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Can Mother Leni Robredo in Pink Be the Philippines' Third Woman President?

She considers as strengths what opponents say are weaknesses.
IMAGE JEROME ASCAÑO
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Vice President Leni Robredo said it takes great deal of courage for women to break free from abusive marriages, something she knows firsthand as a public attorney and a life lesson she hopes to apply as she runs for president, mother of the nation, while wearing her new color, pink.

Women may appear weak, like wives who stay with bad husbands, but that's something they do because they think that's what's best for their children, said Robredo, a widowed mother of three.

"Ina akong nakikita ang pagdurusa ng minamahal kong bansa. Naniniwala ako: ang pag-ibig, nasusukat hindi lang sa pagtitiis, kundi sa kahandaang lumaban, kahit gaano kahirap,  para matapos na ang pagtitiis," Robredo said, connecting her past clients' struggles to the one she is facing now as leader of the opposition.

"Alam ng lahat ng ibang nanay, ng lahat ng ibang magulang, kung ano ang kaya nilang pagdaanan at isakripisyo sa ngalan ng kanilang mga anak," she added.

Apologizing to supporters for her long "discerning process", the 56-year old who began her political career as the reluctant widow of the late interior secretary Jesse Robredo on Thursday finally declared her intent to run for president.

Among her opponents, all men so far, is dictator son Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. whom she beat in 2016. 

"Malinaw kung nasaan ako: Nasa panig tayo ng mga sinasagad ang lahat para iraos ang sarili, ang pamilya, ang kapwa, mula sa pandemyang ito," Robredo said.

"Buong-buo ang loob ko ngayon: kailangan nating palayain ang sarili mula sa kasalukuyang situwasyon. Lalaban ako; lalaban tayo. Inihahain ko ang aking sarili bilang kandidato sa pagkapangulo sa halalan ng 2022," she added.

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A woman, a widowed mother, a leader

Robredo's camp embraced the color pink that is often associated with femininity. With many thanking her three daughters for "lending" their mother to the nation, Robredo's supporters, brought to tears by her impassioned speech, flooded social media with statements of support. 

Even as pro-administration supporters would name-call her, "Leni Lugaw" strived to make the best of what's left for her in her vice presidency, having been stripped of her cabinet role early on.

Robredo's Angat Buhay initiative saw the public and private sector working together to uplift the livelihood of poor and marginalized sectors such as farmers, fisherfolk, and distant rural communities.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of the Vice President rolled Vaccine Express, Swab Cab, Bayanihan e-konsulta, and Bayanihan e-skuwela, all lauded for their swift response.

"I really intend to work very hard not only to make him [Jesse Robredo] proud but so that I will not disappoint a lot of people. I am well aware that a lot of people voted for me because they see me as an extension of my husband," Robredo said in a 2013 interview, well-aware of how political widows like her are seen in Philippine politics.

Third woman president

Much has been said regarding Robredo's "winnability" for the presidency. Placing sixth in the latest Pulse Asia survey, Robredo believed too much was at stake for next year's elections for her to decide on running given her "low" survey numbers—suggestive of how her reputation took a beating in the last five years of the Duterte administration.

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"Wala namang nagawa 'yan," critics would always say of "spare tire" Robredo despite her track record, particularly what her office has done during the pandemic. 

As a female opposition leader to a president as macho as Rodrigo Duterte, scores of research reflect why it's easy to dismiss her accomplishments.

Women leaders are caught in what feminist scholars call the “the double bind". If as mothers, they are expected to appear soft, emotional, and submit to their husbands, women who lead are pressured to act the complete opposite in order to curry wider acceptance from the electorate and be considered for leadership positions historically reserved for men.

When her legitimacy was being challenged, former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had to appear tough so she could "institute" a strong republic. The late senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, often dubbed as the best president the Philippines never had, embraced her moniker as Asia's "Iron Lady", a title she shared with her idol, Britain's longest-serving prime minister of the 20th century, Margaret Thatcher. 

"People will expect it from her, to act and lead like her father should she ascend to power," political scientist Jean Encinas-Franco earlier said of the president's daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, the other female tipped for the presidency apart from Robredo.

Study shows that in the workplace, women are "routinely talked over, patronized or ignored by male colleagues", as men tend to be overconfident in relation to their actual abilities. Compare Robredo's biggest opponent, Bongbong Marcos: remove his family name, what has he done as a public servant? 

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"Women generally aren’t failing to speak up; the problem is that men are refusing to pipe down," journalist Ruth Whippman wrote for The New York Times.

In the end, what Robredo is doing nowoffering herself as the nation's mother—subverts this very idea that is still deeply entrenched in the Filipino psyche. In the same respect, it's what's posing as among her greatest challenges to win in 2022.

"Feminism is not about women ruling the world so that our gender will never, ever have to face abuse. Feminism is about building bridges of understanding so that the world will no longer need a strict ruler to make it work," she said in 2016, after being named one of the 100 most influential Filipino women in the world.

For Robredo to become the third female president, she must not only overcome the extreme popularities of Duterte, Marcos, and the rest of her men opponents.

She must redefine what it means to be a woman in politics, if she hasn't done so already.

FromReportr World

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