Why Leni Robredo is Mar Roxas’ choice

Bea Cupin

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Why Leni Robredo is Mar Roxas’ choice
But Albay Governor Joey Salceda is worried about splitting the Bicol vote since another Bicolano, Senator Chiz Escudero, is also running for vice president

SORSOGON, Philippines – Is administration bet Manuel Roxas II one step closer to finally finding a running mate?  

Roxas formally offered the slot to Camarines Sur Representative Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo during a visit to Naga City on Friday, September 18.

Robredo confirmed the offer in a chance interview with reporters in Naga City, and said she would be mulling it over. 

The offer came two days after Senator Grace Poe, whom Roxas and the ruling Liberal Party had been publicly wooing to be his vice president, announced her own bid for the presidency.

And it came a day after Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero, who is from Bicol like Robredo, announced his vice-presidential bid.

Roxas confirmed that the “informal and formal” processes in offering the vice presidential slot to Robredo have begun. “May sinusunod tayo na pormal na proseso na pormal na rin na inihain kay Cong Leni at hindi ko naman gustong pangunahan yung proseso,” he told reporters in Sorsogon.

September 16 decision

The decision to formally offer the post to Robredo was made on Wednesday night, September 16, during a meeting called by President Benigno Aquino III with Roxas and other senior party officials, Rappler learned.

The meeting was held on the night Poe declared her presidential bid.

Robredo was informed about what was discussed in the meeting, according to a source close to LP.

The following day, Thursday, September 17, Robredo posted a picture of her husband, the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, on her Facebook account, asking for a “lifeline.” Supporters flooded the comments section of the post, egging on Robredo to run. (READ: Netizens react to Roxas’ offer to Robredo)

When we checked Friday, the Facebook post has been deleted.

Aquino, who led the public wooing of Poe, has been the one pushing hard for a Roxas-Robredo tandem, the same source added.

So that even before Poe’s announcement, talks between the two camps had already begun – even if in public, Roxas and Aquino were saying they were still “hopeful” about Poe.

Poe would’ve ensured that the broad coalition led by the LP, which includes the Nacionalista Party (NP), Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) and the National Unity Party (NUP) would stay intact come 2016. 

But that ship has long sailed. 

LENI, RUN. Residents of Baseco Compound in Manila sign their names as part of the campaign urging Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo to run for vice president. Photo by Katerina Francisco/Rappler

Why Leni? 

The Roxas camp had another choice for running mate: Senator Alan Peter Cayetano. (READ: Who will be Mar Roxas’ VP? List: Poe, Robredo, Cayetano)

A power bloc in the Roxas camp has been pushing for the senator to be the standard-bearer’s running mate. Cayetano himself said he was open to it.

But Cayetano carries some baggage. He was with the camp of former Senator Manuel Villar, who ran against Aquino in the 2010 presidential race. A member of the NP, Cayetano is also believed to have been among those who orchestrated the release of a fake medical report during the 2010 elections, which alleged Aquino had psychological issues. Cayetano also demonized the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which signed a peace agreement with the Aquino government, at the height of the Masamapano scandal.

In contrast, Robredo has always been identified with the Aquino administration. Her husband, a good friend of Roxas, ran the first phase of Aquino’s presidential campaign. She is also a staunch supporter of the peace process with the MILF.

Supporters of Roxas see Robredo as the embodiment of the government’s “Daang Matuwid,” or its transparency, good governance, and anti-corruption platform. 

The late Jesse Robredo is remembered for his work in Naga City, where he introduced reforms that turned the city from a laggard to among the most distinguished in the country. 

Daughters opposed to VP bid

Prior to joining politics, Leni Robredo was a lawyer who took on cases for the city’s poor. This is among the reasons, Roxas said in a past interview, why she is among his choices for vice president. 

“She has the experience, she’s a lawyer. When she was a lawyer, she didn’t use her knowledge to represent companies. Instead, she helped people from Naga and she was a lawyer for the poor, those who could not afford legal representation. When it comes to helping our countrymen, her track record is well established,” Roxas said.

Robredo is also the LP’s chairman in Bicol.

Robredo has said the vice presidency is “not an option” for her since it was “too soon.”

She was elected representative of the 3rd district of Camarines Sur in 2013, a year after her husband’s tragic death in a plane crash. 

Her 3 daughters are also against her running for the VP post, according to Robredo herself. At most, she said in the past, she is eyeing a Senate post. 

“There are a lot of options – people who are more qualified. I don’t have a monopoly on good intentions. I’m aware of my limitations, I’m realistic about my targets,” Robredo earlier told reporters.

Awareness numbers are also a concern for Robredo, although she has been going around the country in the past few weeks. 

Who will take her place?

But among the biggest factors, at least politically, is the district she would be leaving behind should she run for vice president.

Robredo had not planned to run for Congress in 2013 but was convinced by the clamor of locals who wanted a viable candidate against the Villafuertes, a politically entrenched family in the province. 

Robredo defeated Nelly Villafuerte in the 2013 polls. (READ: Robredo: I’m the example of how votes can’t be bought)

The Villafuertes are related to Robredo’s late husband, although the two had a falling out when the former Naga mayor refused to heed his relatives’ requests. 

Robredo’s vice-presidential bid would make the Camarines Sur district open again to the Villafuertes.

The patriarch, former Camarines Sur Representative Luis Villafurter, is said to be eyeing a comeback. His grandson is the incumbent governor of the province.

The Villafuertes are now supporting Poe and were seen during Poe’s declaration at UP.

Current Naga City councilor Gabriel Bordado Jr. is being eyed as a possible replacement for Robredo. Bordado was vice mayor when Jesse Robredo was mayor of Naga. 

Splitting Bicol vote

And there’s the problem of “splitting” the Bicol vote.

“As a party man, I’ll go for [Leni Robredo]. But this division is something that Bicol doesn’t need,” Albay Governor Joey Salceda told Rappler in a phone interview. 

Escudero, Poe’s running mate, was representative of Sorsogon prior to joining the Senate. The senator’s father was once Sorsogon’s representative in Congress, a position now being held by his mother. 

Robredo also happens to trace her roots, through her father’s side, to Sorsogon. 

“It will divide Bicol and a divided Bicol is not important to the next administration. It is a division that Bicol doesn’t need at all,” said Salceda.

The governor noted that should Robredo decide to seek the vice presidency, it would be the first time for Bicol to have its politicians directly run against each other in a national race.  

But we note that it would also be the first time in recent history for Bicol to have a fighting chance to make one of its own vice president. – Rappler.com


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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.