Servant Leader: Leni Robredo

LODESTAR - Danton Remoto (The Philippine Star) - November 28, 2020 - 12:00am

That is the title of the stirring and elegant book written by Professor Ed Garcia and published by San Anselmo Press. It will be launched on Dec. 8; I served as the editor of this book.

For added “semiotic punch,” executive publisher Atty. Marvin Aceron asked Professor Garcia to surround his long-form essays with a constellation of other texts. Thus, we have poems by Dr. Gemino H. Abad and Jim Pascual Agustin, letters and testimonials by Aika and Tricia Robredo, two vivid vignettes by Undersecretary Philip Dy, a flaming essay by Dean Mel Santa Maria of FEU, two journalistic pieces by Doods Santos and Chit Roces-Santos, a recollection of the 2016 campaign by senator Bam Aquino and an online speech of the VP to the graduates of Batch 2020.

Let me reprint excerpts from the introduction by Professor Garcia, who was one of the framers of the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

*      *      *

When the history of the Philippines is finally written, long after we had awakened from this nightmare when a pandemic crippled the economy, shut down factories and offices, closed schools and sports venues, and changed life overnight, there will probably be a footnote that would say: “Sayang. If only we had more servant leaders who responded to the situation then, that would have made a huge difference.”

And what a difference she would have made! In a style of her own, Vice President Leni Robredo served her people wisely and humbly from the get-go as soon as she sensed that she could fill in a gap. Together with her team who had been working with her in delivering services to the most vulnerable, VP Robredo identified strategic areas of involvement to focus on.

Team Leni took stock of the situation even at the onset of our health crisis and chose priority areas. She called them her “concerns of choice.” The VP’s office, given its limited budget of P447 million in 2019, could apply its capacities and capabilities on these areas.  Moreover, she harnessed efforts and resources from citizens to address urgent needs, particularly for those in the frontlines of the health services. These included the medical workers who were most vulnerable as they battled to heal the sick face-to-face...

Among her priority concerns were giving protective personal equipment (PPE), face masks and face shields to medical workers in the hospitals; providing transportation for the health workers; setting up dormitories to allow medical personnel easy access to and from places of work; giving food to vulnerable communities; and acquiring vital and affordable testing kits assembled by UP.

In brief, VP Leni Robredo led by serving.

“Servant Leader: Leni Robredo” takes as a cut-off point the so-called “55 @ 55” – the day she marked 55 years of life with a combined contribution of P55 million from generous individuals and private corporations. This book brings together several essays touching on critical moments of VP Leni Robredo’s remarkable journey. It is framed in three parts and couched in the words of the Ignatian prayer of generosity, which aptly describes elements of authentic service to others.

The first part entitled, “To give and not to count the cost,” deals with the 2016 campaign waged to serve as the country’s Vice President.  Hers, indeed, was an improbable journey since she was a virtual unknown in many parts of the country. She ran against candidates who had won national office before and had become household names. Yet her narrative, her message, her sincerity and her manner of telling her story resonated with a great number of people. In the end, what she offered was the capacity to lead by serving – principled and courageous, simple yet strong, undaunted by the ill winds that swept around her.

The second part entitled “To fight and not to heed the wounds,” revolves around the events that took place in November 2019 when President Rodrigo Duterte offered VP Leni Robredo the chance to lead the war against drugs. She was tasked to lead what had become the government’s flagship program after her critical remarks against the killings that were taking place, pointedly calling the so-called “war on drugs” into a “war on the poor.”

“Why don’t you do it, instead?” was the President’s stinging rebuke. And, to the consternation of friends and foes alike, VP Leni accepted the offer and went about doing her job in a deliberative, inclusive and systematic way.

Singing from the same hymn sheet, the President’s allies and his spokesperson, and soon enough even the President himself, began a campaign of vilification that some pundits remarked had become “a war on VP Leni.” After barely three weeks in the job, the President said that he had lost trust in her, and decided to let her go. This, in turn, revealed a bizarre episode in our nation’s history, exposing the hasty manner in which decisions are made in high places.

The afterword, entitled “To toil and not to seek for rest,” attempts to summarize another turning point in VP Leni Robredo’s improbable journey. It is not a secret why she concluded her acceptance statement by asking then what seemed to be an innocent question: “I am ready for the job. My question is ‘Are you ready for me?’”  All too clearly now, she has always been ready, and prepared for the opportunity to serve.

In an age when brave women are beginning to change the narrative, it is refreshing to see a VP Leni Robredo doing politics differently in the midst of the tried and tired politicians in our political landscape. As the likes of the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand are showing, a new breed of women leaders are demonstrating an effective, no-nonsense yet compassionate leadership that this pandemic period requires.

As the uncertainties of the coming years stare us starkly as a people, there is one thing clear: we can survive all the hurdles we face only if we learn to be bigger than ourselves, to work more collaboratively yet more courageously; only if we have more servant leaders “who will give and not count the cost; who will fight and not heed the wounds; who will toil and not to seek for rest.”

“Servant Leader: Leni Robredo” will be launched on Dec. 8. Copies are pre-selling at the Facebook page of San Anselmo Publications Inc.

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