Dear Candidate Leni Robredo
Dear Candidate Leni,
I hope you get to re-read Marites Danguilan-Vitug's letter to you in 2012 when you were running for Congress in Naga City. That is the original "Dear Candidate Leni" open letter. I write now to say I agree with Ms. Vitug. I will even go beyond describing you as having not just empathy (Ms. Vitug's term) but also rootedness in society.
I am a teacher and some of my students have already approached me to ask how they should assess you, given that you have had only 3 years of experience in politics as Congress Representative. I told them that they should look at the "experience" of a candidate – any candidate – in totality. And that it is thus crucial that they, as voters, go through the tedious task of investigating the experiences of candidates as these serve as "inputs" for the candidates' politics and governance, should they win those elective posts.
In your case, your experience as a lawyer who worked for and with marginalized sectors should serve you well. That is the input that you will bring to the vice presidency, should you win the seat. And what input is better than understanding, in a deep manner, the ills of this society and the struggles of our people?
In fact, it is that kind of input that so many of our candidates lack. These candidates claim that they know poverty but that is actually only because they (we all) see poverty every day, and because, during elections, it is the vote of the poor that they have to seek. They, however, know nothing of the everyday struggles of the poor or the collective struggles of the marginalized.
These politicians think and claim that they know society but they embed themselves only in the small, narrow world of their gated communities and their exclusive circle of elite friends. In other words, their experience of understanding and forging solidarity with the poor is superficial. That will never be sufficient input for governance in a country where majority are poor.
Your input/experience may not be enough as well. It may not be enough to radically transform our incoherent politics and damaged political culture because even history tells us that radical transformation always requires the mobilization of a critical mass and can never rely simply on the bureaucratic decisions of a few powerful individuals.
History also tells us, however, that it takes individuals to lead the building of this critical mass as such cannot simply be created spontaneously. My hope thus is that you will build and mobilize this much-needed critical mass to transform our politics – instead of allowing elitist, traditional politics to transform you (which we all know happens, even to the best and the most progressive of politicians).
I have no doubt that you are already experiencing the push-and-pull of mass-based and elite-based politics. You cannot escape that. And you will not be able to escape the questions that your party has not fully answered: what to do with the peace process now that the BBL is practically dead? in which direction to take the Mamasapano investigation? how to deal with those accused of anomalies related to the PDAF and DAP, including those who belong to your own party? how to stop the Lumad killings? how to stop abusive labor practices or rampant land grabbing? how to push government institutions to deliver?
A vice president can only do so much. A VP, after all, has a principal and the president and the VP are supposed to work in tandem. I will thus not expect you to attack your colleagues in public and to sow division within your ranks. But I do expect you to engage them fiercely from within. I expect you to be critical of your party mates even as you maintain support for your party.
There has to be a way to criticize without withdrawing support. I hope that in your struggle for social justice (as you claim it to be your struggle), you will also struggle to push your party to walk the "Daang Matuwid" (Straight Path) talk.
The fear of some that you will be "used" is not without basis, given the dynamics of realpolitik. Losing your autonomy is a real danger. But I think you will lose that only if you lose sight of your goals, and, more importantly, only if you lose confidence in yourself.
No unconditional support
Congresswoman Leni, I do not know you personally but we have actually met a couple of times in various forums. You come across as a no-frills, sensible, grounded person, and it is this persona, as well your background, that prods me to consider you seriously as a candidate.
I will closely follow your campaign. And should you win in 2016, I will closely follow your decisions and actions. I will support you when I see that your purpose converges with what I think society – especially the marginalized – needs. I will oppose you and challenge you when I see that your choices deviate from these needs.
I say these things not with arrogance (for I am not even in politics and am just an ordinary citizen), but with the belief that it is valid for citizens like me to remind candidate-politicians like you that voter-citizen support is never unconditional. Such support, in fact, should never be unconditional. Otherwise, we would not be citizens but sheep that need only to be herded.
A concerned citizen