CAMARINES SUR, Philippines – The City of Naga in Camarines Sur has always been a source of strength and comfort for Leni Robredo.
It is where she grew up as the eldest child of a regional trial court judge and a teacher, and where she met the love of her life, longtime city mayor Jesse Robredo. They raised their daughters Aika, Tricia, and Jillian there.
The city cried with her when she lost Jesse in a plane crash, and cheered her on when she was finally persuaded to throw her hat into the political ring – first as congresswoman, then as Vice President of the Philippines.
Now, Robredo is returning to Naga City as she faced the biggest battle of her life: the fight for Malacañang.
Robredo, the lone female aspirant in the presidential race, is set to hold her grand proclamation rally at Plaza Quezon in her hometown on Tuesday, February 8, the official start of the campaign period.
Robredo will start early on Tuesday, to lead the opening of the Angat Buhay Village for typhoon-affected residents in Lupi town, before holding whistle stops in Libmanan, Tigaon, and Iriga City. She will then return to Naga City to hear Mass at the Naga City Cathedral before the main event at Plaza Quezon.
If she wins in the May elections, Robredo would be the third woman president and the first from Bicol, which is known for its bloc voting history with more than 3.6 million registered voters as of 2019. That number represents 5.9% of the total voting population in the Philippines.
On the eve of her campaign kick-off on Monday, February 7, Robredo expressed hope that she would once again secure the so-called “solid Bicol” vote – a counter to the “Solid North” commanded by her fierce rival, the late dictator’s son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
“Oo naman (Of course),” said Robredo when asked by reporters if she is confident she would gain the solid backing of Bicolanos in May.
“Actually, and sitwasyon ngayon sobrang kakaiba na noong 2016. Kasi noong kumandidato ako noong 2016, ‘yung mga political parties may kanya-kanya talagang mga linyang tinutulak. Pero ngayon, kahit iba-ibang mga partido ay nakuha natin ‘yung suporta,” said Robredo.
(Actually, the situation now is very different from 2016. Because when I ran in 2016, the political parties had their own agenda to push. But now, even those from different parties are supporting me.)
There are only over 105,000 registered voters in Naga City, but support for Robredo here is palpable. It’s rare to see a commercial establishment or private residence along major streets without either a pink ribbon, pink lantern, or a pink poster of Robredo and the local and national candidates running under her slate.
Two of the leading mayoral bets in city – reelectionist mayor Nelson Legacion who is Robredo’s Liberal Party (LP) ally, and former mayor John Bongat – are both carrying Robredo as their president.
During the launch of Bikoleni (Bicol for Leni) by the Kusog Bikolandia party-list on Monday, Camarines Sur 3rd District Representative Gabriel Bordado of LP also came to join the host party’s founder Noel de Luna, who is running in the same congressional district.
Robredo’s presidential bid is also backed by the Anduyog local party of former Camarines Sur congressman Rolando Nonoy Andaya Jr. who is seeking to return as governor against Luigi Villafuerte.
Luigi is the scion of the well-entrenched Villafuerte political clan that counts Andaya and Robredo as their enemies. The Villafuertes have yet to openly endorse a presidential aspirant, but they hosted presidential daughter and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, Marcos’ running mate, during her recent visit to Naga.
Robredo earlier recalled how very few Bicolano politicians initially supported her when she ran for vice president in 2016.
She was not the lone VP candidate from Bicol either, as then-senators Antonio Trillanes IV, Francis Escudero, and Gregorio Honasan were all natives of the region as well. Trillanes and Escudero are now in Robredo’s senatorial ticket.
In the end, Robredo still won in the entire Bicol. She is hoping the same would happen again in 2022, as her bottom-up, volunteer-led people’s campaign has been gaining ground.
Vote not for Leni, but for what she represents
Robredo believes Bicolanos would vote for her not because they are being regionalistic, but because of the kind of clean and transparent government she wants to espouse if elected president.
It’s the kind of governance that has persisted for so long in Naga – all thanks to the “tsinelas” leadership of Jesse Robredo.
“‘Yung botong inaasahan natin is not just because Bikolano ako, pero because ‘yung tao dito, naipakita namin kung anong klase ng politika ang kinakailangan para magbigay ng isang klaseng progreso na hindi siya – hindi pera saka kapangyarihan ‘yung pinagmumulan, pero isang klaseng pamamahala saka politika na ang kapangyarihan ibinabahagi sa ordinaryong mamamayan,” Robredo said.
(The votes we are expecting here aren’t just because I am a Bicolano, but because we have shown the people here the kind of governance needed to have the kind of progress that is not based on money nor power, but from the kind of governance and politics where power is shared with the ordinary citizens.)
If she wins the presidency, Robredo vowed to build highways and railroads that would connect her home region to urban areas to spur rural development.
She has promised to rebuild trust in the government and to end selective justice through an anti-corruption program that would spare no one, even her own allies. Robredo also wants to replicate the “People’s Council” that was institutionalized in Naga City back when Jesse was mayor, to provide ordinary Filipinos a seat at the table.
She has also released a comprehensive and ambitious P500-billion pandemic response platform, focusing on three key aspects – “freedom” from the fear of getting sick, freedom from hunger, and freedom from the lack of education.
Her job recovery platform also have five main themes: regaining trust in government, reviving Filipino industries, ending discrimination at work, supporting small businesses, and cushioning the impacts of unemployment.
Over 70 female local government leaders from across the country also threw their support Robredo. – Rappler.com