The Gospel about the widow who gave out of her poverty reminded me of Vice President Leni Robredo. The Office of the Vice President gets the smallest appropriation in the entire bureaucracy. Her office proposed a budget of P720 million for 2020, but the DBM only approved P679 million. The office has no access to the perks that government officials enjoy. She was heavily criticized for using a military aircraft for her relief operations in Catanduanes—which eventually turned out to be a false information. She is not invited at all to official functions to which her office is entitled to. Her office is bereft of all the trimmings that the 2nd highest office in the land deserves—and yet she gives, out of her poverty. The Gospel says that this is the highest form of giving—“The poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They gave out of their wealth, but she out of poverty, put everything, all she had to live on.”
I did not know VP Leni. Mayor Jesse kept his personal life private. I only got to meet her in the inauguration of the Jesse Robredo Institute of Governance in Bicol University. I spoke before her and drenched the podium with tears. When she spoke next, she did so with calmness, composure and courage. I thought that she must be made of steel. The only time I saw her shed a tear was when she received a posthumous award that was given to Mayor Jesse by the Ateneo University.
The VP must really be a special creature. She embodies tenacity, fortitude and audacity. A normal human being would crumble with all the insults, insinuations, crass jokes, allegations, innuendoes, and criticisms that are thrown at her. And yet, she bears them with head high and great dignity.
The Vice President works silently and without any fanfare. The morning after the storm, she is already out in the streets showing people that government cares. She brings help to show that her promises are not empty and that she means what she says. While everyone is curled up on his/her bed and watching people suffer through their TV screens, she rides motor boats, treks muddy roads, fulfilling her mission to seek those in the periphery and give them hope.
I am convinced that she is powered not by ambition. She was a reluctant candidate and had to answer a despondent call to ensure that her district was represented in Congress. Perhaps, circumstances pushed her into running for the Vice President post. But she made the best of what was destined for her. After being stripped of what should have been her official post in government as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), she wasted no time to sulk, complain and criticize. She launched “Angat Buhay” with the support of the private sector and raised P353 million worth of resources that benefitted 224,336 families in the poorest localities in the country. Without any government funding, schools, health centers and housing units were constructed. Capital and livelihood training were given to farmers. Today, the Marawi housing project of the VP stands out as being the most organized and admired.
But make no mistake about the humility with which she carries out her mission. The VP is intelligent and resolute. As a homemaker, she set out rules that even the most outstanding mayor in the Philippines followed. He had to take out the garbage and tutor the daughters in the evening. As Vice President she speaks her mind out, bravely fighting for what she thinks is right, even if her stand is diametrically opposed to government’s. She thinks federalism is not the way to go. She opposes the imposition of the death penalty. She repeatedly raises the grave violation of human rights in the extrajudicial killings.
She is a gracious listener in meetings, but firmly raises better alternatives that need to be considered. She is sharp, logical, and studies hard. And of course, she has had the best mentor in governance.
VP Leni shows us how to give without counting the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to labor and ask not for reward. She must have been a Jesuit in her other life.