MANILA, Philippines – Heavy hang the air at the Quezon City Reception House on the day Leni Robredo left it for the last time as the 14th vice president of the Philippines.
Only a handful of Robredo’s staff physically reported to work on Wednesday, June 29. Most of the team were told just finish their last few tasks at home, to give way to the staff of incoming vice president Sara Duterte to begin setting up by the afternoon.
The remaining employees’ steps echoed across the near-empty halls of the Office of the Vice President (OVP). The staff were mostly quiet with a sullen look in their eyes as they attended to their tasks. Some would end up crying in some corner when left alone.
But their faces would light up whenever Robredo passed them by. She was spending her last few hours at the OVP doing her final acts as an incumbent official – oath-takings for local politicians, one last meeting with the military men who kept her safe these past six years.
Two days earlier, she passed on the torch as opposition leader to Senator Risa Hontiveros, the sole candidate from her slate to clinch a Senate senate in the May polls.
Robredo also agreed to do one last sit-down interview with the reporters who covered her vice presidency and her failed bid for Malacañang in the 2022 elections. She wore a dark Filipiniana dress in pink, the color that represented the massive volunteer movement her campaign inspired.
She may have lost the race, Robredo said with a smile, but she does not feel defeated at all.
“Kahit hindi ako nanalo – at ito sinabi ko na several times – if I have to do it all over again knowing what the results will be, I will still do it. Kasi para sa akin, ’yun ’yung pinakamasaya, pinaka-satisfying na campaign that I’ve been through in the many years na nai-involve ako sa political exercise,” said Robredo.
(Even if I didn’t win – and I have already said this several times – if I have to do it all over again knowing what the results will be, I will still do it. Because for me, that was the happiest, most satisfying campaign that I’ve been through in the many years that I have been involved in political exercises.)
Robredo barely shows any hint of sadness whenever she’s in public, even when her late husband – longtime Naga City mayor and former interior and local government chief Jesse Robredo – perished in a plane crash in 2012.
But as she recalled the many Filipinos who took a chance on her in 2022, tears welled in Robredo’s eyes. But she managed to hold them back.
“‘Yung 2022 kasi, ’yun talaga ’yung pinakakakaiba, kasi nakita ko talaga ’yung power of volunteerism, na sobrang gaan para sa amin ’yung campaign. So sa akin, wala akong regrets at all. Gaya ng sabi ko, kung kailangan ko siyang gawin ulit, knowing na matatalo ako in the end, gagawin ko pa rin,” said Robredo.
(The 2022 campaign was the most unique of all, because I really saw the power of volunteerism that made the campaign so much easier to carry. So for me, I have no regrets at all. As I’ve said, if I have to do it all over again, knowing I would lose in the end, I would still do it.)
Trials were blessings in disguise
There was no more talk of politics in Robredo’s final conversation with journalists. Mostly she looked back on the last six years and how proud she was that she has turned the OVP from a mere ceremonial office into an advocacy-heavy one.
Her flagship anti-poverty program “Angat Buhay” and her pandemic response relief drives have drawn widespread praise, even from politicians on the opposite side of the aisle. The Robredo-led OVP was quick, efficient, and responsive, even if the office’s annual budget was among the lowest in the bureaucracy.
Robredo’s team worked extra hard to professionalize their ranks. On Tuesday evening, June 28, the Vice President found out the Commission on Audit granted them its highest audit rating, an indication that their financial statements were all in order.
In times of calamities, Robredo was usually the first national official on ground zero, outshining outgoing president Rodrigo Duterte many times. This has made Robredo an even bigger enemy in the eyes of Duterte, who never really trusted her because she led the opposition.
The Duterte propaganda machine dedicated the past six years tarnishing Robredo’s name. Trolls and propagandists threw the most vicious lies against the Vice President and her children Aika, Tricia, and Jillian. The lies seeped into the Filipino psyche and heavily influenced the turnout of the 2022 polls.
Despite these trials, Robredo has no regrets about the life she lived the past six years.
“Marami kasing kaming gustong gawin na hindi namin nagawa dahil ang daming limitation. Pero kung regrets, wala siguro. Kasi lahat ng difficult decisions na ginawa ay nag-turn out for the best. Kahit ’yung limitations that were thrown our way turned out to be blessings in disguise… Siya ’yung key kung bakit naging mahusay ang OVP,” said Robredo.
(There were many things we wanted to do but we couldn’t because there were so many limitations. But as to regrets, I have none. Because all of the difficult decisions turned out for the best. The limitation thrown our way turned out to be blessings in disguise… They were the key reason why the OVP became excellent.)
Robredo even considered her brief, 18-day stint as co-chair of Duterte’s anti-drugs body as one of her most memorable experiences as vice president. The President had offered that post out of spite, and Robredo knew accepting it would be a trap.
But she accepted the challenge anyway, if only to do what she can to help save even just one life in Duterte’s bloody drug war.
“Kahit 18 days lang ’yung binigay sa amin, parang those were the, parang best 18 days of our OVP life kasi talagang we worked the hardest during those 18 days kasi alam namin na tatanggalin ako at any time… And at the end of the day, nakapag-submit kami ng full-blown na recommendations na very satisfying siya,” said Robredo.
(Even if we were only given 18 days, those were like the best 18 days of our OVP life because we really worked the hardest during the 18 days, knowing I could be removed anytime… At the end of the day, we were able to submit a full-blown list of recommendations, which was very satisfying to do.)
The final walk
With her term coming to a close by noon of Thursday, June 30, Robredo is already looking forward to becoming a regular citizen again.
She feels “liberated” at the thought that she can soon spend more time with her girls, that she can freely watch her K-drama shows without having to worry about pending work at the OVP.
But it was still a bittersweet goodbye for Robredo, as she and her staff will part ways.
“Marami kasi ’yung mga co-term na employees ng OVP, magkakaniya-kaniya na kami,” said Robredo. “Siyempre, maraming nagsasabi na, ‘Magvo-volunteer pa rin kami kahit iba na.’ Pero siyempre, iba na, kasi every day mong kasama for six years.”
(Many of my co-term employeees in the OVP would be going on their paths now. Of course many people would still tell me, “I’d still volunteer even if we’re working somewhere else.” But it’s different when you’re together almost every day for six years.)
And so as Robredo’s staff looked on as their beloved boss started to walk out of the OVP, they cheered their lungs out and gave her a loud applause.
They placed their hands on each other’s shoulders, uncertain about the future but comforted by the legacy that Robredo and the team she nurtured all these years will be leaving behind.
They watched with smiles on their faces as the van carrying the 14th vice president of the Philippines finally started to drive away. Robredo’s security detail were lined up along the drive way, executing their final salute to their departing boss.
“Bye-bye! Ingat kayo (Please take care of yourselves),” Robredo told them as she left her office for the final time. “Salamat (Thank you).” – Rappler.com
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