Jesse never introduced VP Leni to us. He kept his personal life separate from his life in government. I only met her during the inauguration of a Jesse Robredo Center months after his passing. I began crying even before I began my speech. In contrast, she was a personification of calmness and dignity. She spoke about his leadership and love of the poor. Her heart must be broken but no tears fell. She was in full control of her emotions.
The second time I met her was when I introduced her to a group of friends. She was a reluctant candidate and was pressured to be in politics to preserve unity in Naga. Since we knew little about her background, she introduced us to her work with women, farmers, and the marginalized, in her capacity as a lawyer and an economist. She spoke from her heart which convinced us that she will lead with sincerity and truthfulness. After all, she had the best mentor who led by example. VP Leni always says, that her daughters and she, had front seats in witnessing the governance of Jesse.
Fast forward to her election as Vice President. I watched her from afar as she bore all the criticisms and vilification campaigns with humility and grace. She rose above brickbats and proved that she would not be derailed from the center of her agenda– giving hope and reaching out to those in the periphery. Since her office has scant resources, she mobilized the private sector and ordinary citizens in helping poor communities.
It was therefore with awe when I saw a different Leni when I was invited to join one of her meetings. She asked pointed questions, demonstrated her knowledge on national issues, and led the discussion with logic and depth. She was articulate, and decisive on matters that generated conflicting opinions and recommendations. I was convinced that she knew a demagogue from those who meant well. I think that she was always those except that we hardly noticed. It was always Jesse at the center stage. When I bade goodbye, I called her “Ma’am.” She was no longer Jesse’s wife. She is the Vice President of the land.
Two weeks ago, we witnessed once more the kind of leader that she is. She was the guest speaker in the 12th Washington SyCip National Education Summit at PICC. Nobody noticed her as she quietly queued up in the Ladies room— no fuss, no demand to be ahead of the line. Unavoidably, she was accompanied by the PSG. She was apologetic that she had company and brought packed lunch with her so as not to unduly burden the organizers. How very Jesse, how very VP Leni.
Everybody stayed glued to his and her seat as she emphasized that a true leader does not evoke fear but respect. And that a true leader can only be successful if she or he inspires the people to be better than he or she is. This is the only way for programs to be sustainable.
The governance of VP Leni is humble. She does not expect any entitlement. She is still embarrassed by the special attention that she gets.
Her governance is righteous. The bills she authored were those that empowered citizens, prevented discrimination, promoted transparency and bottom-up programs.
She believes that greatness can only come if you serve others. Very early on, she walked with the Sumilao farmers to fight for their 144-hectare ancestral land. She used her legal expertise to help them fight for their rights. She worked with women and the poor to help them realize that they are special.
She has spent time with over 100 communities, most of them in the hinterlands, to help improve their lives . She carries no gifts but with the help of organizations, she links products with markets, and broadens access to education, health, and livelihood opportunities. Her work is not covered by media and is hardly known. But she carries on with unyielding passion.
Courage, humility, competence, righteousness and love for the poor–these are what true leaders are made of.