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My vice-presidential choice

The long Christmas break gave me a chance to think about my choices for the May elections. While vague policy statements by some presidential candidates prevent me from making a decision on whom to support as of yet, I am certain about my choice for the Vice Presidency. My vote will go to Leni Robredo.

Last November, I wrote a piece narrating my impressions of the widow from Naga during our first meeting. For those who missed it, the gist of it was that Leni impressed me not for her flair, flash or glib but rather for her humility and purity of intent. She is a stark contrast from Chiz Escudero, Bongbong Marcos and Alan Peter Cayetano in that she doesn’t prance like a peacock to impress you. Instead, she simply presents herself for who she is – a woman with a humble heart and an open mind who’s only desire is to further the cause of the poor and the disenfranchised. And unlike her opponents whose intent is to use the Vice Presidency as a springboard to Malacañang, Leni’s sole motivation is to use the weight of the VP’s office to further her advocacies.

Now that I recall that first meeting, Let me add some other impressions that come to mind. Leni struck me as a woman of contras – she was simple yet surefooted, kind yet determined, humble yet dignified. She was enigmatic, that way. I could only surmise that such juxtaposition in character is a result of a life dedicated to a noble cause.

The fact that I am boldly coming out in support of Leni is something I take very seriously. After all, for a businessman like myself, there will be political equity to pay should Leni fail to make it in the polls. But I reckon, electing the right people in the highest offices in the land precedes my personal interest.

Country first before self. I would be a traitor to my own convictions if I did not speak out to support the candidate in whom I am certain will do good for the country.

My decision to support Leni goes beyond “just” character – it extends to her values, work ethic, competence and life’s work. I looked into her body of work and shared bits of it in the succeeding paragraphs. Suffice to say, two of Leni’s attributes made her a compelling choice for me. First, I believe it’s about time the marginalized sector has an honest to goodness champion in the highest echelons of government. She fits the role perfectly. Second, I believe in two of Leni’s basic principles – a) that economic and social development can be best achieved in a transparent environment where every citizen has a voice; and b) that the solution to poverty is not charity but self-empowerment. These values are at the heart of Leni’s work.

THE EARLY YEARS

Leni’s experience working with the grassroots spans 27 years. After earning a degree in Economics from the University of the Philippines and a Juris degree from the University of Nueva Caceres, she went on to join the Public Attorney’s Office where she worked to defend those too poor to defend themselves. The bright lights of a Makati job never appealed to her.

In 1999, she joined the Sentrong Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (SALIGAN), an organization of lawyers who extend legal assistance to the poorest communities in the countryside. There was no money to be made in SALIGAN as the work was done pro bono. Her clients consisted of fisher folks, women’s groups, farmers, laborers and those with special problems like molestation, domestic abuse, and the like. I was told she would often need to walk through dirt roads and forests just to see her clients.

How she survived such trying conditions without financial recompense is something I will never understand. But she pressed on with SALIGAN for eight laborious years. This has given her an insider’s perspective her opponents can never have. She has seen, felt and imbibed the hardships that the poorest among us endure everyday. These insights make her a worthy champion for them.

While in SALIGAN, Leni also established the Paralegal Education Skills Advancement and Networking Technology (PESANTech) to enable the farmers to better navigate their way through the Agrarian Reform Law. She was also the driving force behind Gender and Development Training Programs (GAD), an initiative that taught women how to deal with gender-related abuse. Leni has always been an advocate of self-empowerment even when no one was looking.

WALKING THE TALK: THE LATER YEARS

Transparency and management-by-participation are hallmarks of Jesse and Leni Robredo’s brand of governance. It’s no secret that Leni worked alongside Jesse while he was Mayor of Naga City from 2001 to 2010. One of the couple’s early initiatives was to establish the Naga City People’s Council. The council was composed of civic, business and special interest groups, all of whom vetted the ordinances enacted by City Hall. It wielded real power in that it had the authority to overturn ordinances and replace them with more relevant ones.

The People’s Council proved to be a success. Despite the clutter of each sector’s voice, ordinances were enacted that benefitted the majority. The result, Naga’s poverty rate decreased from 25% to just 19% (the same level as Cebu) in just four years. City-wide revenues increased by 573% allowing the city to invest in infrastructure. This allowed Naga to be classified as a “first class” city, capable of absorbing investments and facilitating complex business activities. Naga was a “third class” city just a decade prior.

The People’s Council, simple as it was, was significant because it debunked two widely accepted fallacies about governance in the Philippines.

First, it disproved that Filipinos are not ready for absolute democracy and can only be effectively ruled by the unilateral force of a strongman.

Second, it proved that good governance, on its own, is sufficient to propel an economy forward.

In 2010, Leni broke the stronghold of the Villafuerte clan by winning (through landslide) the congressional seat for the third district of Camarines Sur. She went on to become one of the more prolific members of the Lower House where she continues to fight for transparency, good governance and the rights of the poor. She is one of the few advocates of the Freedom of Information Bill and The Anti-Dynasty Bill – two contentious laws unpopular among lawmakers for its power to expose (their own) corruption and power to curtail their political succession plans

On her own, she authored the “People Empowerment Bill”, a piece of legislation that seeks to establish a People’s council in every city. It is now on its second reading.

She also authored House Bill 2492, a statute that provides checks and balances in our taxation system to deter corruption. It is now a law and up for implementation.

Another bill, House Bill 6062, mandates government to purchase goods from the marginalized sector, whenever possible.

These initiatives, among others, give us a flavor of the kind of work we can expect from the lady from Naga.

The way I look at it, the candidates for the Vice Presidency represent two extremes. On one hand, you have Escudero, Marcos and Cayetano – typical politicians who, while capable, are also noisy, ambitious, oligarchical and are notorious for one thing or another. On the other hand, there is Leni. While unassuming, has proven her mettle as a defender of the disadvantaged with a body of work to prove it. For me, the meeker candidate carries the larger stick. This is why I am going out on a limb.

Andrew is an economist, political analyst and businessman. He is a 20-year veteran in the hospitality and tourism industry. For comments and reactions, e-mail andrew_rs6@yahoo.com. More of his business updates are available via his Facebook page (Andrew J. Masigan). Follow Andrew on Twitter @aj_masigan.

  • Mobility

    Maski Du30 ang presidente ko, si Leni ang VP ko.

  • Mobility

    Maski Du30 ang presidente ko, si Leni ang VP ko.

  • Mobility

    Maski Du30 ang presidente ko, si Leni ang VP ko.

  • Mobility

    Maski Du30 ang presidente ko, si Leni ang VP ko.

  • Mobility

    Maski Du30 ang presidente ko, si Leni ang VP ko.

  • Mobility

    Maski Du30 ang presidente ko, si Leni ang VP ko.