Interview with Leni: An end to ‘Endo’; ‘Ironing my clothes has become my form of relaxation’

In an exclusive Q&A, she talks about the country she’s immersed herself in during the campaign, and her order of battle in the presidency

VP Leni Robredo in Palo, Leyte, during the campaign

This presidential campaign is unprecedented for two very glaring factors: first, the amount and level of volunteerism that in geographical scope and frequency exceeded the 1986 People Power Edsa Revolution. People from all walks of life eventually took over the presidential campaign movement and invested their time, their own money and resources, their talent (the arts, culture and entertainment sectors have never been this visible and active)—and more important, their convictions—in short, their love of country. Never has the country, in recent history, seen the extent and reach of house-to-house campaign.

Second, it must be safe to say that no presidential candidate has covered as much ground as Vice President Leni Robredo did—and with several engagements per province: 70 provinces, from here to the most far-flung, from the Luzon to as far as Basilan and Cotabato. She visited some places more than once, such as Masbate, Lanao del Norte or Lanao del Sur, where she’s had ongoing livelihood projects.

In this interview with done via email, she speaks of what the campaign has done to her, reiterates her priorities upon ascendancy to the presidency, and her unchanging vision of the Philippines today and tomorrow.

How do you feel now, in the homestretch of the campaign? How do you feel, having broken the so-called Solid North, especially after the rousing Pangasinan rally?

I feel very optimistic and inspired, looking forward to election day—all this because of the enthusiasm and dedication of our people’s campaign.

In the so-called Solid North, our volunteers and supporters defied the odds to show their support for me, my running mate, Senator Kiko Pangilinan, and our entire senatorial slate. It certainly wasn’t easy for them, but they are campaigning hard for us every single day. It’s also very touching when they cheer, “Babawi kami!”—a promise that in the May 9 elections, they will give their votes to us.

Even before you ran for the presidency, you had already been going around the country, returning to some places like Masbate and Lanao several times. Did the hectic campaign give you new insights or reinforce your feelings about the country and its impoverished parts?

We need to bring government to the people. I always say, I will go to the farthest, most remote places of the country to listen to the people, find out what they need, bring them the basic services that government must give them—access to clean water, healthcare, education, livelihood.

Filipinos are hardworking and very talented. As our people’s rallies have shown, they are proud of our culture. I was amazed by the cultural presentations they prepared for every rally and also by their creativity, as shown in all the things that they have given to me as gifts.

Government must give its support to the people so that they can harness their skills, be more productive, and ultimately, take pride in everything they do. I honestly believe that this will lead to a person’s, and a community’s, progress.

What of the late Jesse Robredo are you bringing into your presidential governance—primarily?

Definitely, it is his commitment to good governance, transparency, and people empowerment. His tsinelas leadership will always be my guiding principle, as I have also practiced this when I was still a volunteer lawyer for the marginalized.

You said that your first 100 days will prioritize livelihood, health, and education. Please reiterate what your first presidential act will be in those three areas.

Early in the campaign, we launched our Kalayaan Mula sa Covid and Hanapbuhay Para sa Lahat plans.

The pandemic is still not over, and we must continue to be ready to respond to surges in COVID-19 cases. Our long-term goal is to strengthen our healthcare system, but in my first 100 days, should I be elected President, I would ensure transparency in government and prevent anomalies where the people end up being deprived of reliable healthcare. My Secretary of Health will be someone who can command leadership and someone who will be ready to be on the ground and find out what the people need.

Also, we will ensure that people will be vaccinated, or get their booster shots. We will continue our information campaign on vaccination and give people incentives to encourage them to get vaccinated.

We must focus on our economic recovery from COVID-19, and part of this is not having nationwide lockdowns where our economy grinds to a halt. Businesses, especially the MSMEs, are the most affected by these nationwide lockdowns. We would have targeted lockdowns in areas where there would be high incidence of COVID-19 cases and provide ayuda to those affected because they won’t be able to go to work.

Life must continue, even if we feel constricted by the recommended health measures. Businesses must remain open, people must not worry over lack of job security, each one must continue to thrive even during these trying times.

Our country’s education crisis has been exacerbated by the pandemic; this is why we will make sure that the children’s education will continue despite the pandemic. Schools will remain open in areas where there is low incidence of COVID-19 and provide devices to every student in areas where COVID-19 cases are high.

We will build community learning hubs, a program of the Office of the Vice President (OVP), so that students will have access to reliable internet connection and school materials. The community learning hubs were among the projects that the Office of the Vice President (OVP) initiated soon after schools were shut down because of the pandemic and children couldn’t join their online classes because they didn’t have gadgets and Wi-Fi. Distance learning is challenging at home; that’s why we also have tutors in the community learning hubs to help them with their school work.

Do you think the unprecedented show of volunteerism, over and against the political machinery/dynasty, will prevent STEALING the vote in the election? How?

Yes, because I know that the people will be vigilant on election day and as the counting takes place. They have been invested throughout the campaign, what more on election day?

Do you think a six-year term can finally help put a stop to ENDO (end of contract, the onerous practice that doesn’t guarantee security of employment), and bring LASTING peace in Mindanao?

Contractualization has long been abused by employers, and believe it or not, government is the number one violator of the contractualization system. The Civil Service Commission itself has reported that government has some 600,000 job order and contractual employees as of August 2020.

If I become President, I would push for the passage of the Security of Tenure bill, along with related laws and policies that would ensure and strengthen job security for workers in both the public and private sectors. The Security of Tenure bill explicitly prohibits labor-only contracting, but it will allow legitimate job contracting and fixed-term employment under certain conditions.

Lasting peace in Mindanao can be achieved through a whole-of-nation approach. Even our Armed Forces have said, a military approach alone won’t ensure lasting peace. To achieve peace, government must ensure progress of the people, help their families and their communities thrive.

We have come up with a detailed ‘Art and Culture Agenda’

FROM A STUDENT PHOTOGRAPHER OF BENILDE: Do you have specific recovery plans for Filipino artists and creatives who lost their incomes during the pandemic?

We have come up with a detailed “Art and Culture Agenda” not only to respond to the needs of Filipino artists and creatives affected by the pandemic, but also to help the whole industry flourish in the long term.

The details are too many, but our end goal is to foster artistic excellence by ensuring artists’ welfare, protection, education, and opportunity. We also want to uphold knowledge gained in cultural research by linking it to government policy.

Government must help the industry realize its fullest potential. Of course, the industry must grow with its own freedom of expression with the least government control, but government must support the country’s artists the best and most effective ways it could. This is something that my administration aims to provide.

I would want to see government strengthen its capability to cultivate artistic excellence.

I am a fan of Korean dramas, but I am more a fan of our homegrown artistry and creativity. We can learn from how Hallyu has effectively promoted South Korea to the world. I remember that in the early 2000s, Filipino dramas and actors were becoming very popular in Southeast Asia. I would like to see our own Filipino culture—from our talents to our food to our fashion—be recognized and appreciated in all parts of the globe.

FROM A MILLENNIAL SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGER: Can you remember an experience in your past/current work that gave you the biggest motivation to pursue your chosen path?

I’ve always wanted to become a lawyer like my father because I saw how he was able to help so many people. He inspired me to become a public interest lawyer. The 1986 Edsa Revolution inspired me to work for government. Right after college, I applied with the Bicol River Basin Development Program, where I met my husband-to-be, Jesse, who would become Naga City Mayor and was appointed by President Noynoy Aquino as his Interior Secretary.

I never planned to seek public office. I’ve said before that it was my husband who was the politician in our family. But fate led me to where I am today. Working with people who cannot afford to have lawyers to help them defend their rights, and I must say too, my husband’s leadership, are what motivate me to do my best as an elected official every single day.

The past months have been an exhausting whirl. How did you relax—no matter how short or how rare? Have you stopped watching K-drama?

Ironing my clothes on the campaign trail has become my form of relaxation. I was able watch one Korean drama, while we were traveling. The title, however, escapes me at the moment.

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