Philippines VP Robredo’s struggle between single motherhood and politics

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Vice President Leni Robredo with daughters Tricia, Jillian, and Aika at the President Rodrigo Duterte’s 4th State of the Nation Address in July. (Photo/Supplied)
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Vice President Leni Robredo with daughters Tricia, Jillian, and Aika at the President Rodrigo Duterte’s 4th State of the Nation Address in July. (Photo/Supplied)
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Philippine Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo with Arab News correspondent in Manila Ellie Aben and Arab News Asia bureau chief Baker Atyani at the Vice President's office in Manila on Sept. 17. (AN photo)
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Philippine Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo talks to Arab News at her office in Manila on Sept. 17. (AN photo)
Updated 27 September 2019

Philippines VP Robredo’s struggle between single motherhood and politics

  • Leni Robredo: I am tempted to say I will not run for the presidency in 2022 but I won't say it anymore
  • The widow, mother of three and former lawyer was catapulted into politics after her politician husband was killed in an air crash

MANILA: Before her husband died in a plane crash in 2012, Leni Robredo was resolved never to enter politics.

But tragedy catapulted the lawyer and mother of three onto the political stage and today, over three years since she took oath as the vice president of the Philippines, Robredo admits, even if begrudgingly, that she might be in politics for the long haul.

Before running for office in 2015, Robredo, 54, had earned a reputation as a lawyer who helped poor farmers and fishermen and for being a steadfast opponent of corruption.

She was elected separately to President Rodrigo Duterte and has always had a frosty relationship with the president, who routinely mocks her during public speeches.

Earlier this year, police charged members of the Philippine political opposition — including Robredo — with sedition and other offences for reportedly plotting to oust Duterte, charges she describes as harassment to intimidate critics of the increasingly autocratic leader.

The soft-spoken lawyer and former legislator has constantly questioned Duterte’s drug war, which has left more than 6,600 people dead in the last three years, according to police estimates.

Robredo has also supported a resolution by the UN Human Rights Council to carry out an independent investigation into extrajudicial killings being carried out by the Philippine police.

All this work, Robredo laments, has meant less time at home with her three daughters Jessica, Janine and Jillian, who have had to grapple with both the untimely death of their father and the fallout of the illustrious political career of their mother.

“When my husband was the politician, I was the one protecting my children from the ugliness of it all,” Robdero told Arab News in an exclusive interview last week.

“Three years into my work as vice president, they seem to have adjusted to the job, but of course, they are looking toward the end of my term where they can have me again. But it has been difficult.”

Most days, by the time Robredo’s work day is over, it is well past dinner time and disappointment sets in yet again at not having made it home in time.

“I have tried to make sure that I still have time for my daughters, but it has been difficult,” Robredo said.

“Nowadays, my desire is to be home as soon as I can, to eat dinner with my children.”

Widowed at the age of 47 when her youngest daughter was just 12, the lawyer spoke with pride at having been an ever-present mother, picking and dropping her kids to school, preparing their meals and helping with homework.

But when her husband, then Philippines’ interior secretary died in a tragic air crash, Robredo was faced with the difficult prospect of filling his shoes.

“I felt like he [Jesse Robredo] was gone before he could fulfil all his dreams for the country. And because I was the one being called upon to step into his shoes, I could not say no. My being here is my responsibility to my husband,” she added.

Robredo thus ran in the 2013 general election and was elected to the Philippine House of Representatives, a post she held until her inauguration as vice president in June 2016.

As a member of Congress, Robredo said, she spent four days a week in Manila and the rest doing constituency work in her home province of Camarines Sur.

Her tenure as vice president since has come with ever greater work responsibilities and even less time to be a mother.  

“It was something that my daughters had to adjust to in the sense that they have always been used to my presence,” Robredo said. “I have tried every means to make sure that despite the business and my work, I still have time for them, but it has been difficult.”

Today, though Robredo said she still enjoys reading, cleaning and organizing her home, hobbies are not a luxury she can afford.

“I'm looking forward to the end of my term where I feel I would be able to do things that I loved doing before,” she said. These include, above all, sleeping in and having dinner at home with her children.

An alumna of the University of the Philippines Diliman, Robredo graduated with an economics degree in 1986 and a degree in law in 1992 from the University of Nueva Caceres in Naga.

She then began a long and illustrious career as a lawyer and social activist.

Even as a politician, social reform topped her agenda and she pushed for bills requiring officials to fully disclose their wealth and allowing citizens to participate in local policy making.

“I was practicing law for more than 10 years and was immersed in very poor communities all my life, because that was my work,” Robredo said.

“It was a perfect fit for me, but then the plane crash happened, and we had to adjust to all the things after that.”

Though her political career has meant time away from being a homemaker, Robredo says what motivates her is the “privilege” of influencing policy, particularly with regards to poor constituents.

“That is something that keeps me going,” she said quietly.

While Robredo still has three years of a six-year term to complete, whether she is considering the presidential race in 2022 is a question she is constantly asked. 

The vice president won on an anti-poverty platform but has received below-majority popularity ratings in the first three years of her term, according to surveys from Social Weather Stations.

“It is difficult to say,” Robredo said when asked if she would run in 2022.

“I am so tempted still to say that I will not run for the presidency, but I won’t say it anymore.”


Sanders blasts Russia for reportedly trying to boost his presidential campaign

Updated 2 min 57 sec ago

Sanders blasts Russia for reportedly trying to boost his presidential campaign

  • “They are trying to cause chaos. They’re trying to cause hatred in America,” the Democratic presidential wannabe said
  • US intelligence officials have said the Russian effort also continues to support Republican President Donald Trump
WASHINGTON: Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Friday warned Russia to stay out of US elections after American officials had told him Moscow was trying to aid his campaign.
“The intelligence community is telling us they are interfering in this campaign, right now, in 2020. And what I say to Mr. Putin, if elected president, trust me you are not going to be interfering in American elections,” Sanders told reporters in Bakersfield, California.
Sanders, 78, a democratic socialist from Vermont, is considered the front-runner for the Democratic nomination and is favored to win the Nevada caucuses on Saturday.
The Washington Post on Friday, citing people familiar with the matter, said US officials had told Sanders about the Russian effort and had also informed Republican President Donald Trump and US lawmakers.
It was not clear what form the Russian assistance took, the paper said.
A congressional source confirmed intelligence officials have told lawmakers Russia appears to be engaging in disinformation and propaganda campaigns to boost the 2020 campaigns of both Sanders and Trump.
The source, however, cautioned that the findings are very tentative.
Sanders, a US senator, said he was briefed about a month ago.
“We were told that Russia, maybe other countries, are going to get involved in this campaign,” he told reporters. “Look, here is the message: To Russia, stay out of American elections.”
“What they are doing, by the way, the ugly thing that they are doing — and I’ve seen some of their tweets and stuff — is they try to divide us up,” he said. “They are trying to cause chaos. They’re trying to cause hatred in America.”

Moscow denies
The Kremlin on Friday denied Russia was interfering in the US presidential campaign to boost Trump’s re-election chances, following reports that American intelligence officials warned Congress about the election threat last week.
US intelligence officials told members of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee in a classified briefing that Russia was again interfering in American politics ahead of November’s election, as it did in 2016, a person familiar with the discussion told Reuters on Thursday.
Since that briefing, Trump has ousted the acting intelligence chief, replacing him with a political loyalist in an abrupt move as Democrats and former US officials raised the alarm over national security concerns.
A senior administration official, however, said the nation was better positioned than in 2016 to defend against foreign attempts to influence elections.
“President Trump has made clear that any efforts or attempts by Russia, or any other nation, to influence or interfere with our elections, or undermine US democracy will not be tolerated,” the official said.
On Twitter, the president accused Democrats in Congress of launching a misinformation campaign that says Russia prefers him to any of what he called the “Do Nothing Democrat candidates.” Trump called it a “hoax.”

Russian accounts
Facebook said it has not seen any evidence of Russian assistance to Sanders’ campaign. In October, the company took down Russian-backed accounts that pretended to be from political battleground states.
Some of those accounts used Instagram to praise Sanders. Another used the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and faulted Joe Biden on race issues.
Jessica Brandt of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, an organization that monitors foreign interference in US politics, said Russian state media and official social media accounts have been working to help Sanders by amplifying conspiracy theories that his Democratic rivals, the Democratic National Committee and the “corporate media” have been “rigging the system” against him.
“We can say with certainty that this is what the Russian government is pushing,” she told Reuters. “We’ve seen for some time Russian official channels promoting division within the Democratic Party.”

Warning signs
US officials have long warned that Russia and other countries would seek to interfere in the Nov. 3 presidential election, following Russia’s meddling in the 2016 campaign that ended with Trump’s surprise victory over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
US intelligence agencies concluded that the Kremlin used disinformation operations, cyberattacks and other methods in its 2016 operation in an effort to boost Trump, an allegation that Russia denies. Trump, sensitive to doubts over the legitimacy of his win, has also questioned that finding and repeatedly criticized American intelligence agencies.
On Friday, the Kremlin said the latest allegations were false.
“These are more paranoid announcements which, to our regret, will multiply as we get closer to the (US) election,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “They have nothing to do with the truth.”
Russia’s alleged interference sparked a two-year-long US investigation headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Mueller found no conclusive evidence of coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. He also pointed at 10 instances in which Trump may have attempted to obstruct his investigation, as Democrats alleged, but left any finding of obstruction to Congress.