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Aika Robredo on her mom: ‘She’s the quiet strength that has taken us through life’s storms’

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Aika Robredo on her mom: âSheâs the quiet strength that has taken us through lifeâs stormsâ
Vice President Leni Robredo with daughters (from left): Tricia, Jillian and Aika.
STAR/ File

Sometimes, children are mirrors of their parents, even as they bloom to be their own persons.

Aika Robredo, 34, firstborn of Vice President Leni Robredo and her late husband former local government secretary Jesse Robredo, is like her mother — articulate and composed. Even the cadences in their manner of speaking are akin.

And yet, she is the first to say she aspires still to be like her mother, “to have her grace, calm and complete surrender when she faces the unknown.”

Leni Robredo was widowed in August 2012 when the plane that was carrying her husband home to Naga City plunged into the sea off Masbate. The newly-widowed Leni told me in 2012 that she knew in her heart that her husband didn’t make it when he was still missing the sunrise after the crash, “because Jesse is a very good swimmer.” She also didn’t blame his bodyguard, who survived the crash, for her husband’s death.

Her mother, according to Aika, a BS Management Engineering graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University, “takes things as they come.”

“She has this complete surrender to destiny,” says Aika, “which has helped her handle a lot of the things she has gone through, especially my dad’s passing. Later on, she would say, it was probably meant to happen at the time it did.”

“If you see your parents not worrying, it gives you comfort. She doesn’t stress over things,” says Aika, saying her younger sisters Tricia, a doctor, and Jillian, a scholar at New York University, are “more emotional.”

Aika doing a ‘palengke run’ in Bulacan.

Thus, even when she is not leading in the surveys, Leni Robredo, who is aspiring for the highest post in the land, is unperturbed.

“First, this is not an unfamiliar place for us. Around this time in 2016, we were essentially in the same place, a lot of catching up to do… So if the question is, ‘Does it affect her?’ It’s, ‘No.’”

Her mother, according to Aika, believes that what is meant will come to pass but not before giving her all.

“Ano man ang nakatakda, we will give our all. She doesn’t want to say, (we) could have done more. We are trying to make the most, the best, of the circumstances. A lot of things are beyond our control, so we focus on what we can control,” says Aika.

With her late ‘Papa’ former Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, ‘Mama’ Leni and sisters. Aika believes her Papa, if he were alive, would tell his wife: ‘Now it’s your time to shine.’
Photos courtesy of NIKO PEDRO

Into the lion’s den

Buoyed by the attendance in her mother’s rallies, Aika and her sister Tricia are leading a house-to-house campaign to reach out more. She gets heckled sometimes but that’s when she knows she has come to the right place.

“For me, in a way, it’s a win for me because those places are what we are after in a house-to-house campaign. We don’t do house-to-house to make us feel good about, ‘Ah ang dami nating Leni, etc.’  I think the reason why my sisters and I are more comfortable with house-to-house, it seems better for me than the rallies in the sense that you get a better sense of the person that you’re talking to.”

“And my hecklers, I think sometimes they don’t expect you to approach them when they start saying ‘_ _ _’ or when they flash the _ _ _ signs. I kind of look for it and approach them because you know when you approach them nicely and introduce yourself and say, ‘Hello po, ako po yung anak ni Leni’ and then medyo mahihiya sila.”

For Aika, who is seasoned in house-to-house campaigning as she did this when her mother ran for Congress, it is more important to listen than to preach.

“So, like yesterday I was in Bulacan. I went to a stall in the market and then I said, ‘Hi, Sir, ako po yung anak ni Leni. Nandito ako para ikampanya yung Mama ko.’ And then sabi niya, ‘Ah _ _ _ ako.’ Sabi ko, ‘Oo nga po, sir, balita ko; pero okay lang, just in case lang magdalawang isip ka or i-reconsider mo.’ And then I offered my hand, he shook my hand and then I said, ‘Thank you po, pasensiya na sa abala.’ And then afterwards, he said something like, ‘Matagal pa naman yung eleksyon, puwede pang magbago yung isip ko.’ And for me, even if hindi siya fully converted… it was a conversation starter. And when we do palengke runs and house-to-house, the mindset is secondary. The first  (priority) is parating makinig ka muna sa kanila.”

Does Aika think there is still enough catch-up time?

“I would think so.”

Jesse’s Girl

When her mother is on the campaign trail, which is virtually every day, she does not bring a personal assistant or “yaya” to help her pack, unpack and press her clothes.

“She brings along a portable steamer,” reveals Aika. “Or she borrows an iron wherever they are staying.” Of course, she has an executive assistant with her.

Perhaps the person other than her late father who has known her mother up-close the longest, Aika says her mother is very “level headed. When she’s angry, she’s quiet. The silent treatment is her ultimate ‘galit ako sa iyo,’ as if you’re not there. I think that has helped her a lot when a lot of people say things about her. Lugi siguro yung mga nagagalit sa kanya and pinipikon siya kasi medyo hindi talaga papansinin.”

If Leni becomes president of the Philippines, she will be under pressure many times. How does she handle stress?

“She is always focused. For example before the Comelec debates last Sunday, if you want her attention on something, she will ask first, ‘Is it related to the debate?’ If not, bukas na lang ‘yan. She compartmentalizes. We live in a small unit and we usually all work in the living room together. But when she needs extra focus, extra attention, you would know because she stays in her room and there she reads and studies.”

Leni is driven by her “sense of mission.”

“Second is her complete surrender to what’s meant to happen or destiny, if you want to call it that. Third is kailangan nagawa niya lahat ng pwede niyang gawin. Hindi niya masasabi at some point na kulang or bitin or ‘I could have done this and this.’ In all cases, she’s always all-out.”

Aika’s prayer is for her Mama to be “at peace with all her decisions.”

If Jesse Robredo were alive, would he have been totally dumfounded at where his wife’s mission has taken her?

“I think he would be amused, because my mom would always say a hard ‘no’ to politics for herself. My mother would always manage his campaign headquarters. She was his moral compass. Now, he would probably tell her, ‘It’s your time to shine.’”

In her parting shot at the April 3 Comelec debates, VP Leni, the lone female candidate for president, said, “Pag-asa ang nagtutulak sa atin para makita natin na ngayon, lumiliwanag na, ngayon liliwanag pa. At ngayong darating na halalan, ang tatanglaw sa buong bayan, ilaw ng tahanan.”

Why is her Mama the light of the Robredo home?

“Because her quiet strength carried us through so many of life’s storms.” *

LENI ROBREDO

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