Arts & Culture News

The shaping of Leni Robredo

There is a lot that a curious observer can find in the 144-page book called “Servant Leader” by Prof. Edmundo “Ed” Garcia.

Book cover of “Servant Leader” by Edmundo “Ed” Garcia. A comprehensive book with many voices.

If you have avoided Leni Robredo as a political figure early in her entrance in the political firmament, the book is at once an instant reference on how fate thrusted her in the scheme of things since the death of her iconic husband, Jesse Robredo, then head of the Department ofLocal Government in 2012.

Easily, it is a good eyeopener on the current life and times of the vice-president.

Clearly, she didn’t reckon with how her life would turn out after one tragic death in the family.

As it turned out, she took the tragedy calmly and with an open mind. Setting aside the grief and the hurt, she resolved to be at peace with herself. For another, she obviously found inner strength in her three daughters and the people she wanted to serve.

The way events unfolded after the death of her husband was actually the beginning of some turning points in her life.

“Servant Leader” edited by Danton Remoto gives you the vice-president’s life in one easy glance in a book divided into three comprehensive parts.

Author Edmundo “Ed” Garcia sits on a distinct advantage as the subject happens to be his former student at the University of the Philippines.

Author Edmundo “Ed” Garcia. From a fulfilled teacher looking at his former student with pride.

That his former student has evolved into a good, intuitive leader must have been one of his sources of satisfaction as a teacher.

Garcia notes in his introduction: “In an age when brave women are beginning to change the narrative, it is refreshing to see VP Leni Robredo doing politics differently in the midst of the tried and tired politicians in our political landscape. As the likes of the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand are showing, a new breed of women leaders is demonstrating an effective, no-nonsense yet compassionate leadership that this pandemic period requires. As the uncertainties of the coming years stare us starkly as a people, there is one thing clear: we can survive all the hurdles we face only if we learn to be bigger than ourselves, to work more collaboratively yet more courageously; only if we have more servant leaders ‘who will give and not count the cost; who will fight and not heed the wounds; who will toil and not to seek for rest.’”

Moreover, the book is balanced by other voices from the perceptive media who see the vice-president in their own private looking glasses.

From writer Chit Roces-Santos of the Philippine Daily Inquirer: “Watching Leni, I see a woman who intuitively puts order in everything she undertakes. She puts a system in place before proceeding anywhere. That’s why she makes difficult tasks seem easy. Whenever I hear my husband ask aloud, ‘How can we fix the institutions that this administration will have destroyed by the time its term is over? Where would the next leader even begin?’”

Her very personal style in the campaign sorties in 2015 is recalled by Bam Aquino: “Unlike other candidates, she was never rushing, and more importantly, she was never rushing you. In a national campaign where you’re maximizing your limited time in a locality, catching a plane or helicopter ride out to another province to make it in time for a national interview at prime time, rushing seemed to be par for the course. But somehow, she had the time and the attention to chat with everyone who wanted to speak with her. It could be small things, big things, and everything in between—she gave everyone time. Leni would not allow herself to be rushed; she liked people. And people liked her. The campaign had to adjust to her pace.”

The more intimate voices came from her three daughters like this one coming from Aika Robredo: “Mama is everything we aspire to be – even-tempered, level-headed, unaffected but focused. When we were growing up, I didn’t quite understand why she wasn’t as indulgent as the mothers of my then-young friends. She was always around, yes. But she was also different. Early on, she established the value of responsibility. I was used to her constant, quiet presence, but she would always give me enough space to figure things out on my own. She had always emphasized the importance of owning up to my mistakes, and solving my own problems independently without having to constantly ask for help. She was always encouraging, but she was never overly generous with praises and always kept us grounded.”

On the whole, “Servant Leader” succeeds in doing a good portrait of a woman in her varied roles.

But the more gripping parts were the chapters on how she coped with the obvious machismo insecurities of a sitting president.

Clearly, she didn’t stoop to his level even as the assaults could easily derail the faint of heart.

What came out is a woman happy with her daughters and fulfilled to be of service to a country battered by both natural and man-made calamities.

In this season of endless storms, Robredo comes out as the source of strength and an inspiring one.

The book once more defines the public servant for what he is and should be.

Alas without meaning to be, the book decries a leadership style that has sunk into disrepute in the hands of the very people who have evolved from public servants to national vexations.

Through these all, Robredo comes out as the hope of last resort.

Indeed, her message to the 2020 graduates could have been addressed to all the Filipino people in time of the pandemic and endless natural calamities: “There is no reason to put your dreams on hold. In fact, you are called to pursue these dreams with even deeper resolve—to dream not only for yourselves and for your families, but for the last, the least and the lost.When the path seems too difficult, remember that you were made for these times.”

(Ed Garcia’s “Servant Leader” edited by Danton Remoto is now on sale at P750 per copy. Shipping starts on December 8, 2020. Interested parties can order in the Facebook page of San Anselmo Publications, Inc.)