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Manila (AFP) – Leni Robredo was a rookie MP in 2016 when she came from behind to narrowly beat Ferdinand Marcos Junior for Vice President of the Philippines. She hopes to repeat the feat in their May 9 rematch for president.
The only woman in a field of 10 candidates, Robredo is the last obstacle for the Marcos family to regain the presidency they lost in 1986 following a popular uprising.
But this time, the former lawyer and economist faces a much bigger gap with Marcos Jr, the late dictator’s only son, who voter polls show is heading for a landslide victory.
Relentless attacks by President Rodrigo Duterte, who once called her a “scatterbrain,” and a vicious social media campaign of disinformation by pro-Marcos groups have hurt the soft-spoken Robredo’s popularity.
His promise to “defeat the archaic, rotten style of politics” in feudal, corrupt democracy has resonated with progressive voters who are fed up with Duterte’s authoritarian style.
Many also fear a repeat of the Marcos dictatorship, when billions of dollars were plundered from state coffers and widespread human rights abuses were committed.
“I’m often told I’m weak because I’m a woman, but I’ve never backed down from a challenge,” Robredo, 57, told a forum in February.
“I offer a brand of leadership that is trustworthy, competent, industrious and dependable. You will not be fooled, you will not be robbed, you will never be left behind,” she said.
“In 2022, the last man standing will still be a woman.”
“President of All Colors”
Volunteers wearing Robredo’s pink campaign color went door to door across the vast country of the archipelago in an effort against the odds to win over voters.
It drew comparisons to the grassroots movement of former president and democracy leader Corazon Aquino in the 1986 snap elections that led to the ousting of Ferdinand Marcos Senior.
Like Aquino, whose husband was shot dead by state forces in 1983, Robredo was reluctantly thrown into politics after her husband’s death.
Jesse Robredo, a respected member of former President Benigno Aquino’s administration cabinet, died in a plane crash in 2012.
Originally an advocate for poor farmers and battered women, Robredo served a single term in the House of Representatives, where she lobbied for laws promoting transparency and accountability.
After winning the vice presidency in 2016 — a result Marcos Jr fought for five years to overthrow — Robredo transformed his low-budget, largely ceremonial office into one that nurtured women in need. , empowered and helped typhoon victims.
But she earned Duterte’s ire by criticizing his murderous war on drugs and opposing his plans to bring back the death penalty.
She also challenged his decision to authorize the burial of the embalmed body of Marcos Sr at the National Heroes Cemetery.
In the Philippines, the vice president and president are elected separately.
After months of pressure from supporters and opposition groups to join the presidential race, she announced her candidacy for the top job on October 7, two days after Marcos Jr.
“Corruption, incompetence, lack of compassion must be replaced with competence and integrity in leadership,” Robredo said at the time.
Like the Aquino-Marcos contest over three decades ago, Robredo is the underdog in the battle against Marcos Jr.
Some analysts say Robredo, who has three daughters, lacks the feisty personality Filipino voters are looking for in a leader. She was also criticized for making her decision to run too late.
Marcos Jr has benefited from an alliance with VP candidate and first daughter Sara Duterte and a years-long social media effort to revamp the family brand.
But a bump in the polls and huge turnouts at Robredo’s rallies have fueled hopes among his fervent fans that his campaign is gaining traction.
Vowing to be a “president of all colors”, Robredo recently implored her supporters to “hug everyone” as they tried to woo voters.
“The future of the country rests with all of us,” she said.
© 2022 AFP