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 Based on the recent Pulse Asia report, Vice President Leni Robredo and her office received a 57% rating for performance and 50% for trust. And, while surprising for her supporters, the VP is unperturbed and her camp says that these ratings will not deter them from continuing to serve the country—especially as the Philippines continues to fight a global pandemic, navigate one of the decade’s most serious economic crisis, and recover from debilitating back-toback calamities. Barry Gutierrez, the Office of the Vice President’s spokesperson, shares in an interview: “Hindi masyado concerned si Vice President Leni sa survey. Para sa kanya, hindi siya pumasok sa pulitika, sa pagsisilbi sa publiko para maging popular. (Vice President Leni is not too concerned with the survey. For her, she didn’t enter politics, public service to be popular.) “Inspirasyon ito na lalo pang pagbutihin pa ang mga trabahong kanyang ginagawa para mas madaming makaalam, mas madaming maabot ang Office of the Vice President at mas maraming makaalam sa kanyang magagawa. (This only further inspires us to do better and to share the good work of the OVP so that more people are aware, more can be served, and more can seek help through her office.)”

     While her relationship with President Rodrigo Duterte has soured over the past few years, with some even describing it as “contemptuous,” especially postTyphoon Rolly and Ulysses, Vice President Leni is standing firm, urging the camps to set aside pointless politicking and focus instead on the country’s recovery. With grit and grace, Vice President Leni is espousing a kind of leadership that many have been seeking from other public officials—leading with compassion, sensitivity, and a sense of urgency, while shunning petty and baseless criticism. Here she shares some of her office’s most significant efforts in addressing COVID-19, their current priority initiatives, and her honest thoughts on how to lead as a woman in this time of great crises.

     How would you assess the country’s poverty situation over the last few years? How has the OVP helped the poor and disadvantaged? With pro-poor policies, like Conditional Cash Transfer, in place, we saw our poverty incidence drop from 23% in 2015 to 16% in 2018. We must ensure that adequate attention and support are given to household-beneficiaries that will be graduating from the program. Preparing them for this feat is a big component of the process, which unfortunately has not been given importance.

     More work is also needed to help a segment of society that has remained poor. We continue to push for policies such as the expansion of CCT, the enactment of the Coco Farmers’ Trust Fund Bill, and boosting support for the agriculture sector, which has the lowest share in our GDP. It is also imperative upon all government agencies handling anti-poverty programs to be more outcome-oriented—to set their metrics not on the mere number of individuals or families who joined their initiatives, but on how their endeavors are actually helping the beneficiaries. Since 2016, our office’s focus has primarily been on our antipoverty initiatives under Angat Buhay.

     Our program is framed with six key advocacies, which we believe will help uplift the lives of Filipinos in the margins—food security and nutrition, public education, universal healthcare, rural development, women empowerment, and housing and resettlement.

     A big part of our efforts involve supporting farmers, fisherfolk, aspiring entrepreneurs, and the like, through capacity building and linkages to institutional markets. Amid the pandemic, we continue to find ways to do this for the sectors we assist, as well as for the newly unemployed.

     The COVID-19 crisis has exposed these gaps anew, and if we do not move swiftly, these problems may be exacerbated. According to projections, poverty incidence may rise again to 23% if the government fails to provide support. This calls for immediate strategizing and actions.

     One of the moves we can make is to provide a cash grant of an average of P5,000 per family for two months, which can help lower the projected 23% to 19%. Economists from the University of the Philippines have said that a smaller percentage of people will slide back to poverty if this is done. The UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team also underscored that making the provision of benefits and assistance “universal” will not only fast-track the process, but, more importantly, “ensure that the poorest and most socially excluded will be reached.” Amid the challenges posed by the pandemic, we feel that we have an opportunity to build back better by addressing matters like income inequality. In line with this, we have called for matching the wage of employees to their contributions to society, and ensuring that they receive sufficient benefits, resources, and other kinds of support, especially during this crisis.


Society as a whole will benefit when there are more women in government, as they are able to lend a more holistic view to our policies and processes.

What would be OVP’s key priorities for the allocation of the proposed P723.39 million budget?

     The substantial portion of our budget goes to subsidies or financial assistance. Through this, we are able to continue our Medical Assistance Program, and allocate more funds for livelihood assistance to communities, skills training programs, teacher training, support for agriculture, and, at the same time, provide support to local government units, other government agencies, and individuals, to help them cope with the effects of the pandemic.

Though women have a growing presence in government, “machismo” remains to be a highlighted quality of many of the seated leaders. What words of empowerment can you share with other women to encourage them to participate more fully in the public sphere? Why do women deserve and need to be in the government?

      Society as a whole will benefit when there are more women in government, as they are able to lend a more holistic view to our policies and processes. Studies have also shown that women tend to be more inclusive and more effective, and are more dependable in various kinds of situations, with their natural wiring rooted on perseverance, initiative, empathy, and a drive for selfdevelopment. Women are typically better at finding ways to rise amid adversities, which is, ironically, a by-product of the cultural biases that continue to frame them as “weaker” leaders and individuals.

     As a woman in public office, I have gone through my fair share of criticisms and attacks, which are often unfounded and based on the fact that I am a woman. While I have not allowed these to get in the way of the work I do, the reality that women are more vulnerable to such treatment is something that we must all strive to correct. We must begin with resisting the shackles of stereotypes: Women in leadership positions now must uphold more actively the significant role they play. Allow themselves to grow in confidence, to take up spaces and lead conversations, while staying committed to excellence and compassionate resolve. Women must not be afraid to be “soft”— to show empathy, especially in situations that need it most. Pave the way for others by pushing for policies that provide avenues for women to thrive, such as programs for economic empowerment.

     This is something that I have worked hard for as a lawyer, a member of Congress, and now as Vice President. In the long run, the goal is not only to remove the insecurities that make women buy into cultural biases. We must change these everyday notions by setting aside outdated standards, and giving women the opportunity to chart their own paths. This is a tall order for us, and a lot of work definitely needs to be done. In politics, public service, advocacy work, and other industries, I find hope as I see more women leaders, especially younger ones who take up space— or even create their own. Such courage is inspiring, and I keep faith that if we remain steadfast, we will be able to steer our society towards a fairer, more inclusive, and more respectful society.

As a leader addressing the numerous problems that occur every day and which need immediate attention, how do you assess and decide which ones to address first? Is it possible to tackle everything at the same time?

     In crisis situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a long list of things that need to be taken care of—all at the same time. Since we consistently engage with people on the ground, and listen to many different voices, we have developed the instinct of knowing which needs to be prioritized or addressed urgently. This requires us to be agile. Proper scheduling and prioritizing are essential. Micromanaging becomes a plus in such a situation, because you get to make sure that all the moving parts are working harmoniously towards a common objective. I think it helps a lot that I actually find joy in keeping things organized. This is something that I personally work on with the staff, to ensure that the system is in order.

Politics can be polarizing. How can Filipinos be taught or encouraged to become more open to dialogue and discourse especially when it comes to politics and governance? Do you think there’s a need to hold more public debates, offer more opportunities for leaders to define and share their plans, do more continuous voter’s education, or even incorporate voter’s education into the school curriculum in a more substantial way?

     All these initiatives are worthwhile—whether it’s voter education or efforts to promote issue-based elections. But in my experience, the best way to encourage our citizens to participate more responsibly in political processes is to actually create venues and platforms for participation in governance. If Filipinos can see that their elected officials are open to engaging them on a variety of issues, if they trust that there are mechanisms in place to ensure accountability on the part of officials, both in the local and national levels, if they feel that their voices are actually being heard and that their contributions are appreciated, then they will realize that their vote matters, and they will take participation in elections more seriously. Part of it will be educating voters, yes, but a larger part of it will be creating a political culture that values transparency, accountability, and people’s participation.

How do you remain graceful under pressure? What has been the most effective strategy for you?

     I choose to rise above pressure because of two things. First, because there is a lot of work that remains to be done for the communities and sectors that we support—and we are in a race against time to do as much as we can. I keep in mind that I do not have the luxury of caving into pressure, because a lot of people count on us for help. This is also a frequent reminder that I give to our staff: that we cannot afford to be distracted by those, because the work we are doing is much bigger than that. Second, I think I am able to get past the pressure, and often its accompanying criticisms, because I know myself, and I know the truth. Over the past four years, I have been the subject of many unfounded claims and ridicule, but as any public official should, I take them in stride, and even look at them as opportunities to improve on myself. My tolerance, however, stops when it comes to disinformation—if it’s a blatant lie, I call it out. It is actually one of my biggest regrets that during my first few years in office, I did not pay as much attention as I should have to all the fake news, thinking that by not dignifying them, they would die a natural death. I was wrong. Since early last year, we have taken a more active approach to call attention on purveyors of fake news.

Aside from voting, how can citizens make their demands be heard? How do Filipinos make their leaders accountable? What specific steps must be taken to help leaders be constructive?

     The first, all-important step is showing up. We have to encourage citizens to be active, and to take full advantage of existing venues to keep themselves informed. We must also push for the creation and strengthening of mechanisms that will allow for meaningful participation. In my experience, if you create venues where citizens can participate, they will come. But we have to take the task of building these venues seriously.

It cannot be simply on a cosmetic level. There have to be meaningful opportunities for citizens to participate. Secondly, on the issue of accountability: we have to make sure that the mechanisms for accountability actually function. If citizens will see that pursuing actions against abusive officials will actually lead to tangible results, they will not get frustrated in them. But if they see that despite their efforts, abusive officials can simply delay justice, or get away with minor reprimands, then they will lose faith in the mechanisms for accountability, and it will be our loss as a whole.

Is there a silver lining amidst the COVID-19 pandemic?

     The past seven months have painted an unfortunate picture: the pandemic has further exposed the inequalities in our society, and I continue to believe that the government must catch up to avoid more damage.


Amid the many gaps, we have found sparks of hope in our people. I often say that Filipinos respond to the worst of times with the best of themselves. This faith has been affirmed over and over by the bayanihan we have been seeing in the past seven months. Many groups and individuals have stepped up: from businesses that share their resources and services, even amid the effects of the pandemic on their operations, to ordinary citizens who have pitched in, whether through donation drives, volunteerism, or even just helping neighbors and checking on members of the community. My team and I have witnessed this in our own COVID-19 response operations— which, in itself, is fueled by the spirit of bayanihan. It would be wise of us to invest in the talents, perseverance, and innate generosity of our people—not to make excuses for complacency, but to strengthen our collective action, especially against an invisible enemy like COVID-19. Filipinos show up when it matters most, and more than just a silver lining, that should be our driving force as we rise from this crisis and march towards a better normal.

Any message to our LGUs and to the Filipinos in general?

     During the past seven months, I have developed an even deeper appreciation for our LGUs. From the very start of this crisis, the burden has been placed on local governments. It has given us a sense of relief to see LGUs introduce and pursue some of the most creative and effective solutions these past months, and to watch our local leaders share ideas on how to address common concerns in their respective areas. The COVID-19 crisis has shaken our lives in a short amount of time. The challenge for the government, especially LGUs, is to build back better.

     Technology should play a big role in this regard. Policy-making must be driven by data, and metrics for programs must focus on results and actual benefits. We must explore how to best use technology in improving our processes, and how it can be a tool for empowering our people as we face the new normal. I am confident that our local leaders can rise to this challenge, as long as they are open to innovative ideas and are guided by integrity and a genuine desire to serve.

     Because we rely most on our LGUs, I believe they must be empowered with adequate attention and support. Our office is also committed to help in whatever way we can. I would also like to thank our fellow Filipinos for their generosity and cooperation amid the challenges of our time. Laban po ito hindi lang ng pamahalaan, pambansa man o lokal, kundi ng buong sambayanan. The threat of the virus is still upon us. Mag-iingat pa rin po tayong lahat, at sumunod sa health protocols. We must continue to play our role in keeping each other safe. At higit sa lahat, piliin po nating akayin ang isa’t isa sa gitna ng mga pagsubok na ating hinaharap. I keep faith that we will win against COVID-19, and it starts in each of us.

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