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I recently attended a function where the guest speaker took almost an hour to get to the exit. It was because almost everyone there wanted a photo. Finally, the organizers asked if the guest could stay on stage, while the emcee called each table one by one. The lawyer beside me observed, “Parang kasal ah.” (It’s like a wedding party.) I nodded with quiet wonderment as I looked at what was unfolding.
It was the Philippine Bar Association’s (PBA) 131st Foundation Day. The PBA’s former leaders and members include Apolinario Mabini, Chief Justice Cayetano Arellano, Ramon Diokno, Gregorio Araneta, and Juan Sumulong. National Hero and patriot Jose Abad Santos was re-elected PBA President several times. The list continues with Claro M. Recto, Jovito Salonga, Lorenzo Tañada and more. Its current president, Ernestine Villareal-Fernando, a top-notch corporate lawyer and socio-civic awardee in her own right, continues the vigil.
These were the kind of people that kept that night’s guest speaker “hostage.” Seasoned practitioners and eager young lawyers all lined up, patiently waiting for their turn. An elderly gentleman who I knew to be quite reserved, gently handed me his phone and asked, “Kunan mo kami please?”(Can you please take a photo of us?) It was more than a little bit astonishing. Or maybe It shouldn’t be.
After all, the guest speaker that night was Attorney Leni Robredo.
It was a curious thing to see. The loser in a high-stakes election should – at least in the short term – fade into obscurity. But insofar as losers go, this lady continues to defy expectations. Indeed, former vice president Leni Gerona Robredo continues to be a force to be reckoned with.
It’s been more than a year since the elections, and one would’ve thought that by now she’d be no different from the others who lost. And yet there’s such a long line of invitations, you can’t help but wonder what’s going on. Had she won, these invitations would be part of the job, if not the spoils. Power attracts supplicants. And for the presidency, people jostle because a picture or selfie with him can be shared and displayed at one’s office. Everybody loves a winner. But, why invite a loser? Yet in her case, they do.
The invitations she receives don’t come from individuals or organizations eager to ingratiate themselves. They’re from deeply respected local and international institutions. Harvard. MIT. The Obama Foundation. Last November, she was the guest speaker at the Alumni Homecoming of the UP College of Law. She’s been given 2 Honorary Doctorate degrees (so far) and recently was awarded Most Distinguished Alumna. All these after she lost the elections.
Tinges of a movement
There’s an even greater phenomenon that undercuts the ongoing journey of Attorney Robredo. In pockets of the country, some being so random, one still sees tinges of the movement she brought to life. A graduating class chanting her election cheer (Ang Presidente? Leni Robredo) in response to school officials playing the Bagong Lipunan song. Kids shouting “Leni, Leni!” in response to a passerby taking a video. Recently, while waiting for my turn at a takeout joint, the delivery rider beside me started humming Robredo’s jingle.
These pockets of light keep me hopeful during these trying times. Amid rising prices, inflation, and political uncertainty, one finds strength in the knowledge of one undeniable fact: Leni’s movement is alive, both online and on the streets.
Political campaigns have a natural endpoint. But what Attorney Robredo sparked in 2022 was not a simple campaign. Because as she was wont to point out, it was never about her. As shown by the graduates who chanted Leni’s song to drown the dictator’s anthem, this longevity has an element of defiance. It says, we may have lost an election but we are far from beaten. The cause remains. A better, more equal future. Free from dynasties, unburdened by oligarchs. For this movement, failure is just the beginning.
Trappings of influence
There’s another lesson to be learned here. Some of us spend a lifetime chasing rank, title, and power. We barter everything in exchange for an appointment because of their trappings – VIP treatment, invitations, and “awards.” In our quest, we forget that these perks disappear the moment we lose our usefulness to these supplicants. It is a sad truth for most. But not Attorney Robredo. Yes, she lost. She has neither influence nor power to dispense. And yet the world seems eager to have her.
It reminds me of another kind of “loser.” Maria Ressa. She who is both the bane of trolls and the target of their manipulated rage. We’ve seen this lady arrested, scorned, maligned, and humiliated in ways that make even hardened soldiers blush. Yet, she persisted. The world is her stage now. From Harvard, to UK, to the EU and Oslo, where she brought home a Nobel Peace Prize. Just recently, the Pope invited her to the Vatican. How many world leaders yearn for that invitation?
I once wrote about the “foolishness” that defined Ninoy’s life, how trolls use it to mock him and, how in these times, it’s precisely the kind of “foolishness” this country needs. Leni Robredo and Maria Ressa are “fools” of this sort. And if she were free, I am certain Leila de Lima would be right there with them.
At a time of wanton spending and utter lack of delicadeza, may these three women inspire this country to become a nation of “fools.” We would be far better for it. – Rappler.com
John Molo practices commercial litigation and teaches Constitutional Law in the University of the Philippines. He has argued several landmark cases before the Supreme Court. He is a trustee of the Philippine Bar Association and Chairperson of the IBP Journal. He is a past president of the Harvard Law School Alumni Association of the Philippines.