VP Leni Robredo addresses fellow Bay Area UP Alumna

Members of the University of the Philippines Alumni Association of San Francisco (UPAAA-SF) led by Gabby Moraleda (extreme left) with the Philippine Consulate hosted fellow alumna Leni Robredo for the second time

In a homecoming of sorts after 19 months, a moving welcome was given the former representative of the 3rd district of Camarines Sur and now the 14th Vice President of the Philippines Leonor Leni Robredo who brushed aside any thought of even being a candidate for the position she occupies now although as early as March 2015 she was already one of the top ten vice presidential prospects in nationwide surveys, a time when she was still not even sure of running for reelection as a congresswoman and shunned any attempt of her being drafted as one of the senatorial candidates of the ruling party.

Her position may have changed but the Robredo plain-folk trademark that endeared her and her late husband Jesse to Filipinos in the homeland and the world over was still evident when she again appeared before her Bay Area kababayan at a fully packed Kalayaan Hall of the Philippine Consulate in San Francisco at a forum jointly sponsored by the University of the Philippines Alumni Association of San Francisco (UPAAA-SF) and the consulate.

As though weaving the magic wand once again, Robredo did away from a prepared speech and reprised at length, among others, on her recollections on how a simple mother of three like her, who was bent on remaining on the sidelines, cast herself in politics due to public clamour following her husband’s death and again was thrust into running for the second highest position of the land, an idea that never dawned on her before the opportunity came along.

This time around though, she also announced some of her plans on how to become an active and effective Vice-president of over 104 million Filipinos including four million in America describing that her Office of the Vice President (OVP) would be advocacy heavy and came up with five areas of concern: hunger and food security, universal health care, public education, rural development and empowerment.

“I didn’t want to simply be a Vice-president in the waiting with nothing to do. When I learned that it has one of the smallest budgets in the executive branch that usually goes to ceremonial and political functions, my staff and I brainstormed on how the OVP can be effective. We had to look where they save and the transfer to a less expensive place came about and was decided on, prompting the transfer to Quezon City saving at least PHP 200,000 a month in rent,” shared Robredo.

Nevertheless, she was glad to discover that there are many private citizens and organizations that are just too willing to help organizations already doing some of the programs but are not coordinated so the resources are not maximized. Among those who expressed willingness to help are different embassies in the Philippines.

On the task President Duterte assigned her at the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), she noted that it is not a department portfolio, being just a coordinating council of six housing agencies which does not have much power.

“The good side of it is that the President has been kind to me and on the issues that we don’t agree on, he respects my position. I have been vocal about so many things which he respects,” Robredo revealed.

It would be noted that Duterte and Robredo differ on the so-called extra judicial killings and the controversial decision in having the remains of the late President Marcos buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

Turning to her audience, Robredo affirms that “the country is so proud of all your achievements you have been reaping for yourselves and your countrymen and I invite you all to be more involved, more engaged, there are so many opportunities to partner with either private or public partnership which will be beneficial to everyone. It is an avenue where you can get involved. We are just too willing to brief you of the many programs that are in store.”

Robredo continued that in the next few months, her office will send to the Philippine consulate these programs for those who want to partner and get involved whether it may be in manpower and skills or financial.

In his welcome remarks, Philippine Consul-General to San Francisco Henry Bensurto Jr. acknowledged that in visiting the Filipino Americans in the Bay Area, Robredo elevated the profile of Filipino Americans just as the other successful Filipinos have in the past and expressed the hope that Robredo will find San Francisco as her second home with a community eagerly awaiting her guidance on how they can give back to the Motherland.

Interviewed later, Bensurto also observed that in giving importance to the community by meeting up with them, the audience had a very good connection with the Vice-president which was very apparent and it was visible that the community appreciated her apart from according her all the respect and courtesy appropriate for the Vice-president.

“Visiting the FilAm community in the Bay Area meant that the community is very much close to her heart which I think is mutual,” Bensurto pointed out. “We saw and heard the sincerity in the spontaneity when she did not read from a prepared speech. It is a very good sign whenever you have a leader with that sincere heart for the poor and the marginalized even as she also told of her sincere appreciation of the President and honest desire to work with President Duterte in helping the country and people.”

Gabby Moraleda of the UPAAA-SF referred to Robredo’s very nature that makes her special with two qualities –– the first, is her inner strength and the second, her purity of character and purpose– that make her stand out.

“She inspired the community that saw her simplicity and being down to earth. She showed how composed she is, gracious and affectionate. She connected with her audience pretty well because she did not read her prepared speech. She spoke from how she felt at that moment and how appreciative she is with the presence of Filipino leaders,” Moraleda said.

Milpitas City Mayor Joe Estevez, who gave Robredo a letter of congratulations expressing the gratitude in being a great model for citizens in the Philippines, in America and anywhere else and a model for public officials in terms of character, trustworthiness, and competence, regarded Robredo as “very down to earth and a very appropriate public official because I can read and see in her heart that she is for people, for government and for real service without any other decorations.”

Probably the oldest guest at 81 years old, Ilocano Vietnam war veteran Deo Sales of San Francisco felt great to hear the Vice-president.

“I may be an Ilocano but I am neutral. Masaya ako kasi nakita at narinig natin ang Pangalawang Pangulo ng Pilipinas,” Sales divulged. (Jun Nucum)