The Source on CNN Philippines
Host: Pinky Webb
(Part 1: Thursday, 01 March 2018)
PINKY WEBB: This month of March, we are joining the call to action to accelerate gender equality and empowerment. The theme of our celebration at CNN Philippines is “Leading Women to #PressForProgress.”
Here on The Source, we are featuring women who are dedicating their lives to public service.
[Intro video of VP Leni plays]
PINKY WEBB: Let’s go straight to the source of the story: Vice President Leni Robredo. Vice President, so good to see you again!
VP LENI: It is good to see you again, Pinky. It’s been a while.
PINKY WEBB: It’s been a while. It’s actually been almost… two years since you won the Vice Presidency. I wanted to ask you really this: How would you describe the experience so far? The pros and cons?
VP LENI: The experience was actually surreal. If you remember, I was a very reluctant candidate. I jumped in very late in the game. But you know, everything happened so fast. I campaigned for almost eight months, officially. Unofficially, from October  until February of 1986 , and officially from February to May.
It was… it was, you know… It was fun. It was nothing that I planned for, but the experience was really… it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing in the sense that I never thought I’d be doing it, but I did. And after the experience, I was telling myself, I don’t think I’m ever going to do it again.
But you know… I think the Vice Presidency is actually a platform where I can actually make a difference. Even before I joined politics, I was very much involved in helping the marginalized. I’ve been working with different sectors—farmers, fisherfolks, the urban poor—and I think the Office is many steps further from what I have been doing before, in the sense that you can make things happen.
PINKY WEBB: In the past, it was your husband, obviously, who was in the limelight, and you were thrust in the limelight also because of the unfortunate incident with Sec. Jesse in the past. But now that you are the unwilling, reluctant candidate, two years… almost two years into it, how does it feel to be the second most powerful person in the Philippines? And do you feel it as a woman?
VP LENI: You know, perhaps I’m the second highest official in the Philippines, but powerful, I don’t think so. But you know, despite the many unfortunate circumstances that I have gone through, I still think it’s a privilege to be in this position, where, you know, I can do a lot of things, I can make a lot of things happen. The Office itself is full of challenges in the sense that we don’t really have a specific mandate. If you look at the Constitution, it merely says that the Vice President steps in if something happens to the President. But other than that, nothing else. The Office has one of the smallest budgets in the bureaucracy.
So after I won, even before the inauguration, I was telling my staff that we cannot do ceremonial work for six years—only ceremonial work for six years, so we have to think of an advocacy which we are, you know, we are passionate about, and we can push. And it was natural that I would choose an anti-poverty program. So we did. We launched Angat Buhay in October of 2016, and it’s the one thing that is keeping the Office very busy.
PINKY WEBB: You have that, and I think in less than a year, you were able to help less than a hundred thousand [families]? Can you talk to us about that more?
VP LENI: You know, we don’t have a budget for programs, so it was… it was difficult for us to think of a way to do what we want to do without the budget for it. So we thought of reinventing the office, positioning our office as a sort of a conduit—a conduit between people and organizations wanting to help, and communities needing help. So parang ano kami, parang agent: We sell to donors the situation and the circumstances of the communities we are helping. So when we launched it, we decided to look into the 20 poorest provinces in the Philippines, and from the 20 poorest provinces in the Philippines, choose the poorest communities. We said that we would choose just 50. It was a realistic goal in the sense that we don’t have funds of our own, and at the end of the day, it was like a sort of a speed dating… speed dating game. At the end of the day, our communities were able to receive more than 700 pledges. We did all the groundwork for our donors. We go to the communities, immerse ourselves in the communities, to find out what they need.
PINKY WEBB: What did you find out?
VP LENI: A lot. You know, the communities we chose because they are very far from Manila, they really need government help. One example of that is a community we go to in northern Palawan, the community… the municipality is called Agutaya. And Agutaya is not well-known; it’s a very small municipality in northern Palawan. You get there by a 10-hour boat ride from Coron. There was so much that the community need[s], and you know, we sold what they need to our partners, and in a matter of one or two months, our partners were already there. They have electricity now, and it was life-changing for them, because after they had electricity, they were… the women were able to weave at night.
And it’s not just Agutaya. There are a lot of communities like Agutaya. Last week, we were just in Siayan in Zamboanga del Norte, and Siayan was the most poor of all the municipalities from, I think, if I am not mistaken, from 2003 to 2009. And you know, when we went last week, we inaugurated a dormitory for indigent boys in a public high school. And I was talking to the boys who were occupying the dorm we inaugurated and they said they were living 6 to 8 kilometers away from the school and they would walk to the school about two hours each day. They would wake up 3 o’clock in the morning or 4 o’clock in the morning. And the dorm was, you know, also life-changing for them.
You know, I remember the first time we went, people were crying when we went on the shore. People who met us were crying, and you know, they were saying: “We are so happy that government has not forgotten us.”
PINKY WEBB: Did they know you? Kilala ho ba kayo?
VP LENI: Kilala… kilala. Kilala ako, but maybe because some of my staff were already there about two days before I went.
And you know, they have been deprived of so many things that they should have, but they are not complaining. Kaya nakaka—parang… parang alam mo iyon? We have a feeding program there already. We put up a toy library courtesy of a partner.
PINKY WEBB: Is that something na, Vice President, baon-baon mo iyan for the rest of your life?
VP LENI: Oo… and you know it doesn’t… it doesn’t take too much from us to go there and assure them that they have not been forgotten by government. Sa kanila nga, “Kahit wala kayong dalang tulong, basta naisipan niyong bisitahin kami.”
PINKY WEBB: That is enough for them.
VP LENI: Yes, yes.
PINKY WEBB: Okay, we’ll be taking a short break. The Source will be right back with Vice President Leni Robredo.
PINKY WEBB: Welcome back to The Source. Our guest: Vice President Leni Robredo. Ma’am, when I hear these stories, iyong inyong pagbiyahe sa iba’t ibang lugar, hindi naman ho nati-TV iyan araw-araw, ‘di ba?
VP LENI: Hindi.
PINKY WEBB: But personally, I wanted to find out as a woman and as a Vice President, how does that make you feel na nakakadayo kayo kung saan-saan, at kahit paano nakakatulong through donors?
VP LENI: Sobrang… sobrang ano siya… para sa akin, privilege talaga siya. Privilege na nakakaikot ako sa buong Pilipinas. Kasi dati ang iniikutan ko noong abogado ako sa SALIGAN, ang iniikutan ko Bicol region. Medyo gamay ko na iyon. Pero noong nagkaroon ako ng privilege na makaikot sa buong Pilipinas, ano talaga siya, parang… parang you… you can’t help but be thankful na you are given the… iyon nga, you are given the privilege. You are in a position where you can make things happen for these people. Kahit kaunti iyong aming budget, the position itself gives you the platform.
PINKY WEBB: But do you think… do you often wonder how your Vice Presidency could have changed, or you could have helped more people, if you were a part of the Duterte administration?
VP LENI: Oo naman, oo naman. I think I can make more things happen if I was part of the administration. It would have made a big difference if the agencies are there to help us out.
Pero sa akin kasi, I can’t allow the limitations to, ‘di ba, parang to stifle us from what we are doing. Iyong sa akin, whatever is there, let’s make the most out of it. And sige lang. Kasi parang… sa akin, kapag reklamo ako nang reklamo, wala akong magagawa.
PINKY WEBB: Have they been uncooperative to you? Honestly?
VP LENI: Hindi naman… Mayroong mga uncooperative. Mayroon namang mga cooperative. Ang… ang experience namin, the… the… the local offices of the national government agencies, the provincial offices, the regional offices are very, very helpful. Paminsan may problema kami sa national… national office. But those on the ground, parang they don’t care about politics.
PINKY WEBB: Everybody knows that, obviously, you’re coming from a different political group, and the President as well. He assigned you as HUDCC chair. In December 2016, that’s when you left the post, and that was big news also. Do you often… sometimes… pumapasok po ba sa isip niyo na sabihin, Ma’am, na… parang minsan gusto niyong kausapin si Presidente at sabihin, Ma’am, na: “Sir, baka puwede niyo ulit akong bigyan ng post?” Or is that too much of pushing yourself into the administration?
VP LENI: Ako, para sa akin kasi, it was very unfortunate that the things that happened, happened. Pero like I said, we only have six years. Kung hindi ito puwede, hanap ka ng puwede. Para sa akin, it would not work anymore if I… I get appointed still, whether it be sa HUDCC or some other post, because it is a position of trust. ‘Di ba, when you are a member of the Cabinet, you are the alter ego of the President. You have to have the full trust of the President, 100-percent trust. Mahirap na wala iyon.
Kaya iyong sa HUDCC, actually, hindi lang naman ako pinapa-attend ng Cabinet meetings, pero ang feeling ko kasi noon, kapag ganito nang ka-strained iyong relationship, ang magsa-suffer iyong sector, eh. Kaya siguro ano na din… sayang. Pero kahit sayang, hanap ka na lang ng iba. Kasi ang iniisip ko, six years lang ito. Parang we can’t let political differences get in the way of what we’re doing.
PINKY WEBB: But when you say you are the alter ego in a Cabinet position, or a member should be the alter ego of the President, dapat pinagkakatiwalaan ng Presidente iyong kasamahan niya, are you going to be a trustworthy alter ego of the President?
VP LENI: Oo naman. But you know, it has also limitations, kaya very… iyong position ko talaga iba. I think many people know that there are a lot of things we don’t agree on. Iba iyong paniniwala sa maraming bagay.
When I was a member of the Cabinet, I was very supportive of programs that I believe in, pero mayroong mga policies na… hindi naman siguro policy—may mga nangyayari, may mga nangyayari that you feel strongly about. Halimbawa, at that time, I was still a member of the Cabinet, but I was very vocal on my opposition on the extrajudicial killings that had been happening. But for several months, even if I was very vocal about it, parang hindi naman kino-call iyong attention ko. In fact, I remember in one of the Cabinet meetings, sinabi ko iyon. Sinabi ko iyon sa Presidente, with all the Cabinet… members of the Cabinet in attendance, I was telling the President, “Thank you, Mr. President, that you have not taken it against me na sinasabi ko itong mga bagay na ito.” And I remember the President assuring me, ano, “Trabaho ito.” So I thought… parang it would work.
Pero hindi ko din kasi puwedeng… para sa akin, hindi din puwedeng I will keep silent on things I don’t agree on. Kaya mahirap talagang member ako ng Cabinet.
PINKY WEBB: But is that because iyan ang ugali niyo talaga ever since, o iyan po ba ay parte ng inyong being… being a woman—iyong inyo pong paninindigan?
VP LENI: Ako, oo. Kung napapansin natin, sa society natin ngayon, iyong mga kababaihan in leadership positions, sila iyong mas vocal. Kaya iyong mga kababaihan din iyong nalalagay sa alanganin. Gaya ngayon, sino ba iyong mga vocal, ‘di ba: si Senator Leila de Lima, Ombudsman (Conchita) Carpio-Morales, si Chief Justice (Maria Lourdes) Sereno—mga very vocal about things kaya napapasok sa problema.
Ako naman, I try to… parang I try to hold my horses if it’s not too necessary. Kasi Vice President ako, parating kinukulayan ng pulitika iyong… When I say things, sasabihin ng iba nagmamadali kang palitan iyong Presidente. And it’s unfortunate because when you… when you voice out your dissent, it’s because you want… you want certain things happening to change, or certain things happening to stop. It’s not because you want to oust the President.
Kasi iyong ousting the President, mahirap iyon for the country. Pero when you… when you voice out your dissent, parating iyon iyong interpretation because you stand to benefit. Kaya ako naman, hanggang hindi absolutely necessary, I keep my peace.
PINKY WEBB: Before we go on a break, I’m just gonna ask this one question: If he offers you—hypothetically—another post in government, is that something you’ll be willing to accept?
VP LENI: Ako, I’ll be open to it, but you know, it is necessary that we discuss things. Perhaps I will tell the President that I would be very much willing to work with him, I would be very much willing to support what he’s doing. But if there are things that we don’t agree on, kailangan ko talagang sabihin. Kung okay iyon sa kaniya, eh ‘di okay. Pero minamasama noong—siguro hindi siya mismo. I think the President knows that I don’t have any plans, ‘di ba, parang I don’t have any political ambitions. Okay na ako sa posisyon na ito, gawin ko iyong dapat kong gawin. Pero marami kasing nakapaligid na iba iyong interpretation about things that I say or things that I do. Mahirap.
So hindi siguro tatanggapin if ever that—although… parang… parang ano, I don’t see it coming. But if that comes, kailangan sigurong pag-usapan.
PINKY WEBB: We’ll be taking a short break. This is The Source on CNN Philippines. We’ll be right back.
PINKY WEBB: This is The Source on CNN Philippines. Still with us, Vice President Leni Robredo.
Bakit ho ba kayo, mula noon, sa babae ho talaga kayo, parang—well, aside from being a woman, what brought you there to this kind of cause or advocacy?
VP LENI: Ako, it started sa SALIGAN. Pero iyong sa SALIGAN kasi, it has many sectors na tinutulungan, and because I was the only woman among a male-dominated lawyer… lawyer organization group, sa akin naturally na-assign. Pero even when I was not with SALIGAN anymore, parang you can’t detach from the advocacy, kasi you know how vulnerable the sector is.
Halimbawa ngayon, maraming OFWs na pumupunta sa amin. Maraming OFWs na pumupunta sa amin. Grabe iyong abuse na nasasagap. Grabe iyong abuse na nasasagap, so kahit hindi… kahit parang it’s not within our mandate, talagang tinutulungan namin.
PINKY WEBB: What kind of help can you give them?
VP LENI: Iba-iba. Those who… those who decide not to… not to renew their contracts anymore, tinutulungan sila sa livelihood. Pero iyong iba kasi, kailangan talagang tulungan to bring justice to, ‘di ba, to them, kaya we’re in close coordination always with OWWA and the Blas Ople Foundation, who have been helping us.
Ano talaga, iyong nangyari sa Kuwait, iyong nangyari kay Joann[a], ano iyon, it was bound to happen in the sense that many of our women have been suffering from abuse, many of our women have been raped. Marami iyong sexual harassment na… na hinaharap. Kailangan talagang siguruhin na before ipapadala sa isang bansa, iyong… iyong mga requirements dapat nandoon. Dapat mayroong mananagot, kasi marami talaga iyong tinatanggap na lang.
Halimbawa, iyong nakakalungkot, mayroong isa ditong pumunta na she has been raped several times already ng employer niya, kasi nasabi niya na bahagi na iyan, bahagi na iyan ng trabaho. Sinisisi pa niya iyong kasama niya na na-rape din. Sinasabi niya dapat before mo tinanggap, before ka pumunta, alam mo na na it’s part of the job.
PINKY WEBB: What does it say about the women, though?
VP LENI: Ano talaga siya… siya talaga, iyong… iyong dapat iyong confidence niya sa sarili, matulungan na mataas, kasi when you receive abuse, it’s an acceptance that you’re inferior. At marami iyong ganoon. And iyong sa akin talaga, marami tayong gender sensitivity trainings. It doesn’t work very—parang it doesn’t work the way we want it to work. Kailangan talaga mas… mas personal. Mas personal in the sense na bigyan mo siya ng opportunities. Kasi if they don’t have opportunities, doon niya nafi-feel iyong kaniyang pagka-inferior. Doon niya tinatanggap iyong pang-aabuso.
PINKY WEBB: I remember, Vice President, noong nangyari po ito, maliban kay Joanna Demafelis at iba pang kababayan natin, you were calling for bilateral talks between Kuwait and the Philippines. Do you agree doon sa pinatupad na total ban?
VP LENI: Ako, I’m very supportive of that decision of the President. I think a ban should really happen. Iyong… iyong problema kasi—
Halimbawa, iyong kuwento ni Toots Ople of the Blas Ople Foundation, iyong nangyari kay Joanna, nagsara iyong kaniyang ahensya. Nagsara iyong kaniyang ahensya and her relatives were… were… parang going to—parang going from office to office to office, asking for news about their daughter or their cousin. Pero walang makapagsabi kung nasaan siya. Kapag nagsara iyong relative [recruitment agency], walang nagmo-monitor. Dapat sana—kapag pala nagsara iyong ahensya—dapat sana kapag nagsara iyong ahensya, saluhin na ng ating… ng ating gobyerno. Bago niya isara, siguraduhin niya na iyong lahat na… ‘di ba? Iyong lahat na responsibilities nito, may sasalo. Kasi kung walang sasalo, paano sila?
Iyong… iyong halimbawa, sa Kuwait, iyong ahensya nila, iyong ahensya nila na nag-aasikaso ng mga bagay na ito, parang Ministry of the Interior, na isa lang ito sa— parang hindi siya… hindi siya tutok. Hindi siya tutok sa welfare ng mga kababayan natin. Kapag nangyayari iyong mga bagay na ito, parang ang daming beses na hindi nalalaman—hindi natin nalalaman, hindi nila nalalaman, kasi hindi siya tinututukan. Mayroong mga proposals: sana maging subject… sana isang provision ng bilateral agreement, mayroong… mayroong requirement na every month, pinepresenta iyong Pilipina na nagtatrabaho sa kaniya to an office, para siguruhin lang na okay siya. Or nakakausap. Nakakausap sana ng ating embassy. Pero walang ganiyan.
Sana bago ito maayos lahat, huwag munang i-lift iyong ban kasi kawawa.
Mayroon namang—hindi natin nilalahat. Mayroon mga… mayroong mga OFWs na maganda iyong experience. Mayroong mga OFWs na happy sa employers nila. Pero paano iyong mga hindi? Paano iyong mga naabuso? Kailangang maprotektahan sila.
[END OF PART 1]