'Lalaban tayo': Leni Robredo, opposition leader, to run for president

Leni Robredo, Philippine vice president and leader of the opposition, has finally decided: She is running for president in the 2022 elections. 

"Buong buo ang loob ko ngayon – kailangan nating palayain ang sarili mula sa kasalukuyang sitwasyon. Lalaban ako. Lalaban tayo. Inihahain ko ang aking sarili bilang kandidato sa pagkapangulo sa halalan ng 2022," Robredo announced on Thursday morning, October 7, reading from a prepared speech that she wrote herself.

(I am firm in my resolve – we need to free ourselves from the current situation. I will fight. We will fight. I offer myself as a candidate for president in the 2022 elections.)

In announcing her candidacy, which she formalize hours later, Robredo said she wants to put an end to the incompetence, corruption, and culture of violence that has persisted under the Duterte regime.

She said she was not only a mother to her daughters Aika, Tricia, and Jillian, but also a mother figure to all other Filipinos suffering under Duterte's rule.

“Ina akong nakikita ang pagdurusa ng minamahal kong bansa. Naniniwala ako: Ang pag-ibig, nasusukat hindi lang sa pagtitiis, kundi sa kahandaang lumaban, kahit gaano kahirap,  para matapos na ang pagtitiis. Ang nagmamahal, kailangang ipaglaban ang minamahal,” Robredo said. 

(I am a mother who has seen the suffering of my beloved nation. This is what I believe in: Love cannot just be measured by sacrifices, but one’s readiness to fight, no matter how hard, to put an end to these sacrifices. A person who loves someone must fight for her beloved.)

Robredo is expected to name her vice presidential pick on Friday, October 8.

End 'old, rotten politics'

The Vice President urged Filipinos to rally behind her so they can all put an end to the "old, rotten politics" that had robbed ordinary Filipinos of the power to bring about change themselves.

"Tatalunin natin ang luma at bulok na klase ng politika. Ibabalik natin sa kamay ng karaniwang Pilipino ang kakayahang magdala ng pagbabago. Alam kong marami sa inyo ang ilang buwan nang kumikilos nang kusa tungo sa layuning ito. Ramdam na ramdam ko ang tiwalang kaloob ‘nyo sa akin. Sinasabi ko ngayon: Buong buo rin ang tiwala ko sa inyo," she said.

(Let us defeat the old and rotten politics. Let's restore to ordinary Filipinos the power to bring about change. I know many of you have been working on this goal for the past few months. I can feel your trust in me. Let me say it now: I also have complete trust in you.)

Robredo said lives and jobs are at stake in the 2022 elections, amid the pandemic.

“Buhay at kinabukasan ng Pilipino ang pinag-uusapan natin ngayon. Pinipilahan ang mga ospital, dumadaing ang mga health workers, at nagugutom ang mga nawalan ng trabaho," she said.

(We're talking about Filipinos' lives and future here. There are queues in the hospitals, health workers are bemoaning their situation, and those who have lost their jobs are hungry.)

The Vice President also urged her supporters to go beyond their circles and expand their ranks.

"Ihayag ang katotohanan na sa kabila ng mga limitasyon, sa kabila ng panggigipit, sa maliit na tanggapan pa lang natin dito sa Office of the Vice President, napakarami na nating nagawa para makatulong," she said.

(Spread the fact that despite limitations, despite the harassment, a small office like the Office of the President managed to do so much to help others.)

Tough discernment process

Her announcement ended months of anxiety and frustration on the part of her supporters who had been aching for the Vice President to unify and rally all dissenting voices against President Rodrigo Duterte in the 2022 polls.

She made the decision a week after the 1Sambayan opposition coalition endorsed her as its presidential bet in 2022.

It has been a tough discernment process for the Vice President, who believes only a united opposition has a chance of stopping Duterte's candidate in 2022. Robredo has been among the loudest voices against Duterte's abuses – from his bloody drug war to the crackdown on activists and government critics.

In deciding presidential run, Robredo said on Thursday that had one primary consideration, and that there was no room for ego or self-interest in discernment. 

“Mabigat na responsibilidad ang pagka-pangulo at hindi ito puwedeng base sa ambisyon o sa pag-uudyok ng iba,” she said.  “Iisa lang dapat ang konsiderasyon: Ano ba ang pinakamabuti para sa bansa natin?” 

(The presidency is a heavy responsibility and should not be based on ambition or the prodding of others. There should only be one consideration: What is best for our country?)

Robredo recalled three of her options in making a decision for 2022: running for president, running for governor in her home province of Camarines Sur, or taking a break from politics. 

In the past few weeks, Robredo said she continued to tell others she was ready to give way and support another person’s campaign – or combine forces by taking her in as a candidate or as someone with a position in the next administration should another presidential hopeful win.

“Ang tugon ko, hindi ito tungkol sa posisyon; hindi tayo nakikipag-usap para makipagtransaksyon. Ang pinakamahalaga, magkaisa kami – sa prinsipyo, sa pangarap para sa bansa, at sa landas na dapat tahakin tungo sa katuparan ng mga ito,” she said.

(My response is, this is not about a position; we're not discussing to enter into a transaction. What's most important is that we unite – in principles, in our dreams for the country, and the path that should be taken in realizing this.)

Her political allies and supporters had been going on overdrive to help convince her to seek the presidency. Musicians from FlipMusic even created the "Kay Leni Tayo" jingle free of charge to help raise Robredo's profile as a presidential candidate.

For months, Robredo kept her allies and rivals guessing what she would do in 2022. She did consider running for governor in her home province of Camarines Sur, but later decided against it. 

Finalizing her presidential run was a difficult decision for Robredo, who continues to grapple with low preference ratings in pre-election surveys despite drawing widespread praise for her office’s effective relief drives during the coronavirus pandemic. 

It’s a product of Robredo’s refusal to play the dirty game of politics despite attacks from the Duterte machinery and the unspoken burden she carries as chair of the now-demonized Liberal Party (LP).

She will be up against popular candidates like Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, boxing icon-turned-senator Manny Pacquiao, Senator Panfilo Lacson, and her rival, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos' son, former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. 

This would be her third time to go head-to-head against Marcos. Robredo had defeated him twice before, first during the tight vice presidential race in 2016, then in the electoral case he filed against her that the Supreme Court later junked. 

But the trajectory of the Vice President's political career so far has proven that Robredo would stand up and fight when called to do so.

A pro-bono human rights lawyer, Robredo was thrust into the national political spotlight after the tragic death in 2012 of her husband, longtime Naga City mayor-turned-interior and local government chief Jesse Robredo. 

Robredo first slayed the well-entrenched Villafuerte political dynasty in the 2013 congressional race in Camarines Sur's 3rd District. Then, in 2016, Robredo responded to calls for her to run as vice president, besting five other male incumbent senators for the post.

A call for good governance, but a jab at fence-sitters too

On Thursday, the Vice President once again lambasted the Duterte government's mismanagement of the pandemic, as COVID-19 infections reached over 2.5 million with 38,294 people killed by the virus. 

For the opposition presidential aspirant, the key to ending this kind of governance is not simply about replacing one politician with another – it's about ending the incompetence and corruption that were allowed to fester under the Duterte presidency. 

She once again urged all anti-Duterte forces to unite in 2022. But in the same breath, Robredo criticized fence-sitters in politics.

“At kung gusto nating tunay na makalaya sa ganitong sitwasyon, hindi lang apelyido ng mga nasa poder ‘yung dapat palitan; 'yung korapsyon, 'yung incompetence, 'yung kawalan ng malasakit, kailangang palitan ng matino at mahusay na pamumuno,” said Robredo.

(And if we want to be truly free from this kind of situation, we must not only change the surnames of the people in power; we must remove corruption, incompetence, the lack of empathy, and replace them with decent and competent leadership.)

“Handa dapat tayong iwaksi nang buong-buo ang mga agenda, ang mga interes, ang mismong mga tao at klase ng pulitika na sanhi ng pinagdaraanan ng bansa natin ngayon. Kung hindi ka lilinya nang malinaw; kung makikipagkompromiso ka; kung hindi mo man lang kayang sabihin [na] mali ang mali – na kaninong panig ka ba talaga?” she added. 

(We must be ready to fully reject the agenda, interests, as well as the people and the kind of politics that have caused the hardships of our country today. If you are not going to draw the line, if you are going to comprise, if you cannot even call out what's wrong – then on whose side are you really on?)

What finally made Robredo run?

The Vice President earlier said two things would finally push her to run for president: if she is chosen as the standard-bearer of a united opposition or if her rival Bongbong Marcos seeks the presidency.

The 1Sambayan coalition, which took on the mission of unifying all anti-Duterte forces in 2022, endorsed Robredo for the presidency on September 30.

Five days later on October 5, Bongbong declared his presidential bid .

1Sambayan convenors earlier said the legacy of decent and honest governance left behind by the late former president Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III will be a factor in choosing their standard-bearer in the 2022 polls. 

Aquino was chairman emeritus of the once-ruling LP, which Robredo now leads.

Robredo has been taking pains to build a broader opposition coalition, spending the past weeks meeting with other presidential contenders like Moreno, Senator Panfilo Lacson, and boxer-turned-senator Manny Pacquiao.

But the Vice President rejected the unification plan offered by Lacson. He wanted all possible opposition bets filing for candidacy, and then withdrawing over time in favor of the best polling contender.

Robredo turned down Lacson’s proposal, fearing this tactic would lead her supporters on. She recently met with Lacson and his running mate, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, but their unity talks still bogged down. – with reports from Sofia Tomacruz/Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

image