MANILA, Philippines – Maria Leonor "Leni" Robredo may be gunning for a national position for 2016, but supporters from her home province of Camarines Sur are not worried that they will be forgotten.
"We don't have any fears that we will be neglected. We know of her sacrifices for our district. She offered a lot of herself for us," said Maria Jane Tosot, member of women's group Lakas ng Kababaihan.
Yellow-clad members of the group trooped to Club Filipino on Monday, October 5, to cheer for Robredo as she finally said yes to the Liberal Party's offer to be its vice presidential candidate for 2016.
The neophyte legislator, who entered politics after the death of her husband in 2012, was elected Camarines Sur 3rd district representative in the 2013 midterm polls, beating a member of the Villafuerte clan that has ruled the district for decades.
Robredo's concern that power would return to the Villafuertes was one of the reasons why she earlier resisted calls for her to run for vice president.
Some members of Lakas ng Kababaihan admitted that they wanted Robredo to stay on at the local level. But they added that Robredo could help more people if she won a national post.
"We really wanted her to stay as 3rd district representative. But we also know that she's aspiring for a higher position, and if she were to go national, then it would be better for her to run for vice president because it will also help us," said Lakas ng Kababaihan member Star Julia.
In her acceptance speech of the vice presidential nomination, Robredo also sought to allay fears that she would be neglecting her home province.
"Sa akin pong pamilya sa Pangatlong Distrito ng Camarines Sur, nais ko pong malaman ninyo na hinding hindi ko po kayo tatalikuran at iiwan. Nasaan man ako, ang pagkalinga at pagsisilbi ko sainyo ay patuloy pa rin," she said.
(To my family from the 3rd district of Camarines Sur, I want you to know that I will never leave and turn my back on you. Wherever I am, my care and service for you will continue.)
She added, "Hinihingi ko po sa inyo na sabay sabay pa din nating ipagpatuloy ang pagbabago nating sinimulan, at huwag na sana po nating hayaan manumbalik pa ang mga dating kabuktutan."
(Together, let us continue the reforms we have started, and let us not allow a return to the old ways of corruption.)
Long before she entered politics, Robredo had been involved in her own causes and advocacies. She worked as a public attorney to help indigent clients, and later joined the non-governmental organization Saligan, which provides legal help to the poor and marginalized communities. (READ: Leni Robredo: Low-key political wife goes national)
In 1989, Robredo started Lakas ng Kababaihan ng Naga Federation, an organization that provides training and livelihood opportunities for women.
In earlier interviews, Robredo said she wanted to push for women's empowerment to help women become more financially independent.
She added that women in abusive relationships would no longer stay with their partners if they had the means to provide for themselves.
In Camarines Sur, Julia said Robredo has made it her priority to provide livelihood opportunities, seminars, and training for women entrepreneurs.
"She helped uplift the lives of many women in our district. Many of us have our own businesses and livelihood opportunities now," Julia said. (READ: The Leader I Want: Leni Robredo’s to-fix list for 2016)
Tandem to beat
The group is optimistic that a vice presidential post for Robredo could mean expanding nationwide the programs and people's empowerment policies that she has advocated.
Before Robredo gave her final "yes" to the LP offer, her supporters have long urged her to run. Last month, a signature campaign was launched to show Robredo that there was public clamor for her candidacy.
In an earlier interview, former Quezon Representative Erin Tañada, one of those who pushed for Robredo's vice presidential run, said he had hoped Robredo would once again bow to public clamor and run for the post, as she did in 2013.
Robredo's eventual acceptance was proof, Tañada said, that people were looking for a leader like her.
"We're very thankful that she's willing to make the sacrifice for public service," he said. "I think Mar-Leni is a tandem to beat."
Tañada said the neophyte legislator has proven herself a competent and skilled public servant, proving that she is more than simply the wife of former Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo.
The late secretary was known as an icon of good governance and was beloved in Naga City, where he served as mayor for a total of 19 years. His wife was thrust into politics on a promise of continuing programs centered on people empowerment.
While Robredo may be lagging behind her other vice presidential rivals in surveys, Tañada said the tide may turn now that Robredo has officially declared her candidacy with the LP.
He earlier said that it was not difficult to sell Robredo because of her background working with marginalized sectors and an image of being clean and incorruptible.
"It's a matter of informing the people that she's running, and converting that into votes," he said. – Rappler.com