MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Leni Robredo once again demonstrated her strength in crafting detailed policies rooted in science and data as she faced off with her male rivals in the presidential race in the first debate organized by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Saturday night, March 19.
From the first to the last question focused on recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, Robredo dropped statistics from memory before elaborating on specific proposals she plans to do should she win the coveted seat in Malacañang in May.
Even before deciding to run for president, Robredo had long shown her penchant for crafting data-driven reforms – from her proposals to improve President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody drug war during her brief stint as anti-drugs body co-chair to her suggestions on how the Duterte administration can improve its response to the public health crisis.
Like in the debate earlier hosted by CNN Philippines, Robredo also managed to land a knockout punch against the survey frontrunner and debate absentee Ferdinand Marcos Jr. without even having to mention his name.
Her strongest words were delivered at the end of the debate, a twist to the iconic line she also said in a debate six years ago that many believe helped propel her to the vice presidency.
“Kaya po ‘wag na nating hanapin ang ayaw namang humarap sa atin. Kahit anong oras, nandito po ako, hinaharap kayo, pinapaglaban kayo. True leaders show up and man up. Kaya po sa darating na Mayo, the best man for the job is a woman,” she said in her closing statement.
(So let’s stop looking for someone who doesn’t want to face us. At all times, I’m here, ready to face you and fight for you. True leaders show up and man up. So in May, the best man for the job is a woman.)
For Robredo, what the Philippines needs is a leader who shows up, steps up, and has the “resibo,” meaning receipts or proof of true compassion for Filipinos.
She was a development worker and alternative lawyer before her first foray into politics in 2013, when she took the cudgels from her late husband, former Naga City mayor and interior secretary Jesse Robredo who died in a plane crash in 2012.
Queen of receipts, data
From the get-go, Robredo was quick to cite data to support her answers during the Comelec debate.
When asked which industry she would prioritize to help, Robredo identified micro, medium, and small enterprises (MSMEs), pointing out that the sector accounts for 99.5% of businesses in the Philippines and generates 5.7 million jobs. She noted that out of the 2 million MSMEs in the country, 400,000 had to close down due to the pandemic.
Her proposal? A P100-billion stimulus fund that would provide conditional cash grants, low-interest loans, capacity-building programs, and digitization efforts for MSMEs.
This is part of Robredo’s comprehensive pandemic response platform that she released in November 2021, just over a month after she decided to run for president.
On addressing the problem of job mismatch for graduates amid the pandemic, Robredo reiterated her push to declare an education crisis. She noted that the Philippines currently allots only 3% of its gross domestic product (GDP) to education, when the United Nations has recommended the funding to be 6% of GDP to fully benefit students and teachers.
In highlighting the need to improve the country’s vaccination drive to avoid another COVID-19 surge, Robredo cited the experience of Hong Kong where low vaccination rates caused a spike in cases as well as deaths. She said that in the case of the Philippines, only around 58% of Filipinos had been fully vaccinated, while only 16% got their booster shots.
She said she would work on the Philippines’ aim to fully vaccinate 77 million Filipinos and even go beyond the goal if she becomes president.
“So ‘yung una kong gagawin, sisiguraduhin ko na maabot natin ‘yung targets natin and malampasan pa. Tapos dapat huwag na nating hintayin ‘yung another surge para i-beef up natin ‘yung ating testing, tracing saka treatment,” said Robredo.
(So the first thing I would do is to ensure that we would reach our targets and even exceed them. We should not wait for another surge before we beef up our testing, tracing, and treatment.)
Every detail counts
Robredo’s eye for detail was also reflected in her look for the Comelec’s first presidential debate. Clad in a long-sleeved collared dress in bright pink, Robredo literally stood out in the sea of black and white barongs and suits worn by her male presidential rivals.
Pinned on her left chest is a cream brooch in the shape of a half-sun, an accessory made from Inabel cloth and designed by the Philippine Fashion Coalition to represent hope and unity.
Robredo and female lawmakers of the House of Representatives had worn the “Araw” brooch during Duterte’s virtual State of the Nation Address in 2020. It was their way of showing solidarity with the local fashion industry that was badly hit by the pandemic.
Now seeking to become the next leader of the country, Robredo once again pinned the “Araw” brooch on her chest not only to symbolize the clean and honest governance she’s espousing, but to also show support for MSMEs.
It’s a circle back to her answers in the Comelec debate, and to the deeply held principles she has kept close to her heart all these years.
For Robredo, every little detail matters.
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