MANILA, Philippines: Leni Robredo never thought she would be in the national spotlight. Now, she is on the brink of becoming the Philippines’ vice president.
The congresswoman from southern Luzon only entered politics after the death of her politician husband in 2012 and from a point of national obscurity, she has surged to likely becoming the second most powerful lawmaker in the country.
She has stood up where her running mate Mar Roxas failed – he bowed out the race for president in emotional circumstances, falling a distant second to Rodrigo Duterte.
It is, however, a race muddied by accusations of vote cheating, leveled at Robredo by her staunchest rival, Bongbong Marcos, the son of former president Ferdinand Marcos. He trails narrowly in the count after initially building a strong early lead – in the early hours of Tuesday morning (May 10), Robredo overtook him and has not relinquished the lead since.
Robredo has adamantly denied any wrongdoing and said she believed the country had faith in the process.
“These accusations are really unfair in the sense it instigates many of his supporters, but there really is no basis to it,” she told Channel NewsAsia.
“With the present setup, we have automated elections for the second time in the entire history of the country. I could not for the life of me imagine how this cheating could happen. So if there is indeed any basis to these allegations, I’m the one most interested to find out how cheating could be done.”
She expressed concerns that the power of the Marcos camp could lead to damaging rumours and dent voters’ confidence in her. The anger from Marcos supporters directed at her on social media has already proven real.
But enough to destabilise the office? Despite the chance of a challenge or appeal from Marcos, which could be time consuming and lengthy, she does not think so.
“I think the most he could do would be to create some confusion and perhaps cast doubt on the integrity of the election,” she said. “But I think the only people who will believe his allegations are his supporters.”
“Most of the voters, most of us Filipinos were able to witness how efficient this election has been compared to the many elections in the past.”
BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
Robredo’s new boss, if he is installed, will be the hard-talking, gun-wielding mayor-turned-president elect Rodrigo Duterte. The two could hardly be more different.
Duterte is expected to swiftly roll out his hardline law and order policies, similar to those he has installed in Davao City, which has resulted in the transformation of the city from one of the country’s most dangerous to one of the safest.
Robredo has already confirmed her “100 per cent support” of Duterte and has spoken positively about the alternative type of leadership he could offer to traditional politics-weary Filipinos and said it was the “obligation of all of us to rally behind him”.
“It’s time to accept the voice of the people.”
Yet, as a long-time social activist and human rights lawyer, she baulked at the prospect of allowing Duterte to follow through with his promise to kill thousands of criminals in order to ensure national safety. The mayor’s alleged “death squads” have a lingering legacy in Davao City and Robredo said she will not stand for it.
“I really don’t have problems standing behind him with regards to hardline policies. What I will be having difficulty with is if allegations of his extra-legal remedies were at all true. I would have a problem with that,” she said.
“I’ve been a human rights lawyer for far too long, I’ve been working and pushing for a more democratic means of solving everything and I don’t think I’m prepared to be very flexible with that as far as these things are concerned.”
Her negotiation skills will be strongly tested with the 71-year-old, who has been compared with Donald Trump and sparked fears of a return to dictatorship in the Philippines. Duterte though has a strong mandate from the people after receiving about 40 per cent of the national vote in the elections.
“I would be expecting him to be a hands-on president,” she said while voicing an expectation that Duterte will soften around the edges and embrace an inclusive style of leadership more becoming of his new role.
Duterte’s aggressive rhetoric and unpredictable nature has many around the region concerned about whether the Philippines can continue on along a healthy path economically, as it largely has under Aquino. Robredo is confident she can “appease” the international community.
“Every change of leadership will create some kind of discomfort as far as partners are concerned,” she said.
“’I’m really excited to work both for and with Mayor Duterte. I think it will be a real challenge on my part but we can never tell, we might just be the tandem the country needs at this point.
“It will be the best of both worlds.”
PASSION FOR THE POOR
There is no specific role for the vice president in the Philippines, and with no clear guide about how Duterte will structure his team and form his strategies, Robredo is setting her sights on a number of passion projects.
Where she lacks political pedigree and experience, Robredo hopes to make up for it with new ways of thinking when it comes to alleviating poverty. Despite the country’s growing economy, the rate of extremely poor people has stayed shockingly high – about 25 per cent of the entire national population lives below the poverty line.
“This has been my passion for so long and I see the vice presidency as an opportunity to bring all my passions and my advocacies to a greater platform.”
What was once what she described as an “obligation” to run has become suddenly become something a whole lot more.
“I couldn’t really imagine I’d be a serious contender at all. But after the debate when my numbers started surging, that was the time I accepted and realised that: ‘Oh my God, there is really a possibility.’
“There are so many things I want to do.”
There are just a few more votes left to count yet before she can start. /CNA/hs/ http://www.channelnewsasia.com/