LENI ROBREDO, THE LAST (WO)MAN STANDING (An Open Letter for Congresswoman Leni)

Dear Madam Leni,

You are the only woman Vice-Presidential candidate, but that is not what sets you apart from the others aspiring for the same position.

What makes you stand out is your unique brand of tsinelas leadership.

Some people would ask,” Ano po ba ang tsinelas leadership?”

A legacy of your late husband, tsinelas leadership encapsulates your qualities of connecting with the poor and marginalized whom you serve, of keeping your close ties with the masses, and of breaking barriers through accessibility. It is the readiness to get your feet wet and dirty in doing your job. It stands for good governance and genuine public service.

It is the leadership quality that is conspicuously lacking in most of our government officials and politicians today.

While members of Congress are known for their opulent lifestyles, ostentatious display of wealth and power, and patent style of grandstanding, you have managed to stay simple, humble, unassuming and practical.

You take the public bus in going to and from Naga every week, you constantly visit your constituents, you live in the same apartment unit where you and Sec. Jesse started your family, you bring your youngest daughter to school each morning before you go to work, you do your own grocery, and you shun the limelight (you were even caught using the backdoor entrance of the Batasan plenary hall to avoid the SONA red carpet).

In an interview, you said that simplicity is a commitment for your family so you will “remain rooted and avoid getting tempted and becoming used to the perks and privileges that come with the job”.

If only all our politicians could be like you, Ma’am, corruption would now be a thing of the past.

But that’s just it.

You are not a politician.

You are a public servant.

Even before you were thrust into the chaotic world of politics by the untimely demise of Sec. Jesse, you were already serving the people. For free. As an advocate lawyer, you were helping the farmers through your affiliation with Saligan, and the oppressed and the indigent sectors through the Public Attorney’s Office.

Being a staunch champion of women’s empowerment and gender equality, you helped establish and chaired the Naga City Council for Women to give women a voice in governance and decision-making. You also founded the Lakas ng Kababaihan ng Naga to provide training and livelihood opportunities for the women of your beloved hometown.

When you got elected in 2013 as the representative of the 3rd district of Camarines Sur, you were able to author or co-author a total of 14 laws and 121 bills.

Ma’am, that was quite a feat for any political novice!

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According to one brilliant lawmaker, Filipinos should choose their next leaders based on three standards — academic excellence, professional excellence and moral excellence.

Please join me, Ma’am, in evaluating your five VP opponents with reference to these standards.

Alan Peter Cayetano

A graduate of the Ateneo Law School, Cayetano entered politics at a young age. Hardworking and passionate, he is known to espouse worthy causes. He fearlessly exposes and relentlessly investigates government officials involved in illegal activities.

I have always been a Cayetano supporter even if he is a member of a political dynasty — that is, until he made Mayor Duterte his running mate.

I don’t understand why a public servant of Cayetano’s caliber, academic background and integrity would condone, and even defend, someone who is prone to making reckless, malicious and callous statements; someone who has allegations of extra-judicial killings and, recently, unexplained wealth under his belt; someone who can’t present concrete, admirable and plausible plans of action for the country; someone who can incite, and revels in, a mob reaction from his supporters; and someone whose lifestyle is an insult to the very values we hold dear as Filipinos. Why would Cayetano throw away his moral compass and his father’s legacy of good governance? Why would he turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the glaring iniquities that he so dauntlessly fought against in the past?

I just don’t get it.

Francis “Chiz” Escudero

A graduate at the UP College of Law with a master’s degree in International and Comparative Law from the Georgetown University, Escudero impressed me with his dedication and intellect. In his eighteen years of public service (he served as Congressman from 1998-2007 and as Senator from 2007-present), he was able to file more than 500 bills and to pass 144 laws. I also admire the stance he assumed on certain issues (pro-impeachment charges against GMA, pro-RH bill, pro-FOI bill, pro-Corona impeachment, against divorce, against imposition of new taxes).

There are just three things that I take against the smooth-talking senator.

Firstly, he is in favor of a Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. But, then, I should have seen that coming. His father, after all, is the late Salvador Escudero III, a known Marcos crony.

Secondly, he is prone to support politicians of either questionable integrity or doubtful capability. Fernando Poe Jr., Joseph Estrada, Jejomar Binay — I have no idea what principle or guideline Escudero employs in choosing whom to give his loyalty to.

Thirdly, he is the second poorest senator but he was able to afford a lavish Balesin wedding (and another fancy reception in Manila) to actress Heart Evangelista. Escudero’s defence that they did not spend beyond their means only managed to rouse suspicion regarding two important points: the issues of propriety and conflict of interest. By the way, among their principal sponsors are Hans Sy (of the SM group of companies), Ramon Ang (of San Miguel Corporation), Fernando Zobel (of Ayala Corporation), Andrew Tan (of Megaworld Corporation), Lance Gokongwei (of Robinson’s Corporation, Cebu Pacific and JG Summit), Bobby Ongpin (of Alphaland), and Jerry Acuzar (of New San Jose Builders).

Quite impressive, huh?

Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV & Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan

Trillanes graduated cum laude in the Philippine Military Academy and later earned his master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of the Philippines. He is one of the most productive senators during the 15th and 16th Congress, with a total of 1,109 bills and resolutions filed, 56 of which have been passed into law.

Honasan, on the other hand, earned his Bachelor of Science degree, along with the academy’s highest leadership award, from the Philippine Military Academy. He was a highly decorated soldier and was one of the principal players in the 1986 EDSA revolution that toppled the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.  As a Senator, Honasan’s primary advocacies include environmental, military, police, and agrarian reform issues.

Trillanes led the 2003 Oakwood mutiny and the 2007 Manila Peninsula siege as a protest against the prevalence of social injustice and the rampant corruption during PGMA’s administration. Honasan, with the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) and allegedly under the tutelage of then Defense Sec. Enrile, staged a total of six coup attempts against the Cory administration. Two of these attempts became bloody – the Aug. 1987 coup left 53 dead while the Dec. 1989 coup left 99 dead (50 of which were civilians) and 570 wounded. He was also allegedly behind the Oakwood Mutiny and Feb 2006 coup attempt against PGMA.

While I understand their apparent discontent and resentment that compelled them to rebel against the government, they should have, in my opinion, upheld their constitutional mandate to enforce the law and to protect the people and the state. There are other ways — legal ways — to express one’s grievances, that could prove to be more effective and casualty-free. PGMA is now under hospital arrest, isn’t she?

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr.

I tried, really hard, to find any redeeming quality that could somehow humanize in my eyes this dictator’s heir. But to no avail.

All I can see when I look at Bongbong is the face of a chronic liar.

He presents his father’s dictatorial rule (what he fondly calls the Golden Years) “as the best thing that ever happened to this country.” That statement is, of course, in stark contrast with what the historians have to say, “The Marcos government appears, by any standard, exceptional for both the quantity and quality of its violence.” Under Martial Law, 70,000 were incarcerated; 35,000 were tortured; 882 went missing; and 3,257 were murdered.

In the comic booklet that Bongbong’s camp released late last year, he depicted his family as the clueless victims of the US soldiers who greeted them with guns when they landed in Hawaii in 1986. It is, again, in stark contrast with the personal accounts of the journalists who witnessed the Marcoses’s arrival at the Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. According to them, the Marcos family “was greeted by high ranking US military officials and by the old friends of the ex-president and Madam Imelda, Hawaii’s governor and his wife, who both placed leis around their necks.

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Bongbong claims that it is the government that is blocking the compensation of Martial Law victims. Debunking that, the PCGG said that “court records would show that it was the senator who was hindering the return of his family’s ill-gotten funds to the people”.

He maintains that he has never been accused of abuse of power during his father’s presidency. However, “in 1985, when he was 26 years old, his father appointed him chairman of the board of the Philippine Communications Satellite Corporation (Philcomsat), receiving a monthly salary of around US$9,700. This, despite that fact that he rarely went to the Philcomsat office. In 1986, government auditors discovered that Philcomsat was one of the many corporations and organizations used to siphon ill-gotten wealth out of the country.”

Bongbong has been arrogantly proclaiming that his father’s wealth came from legitimate sources. “In 2003, however, the Supreme Court defined the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcos family as those in excess of their total legal income of around $304,000 only, earned from 1965 to 1986. So far, PCGG has managed to recover about $4 billion, less than half of the $10-billion fortune believed to have been amassed by the Marcoses through the years.

He also lied about his academic credentials by claiming to have an undergraduate degree at Oxford University, one of the world’s most prestigious and elite universities. However, Oxford confirmed that Bongbong definitely did not earn such degree. In his official resume’, he also claimed to have earned an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Wharton School records do not show any Marcos Jr. in their list of graduates.

Bongbong is emphatic in saying that he has never been implicated in anomalies involving corruption during all these years of his public service. He, however, figured in whistleblower Benhur Luy’s list of lawmakers involved in the multi-billion scam. P205 million of his PDAF is allegedly allocated to the six fake NGOs owned by Napoles. Wow, that’s a lot of money!

Lastly, he said that, “The sins of the father are not the sins of the son…..It is not my obligation to apologize for the sins of the past administrations.” But he and his entire family have been, for decades now, enjoying the fruits of those sins. His election funds may very well be coming from the legendary Marcos plunder. And, for goodness’ sake, he is just a heartbeat away from Malacanang should he win this coming election!

So, please, Congresswoman Leni. Do not let the dictator’s son win.

Do not let another Marcos rule the country.

Do not let Bongbong Marcos make fools of the Filipinos for the second time.

Rest assured that we, the enlightened and vigilant people of this country, are with you in this endeavor. You won’t be alone.

Now, let me end this letter with the words I shared in the Women For Leni page.

“Like every Filipino, I wish for a better Philippines.

I want to leave my children and my children’s children with a country that is lovingly steered by public servants with unquestionable integrity, uncompromising principles, stellar work ethics, fervent compassion for the underprivileged, and genuine concern for our beloved Luzviminda.

Leni, for me, is the embodiment of all that. And more.

Modest and unassuming, she hates to be in the limelight. She is a reluctant leader who was forced to dip her finger in the dirty waters of politics due to her passion to serve the people. She is a woman of action who does not hesitate to have her hands dirty in reaching out to the needy. She has a name that is untarnished by corruption and is synonymous with “tsinelas leadership.” She is the epitome of an empowered Filipina, the voice of the voiceless, the champion of the oppressed.

My conscience would never let me vote for anyone else.”

Respectfully yours,

Lorelei B. Aquino (Mom On A Mission)

 

Note: For a complete list of Leni Robredo’s accomplishments, click here.

EDSA at 31

As we celebrate today the 31st anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution, let me address these few questions to our beloved  millennials:

  • What would you feel if you can’t watch your favorite TV shows because all the media networks are closed down except for a few that are government-controlled?
  • What would you feel if all your activities on all your social media accounts are being closely monitored and censored by the government, or worse, if you’re not allowed to have any account at all?
  • What would you feel if you can’t stay out beyond 12 midnight because of an imposed curfew?
  • What would you feel if you are put behind bars if you so much as say, write or post something about your candid, but negative, observation about how things are run in the government?
  • What would you feel if you can’t openly meet with your classmates to discuss a school project for fear that your meeting could be charged as an illegal assembly?
  • What would you feel if your friend, after joining a rally, is found tortured beyond recognition?
  • What would you feel if your girlfriend, sister or mother is abducted and raped by a high-ranking official or his son or even his driver, and that perpetrator is walking around scot-free?
  • What if your father is sbrutally killed because he refused to sell his land to any one of the president’s relatives or friends?

I was just thirteen years old when the EDSA People Power Revolution took place in 1986. I, along with my parents, were monitoring the events unfolding in EDSA from our little home in Bataan through our transistor radio.

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image grabbed from the internet

I sat in rapt attention as June Keithley Castro reported over Radio Veritas and later on, Radyo Bandido, a  blow-by-blow account of the revolution — the official announcement of then Defense Sec. Juan Ponce Enrile and Armed Forces Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Fidel V. Ramos of their withdrawal of support of the Marcos regime; the crucial role that then Army Col. Gregorio Honasan and his allies at the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) played by way of rebellion; Butz Aquino’s decision to bring the August Twenty-One Movement (ATOM) leaders, members and supporters to Camps Aguinaldo and Crame to support the rebel soldiers; and, of course, the late Jaime Cardinal Sin’s historic call to the Filipino people to leave their homes and proceed to EDSA to support Enrile, Ramos and their troops in their fight against the dictator.

I sat in awe as hundreds of thousands of people came pouring in from both near and far to heed the call of the Cardinal until the part of EDSA from Ortigas Avenue to Cubao was filled with a multitude that reached an estimate of three million.

I sat in horror when I heard that Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Fabian Ver sent armored tanks, carriers and heavily-armed soldiers to disperse the burgeoning throng in EDSA.

I sat in tears when, after Brig. Gen. Artemio Tadiar warned the crowd that he would open fire if they don’t disperse, people responded by singing “Bayan Ko,” praying the rosary, and offering the soldiers flowers and food.

I sat in immense relief when not a single shot was fired. The EDSA People Power Revolution — our revolution – was later hailed as the first non-violent, bloodless revolution that the world had ever witnessed.

I sat in excitement as the late Corazon Aquino and Salvador Laurel, in an inauguration at the Club Filipino, were sworn into office by Senior Justice Claudio Teehankee as the duly-elected President and Vice-President, respectively.

I sat in jubilation when the news broke out that, after the crowds stayed to serve as human barricades both in EDSA and Malacanang for four days, the Marcos family and their closest allies finally left the Palace and fled the country. The entire world rejoiced with us. Bob Simon, a CBS anchorman, even said, “We, Americans, like to think that we taught the Filipinos democracy. Well, tonight, they are teaching the world.

I sat in solemn silence when it was all over. Still overwhelmed with a myriad of emotions, I thanked the Almighty for His guidance and protection in allowing the voice of the people to prevail without bloodshed, in ousting the dictator that put us in hell for more than a decade, and in providing hope and a ray of sunshine for a nation that has been shrouded in darkness and misery for far too long.

During that entire time, I was just sitting within the relative safety of our home.

Listening.

Observing.

Learning.

But at that tender age of 13, I already knew what drove those hordes of people to EDSA.

The nightmarish tales of disappearances, tortures, killings, warrantless arrests, detentions and other horrendous acts of human rights violations and abuses against political leaders, student activists, journalists, church personalities, and virtually anybody who would dare challenge the people in power during Martial Law were my father’s favorite topic back then. (My father used to be an activist in Manila before my mother, afraid for his safety, whisked him off to the province.) He told me everything he knew about how the Marcoses and their cronies would blatantly and wantonly plunder the public coffers and ransack and sequester huge local companies until they had almost drained the country and its people of all their resources. He also introduced me to the tyrant’s insatiable greed for power when Marcos pressured the Constitutional Convention to replace the 1935 charter, which would have disqualified him from seeking another four-year presidential term. Marcos also made sure to maintain his tight grip on power when, during the snap elections a few days prior to the EDSA revolution, widespread practices of fraud, vote-buying, intimidation, violence and tampering of election returns were reported.

We, Filipinos, could be long-suffering and forgiving, oftentimes, to a fault. But there would always be that proverbial straw that would break the camel’s back.

In our case, it was the treacherous and ruthless assassination of Ninoy Aquino on August 21, 1983. That event, which triggered a series of civil disobedience campaigns that eventually culminated in the 1986 revolution, proved that a dead Ninoy could be a more formidable opponent to the Marcoses than the fearless, fast-talking, hard-hitting political leader that the former was when he was alive. Ninoy’s death inspired and empowered the masses to go out to the streets and shout, “Sobra na! Tama na! Palitan na!”  It resulted to public outrage that eventually put an end to Marcos’ 21-year oppressive rule. It changed our country’s history.

Today, exactly thirty years after that fateful day when democracy was finally restored, I have to ask myself. And again, you, my dear millennials.

Have we, as a nation, adequately learned our lessons from that dark part of our history?

Or are we like some people who try to bend history itself? To conveniently forget? To forgive the perpetrators without a single person held accountable for the atrocities of Martial Law? To reinstate the same people who had been principal players during the dictatorship?

If you want to hear it, in a nutshell, here goes.

According to the historian and writer Alfred McCoy, “the Marcos government appears, by any standard, exceptional for both the quantity and quality of its violence.”

  • 70,000 were incarcerated; 35,000 were tortured; 882 went missing; and 3,257 were murdered.
  • The country’s foreign debt of US$7 billion in 1965 when Marcos was first elected President ballooned to US$25 billion in 1986, the year he was ousted.
  • PCGG pegged at US$10 billion the total amount of the ill-gotten wealth amassed by the Marcos family during their 21-year reign. Of that amount, only US$4 billion had been confiscated and returned to the treasury. The remaining US$6 billion is yet to be recovered.

Despite all these glaring statistics, though, people, mostly those your age, are still singing a totally different tune. Many of our young voters are fooled into believing that the Martial Law era was the best part of our history, and that a Marcos scion should be catapulted back into power.

Ninoy and Cory Aquino, along with the thousands of Martial Law casualties, must have been rolling over in their graves right now.