Is Leni the unifying leader our country desperately needs?

Leonardo Q. Montemayor - The Philippine Star

Vice-President Leni Robredo has always struck me as a decent, caring and sincere person and public servant.

In this regard, an Oct. 3 Facebook post by Walden Bello, my former colleague in Congress, impelled me to share my own personal experience with the VP.

Walden, chairman of the Laban ng Masa and a Leni ally, described how his mass-based movement’s request for a dialogue with the VP had been repeatedly spurned during the last three months.

In the 2016 national elections, the Federation of Free Farmers backed Leni’s vice presidential candidacy. So did other affiliates of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines headed by Ruben Torres, labor secretary under President Cory Aquino and executive secretary under President Ramos.

The FFF’s official declaration of support was unprecedented in its 63-year history. As FFF president and TUCP vice president, I went around the country campaigning for Leni.

VP Leni assumed office on June 30, 2016. To our great surprise and disappointment, almost two years elapsed before she agreed to meet with us. That meeting coincided with her birthday on April 23, 2018.

Our delegation included top officials of TUCP and its unions representing teachers, nurses, bank employees, agricultural workers, farmers and others.

While waiting at the VP’s conference room, her staff clarified that the holding of our long-sought meeting was unrelated to Bongbong Marcos’ recent gains in his electoral protest against Leni. They proceeded to present VP Leni’s programs. In turn, we outlined our members’ pressing concerns that we would raise with her.

After an hour, we were ushered from the room and brought to an adjacent lobby – for a photo shoot with the VP! (We came for an issues-based discussion, not a mere group picture.)

The public relations exercise over, I half-humorously told Leni in Pilipino: “Madam Vice President, we – your supporters – know that you love us. But, how come it is only now that you are seeing us?”

Leni turned to her top aides and instructed them to ensure that we would be invited to future consultations.

Nothing happened after that single encounter. No invitations. No consultations.

Nevertheless, the FFF has continued to send to the VP its statements, reports and recommendations on matters affecting farmers, fisherfolk and other rural workers. Still no response. Not even an acknowledgment of our contributions.

Is there a cordon sanitaire around VP and now presidential candidate Leni?  Is she capable of going outside her immediate circle and comfort zone?  Does she want a serious engagement with mass organizations? Is she the inclusionary and unifying leader our country desperately needs?

Walden, “hindi ka nag-iisa sa iyong pagkabahala (You are not alone in your bewilderment).”


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