leni Robredo
It was because of your husband, Mayor Jesse Robredo, that I chose a career in government service. When he was appointed to a national post, Bicolanos were filled not only with pride, but also hope – that what we have achieved in Naga can now be achieved nationwide. His untimely death dashed those hopes. Despite the shock and sorrow, we followed your lead in the aftermath. Your image as a strong woman gave us the strength to rally around you and your family. I heard that you finally filed your Certificate of Candidacy at the Comelec for the position of Vice President this coming 2016 elections. Like most of us who know you personally, I am still amazed by the course of events that eventually thrust you into the national limelight. After all, the people of Naga City know intimately how simple you are and how you’ve always avoided being the center of attention.
It saddens me that not even a day into your declaration, social media was already rife of false statements and black propaganda. It hurt me to know that complete strangers would have the courage and the audacity to try and destroy your credibility, given that those who know you personally can vouch for your personality. (WATCH: Leni Robredo on running for VP)
I write this in an attempt to shed some light on who Leni Robredo is, not the political figure featured in the media, but the person who has helped so many people yet to chose to remain in the sidelines.
From a personal perspective, there have been a handful of moments when I witnessed how you have shown generosity, kindness, sympathy, understanding, and courage. This spanned from when you were a simple wife of Mayor Jesse, up to recent months when you served us our congresswoman. (READ: 8 things to know about Leni Robredo)
I remember about 6 years ago, we were working on a coffee table book about Naga. It was our first major assignment from Mayor Jesse, a book chronicling the rich history of our city, its governance initiatives and innovations, and efforts in becoming a model city.
After several consecutive nights trying to finalize the first draft, we hurriedly ran to Mayor Jesse’s office just before 5 pm to present it to him. You had just arrived before us, clutching several folders. You were about to pick up your husband from the office so he could go home to his family. In true Jesse Robredo fashion, he browsed through the draft, sometimes muttering to himself. He seemed rather unconvinced. You were standing right beside him and you kept looking and smiling at us, aware maybe, of our lack of sleep.
Then he looked up to you and asked “Ano sa tingin mo, Ma? (What do you think, Ma?)” You looked at us again, grinned, then answered him back, “Sa tingin ko okay na ‘yan. Maganda naman e (I think that’s already okay. It’s beautiful).” The good mayor then gave in, sighed and said to us “O sige na Alec, okay na ‘yan. (Alright. That’s okay).”
You could not imagine our glee and relief. That moment taught me something about you. First, I learned how supportive you were as a wife, the textbook definition of a “better half.” Second, I learned how well you sympathize with people who work with your husband or yourself. You understand how difficult public service can be, and you know how to manage people well.
Another time, we were proposing to feature you in the regular publication of City Hall. Our editorial team wanted to do a feature of iconic women in Naga who were worthy of emulation. As the president of the Naga City Council for Women, you fit the bill. But when we approached you, you respectfully declined our proposal and told us that it would not be proper since you were the Mayor’s wife. You said that if we want to highlight something, then we should feature the important role of women in Naga, and not a figure.
You showed us how not to feel privileged. You taught us that position does not entitle special privileges, only special responsibilities.
When Mayor Jesse was appointed to a cabinet position, you were left with the task of looking after your daughters. I remember one time when you texted me and asked me if there were published materials about the history of Naga’s historical and cultural landmarks. I asked why and you replied that you were helping your youngest, Jillian, with her homework.
The wife of a national government official, an accomplished lawyer in your own right, and yet also a down-to-earth mom helping out with her child’s studies. You taught me how important it is to keep your feet planted firmly on the ground and never let power and position take control of your life.
A few months ago, just before your birthday, Naga City Mayor John Bongat and the city councilors threw you a simple surprise lunch. I was called in by Mayor Bongat who said you had a special request. When I arrived, I was told that you wanted to try the latest tourist attraction in Naga, a 200-meter zipbike ride on Mt. Isarog. Being the head of Naga’s tourism office, I arranged for the special treat.
When we arrived, we head off to the tower housing the bikes that would tread the metal cable suspended above the river. We were high above the flowing jungle river when you told me that you were actually afraid of heights and you wanted to conquer that fear as a birthday gift to yourself. And conquer it you did, several times. You were cautious at the start but when you realized that there was nothing to fear, you pedaled your way across the river.
It seemed as though you enjoyed conquering your fear so much that you even went twice, surprising us and me personally. In a way, maybe that was one way for you to help channel your inner strength, knowing the challenges that lie ahead. You taught me something about courage that day. You showed me that you can overcome fear as long as you have faith in what you believe in and in what you can achieve.
These seemingly insignificant moments, for me, have shown a great deal of your character and personality.
Throughout Mayor Jesse’s career in public service, you were his co-captain and his navigator. I could sense that you provided him with the right direction and bearing to pursue as a Mayor, and later on as a national government official.
I am confident that as the country’s Vice President, you can do the same for our next President. And with your traits and qualities, I am certain that our nation will be in good hands. – Rappler.com
Alec Francis Santos is a 29-year old Naga resident. He is currently the head of Naga City's tourism office. He also serves as a tourism governance consultant of different LGUs and NGOs across the country.