Who is Leni Robredo - Presidential Candidate of Philippines: Early Life, Career, Achievements
Who is Leni Robredo - Presidential Candidate of Philippines: Early Life, Career, Achievements

Maria Leonor "Leni" Gerona Robredo (born Maria Leonor Santo Tomas Gerona; April 23, 1965) is a Filipina lawyer, politician, and social activist who is the 14th and incumbent vice president of the Philippines. Robredo was the wife of the late interior secretary Jesse Robredo. She served as the representative of Camarines Sur's 3rd district from 2013 until her inauguration as vice president in 2016. In the vice presidential election, Robredo defeated Bongbong Marcos by a narrow margin of 263,473 votes. A report released by the Supreme Court further widened her lead to 278,566 over Marcos.

Robredo is the second woman to serve as vice president of the Philippines after Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the first vice president from Bicol Region. In 2016, Robredo was awarded by the government of Thailand for her work and advocacy in women's empowerment and gender equality. Under her leadership, the Office of the Vice President also received the ISO 9001: 2015 certification for the office's quality management systems.

On October 7, 2021, Robredo announced her bid for the presidency in the 2022 election.

Here are her early life, education and career, personal life, honors.

Leni Robredo: Early Life and Education

Photo: BenarNews
Photo: BenarNews

Maria Leonor Santo Tomas Gerona was born on April 23, 1965, in Naga, Camarines Sur, Philippines. She was the first of three children born to Naga City Regional Trial Court Judge Antonio Gerona (c. 1933–2013) and Salvacion Santo Tomas (1936–2020).

Leni Gerona attended the basic education department of Universidad de Sta. Isabel in Naga, graduating from elementary school in 1978, and from high school in 1982. She earned her degree in economics from the University of the Philippines Diliman in 1986, and proceeded to study law at the University of Nueva Caceres, graduating in 1992. She passed the bar exams in 1997.

Gerona chose to temporarily forego law studies and instead decided to work as a researcher for the Bicol River Basin Development Program (BRBDP), a government agency tasked with integrated area development planning in the three provinces of the Bicol Region. Here she met then-Program Director Jesse Robredo, who would eventually become her husband.

Having passed the bar on her second attempt in 1996 and admitted in May 1997, Robredo served in the Public Attorney's Office, a role in which she often took up the defense for cases pursued by her husband, who by then had become Mayor of Naga.

From 1998 to 2008, Robredo became the coordinator of Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligan (SALIGAN), a Naga-based alternative legal support group. SALIGAN's work aimed to encourage young legal professionals to take on leadership roles, and involved visiting distant rural communities to provide legal services to residents who would otherwise have little or no access to such services, as well as conducting legal advocacy by proposing amendments and new laws based on the needs of these marginalized communities. Later, the group's focus shifted to include helping rural women to acquire capital in order to participate in competitive markets.

In addition, Robredo founded the Lakas ng Kababaihan ng Naga Federation, an organization that provides training and livelihood opportunities for women, in 1989.

In 2012, Robredo was named the chairperson of the Liberal Party in Camarines Sur.

Leni Robredo: Career

Photo: Al Jazeera
Photo: Al Jazeera

Before entering public service, Leni Robredo was a researcher and economist at the Bicol River Basin Development Program Office from 1986 to 1987. She was an Economics professor at the Universidad de Sta. Isabel from 1987 to 1997, a job she took on while earning her degree in law. After passing the bar, she joined the Public Attorney's Office until 1999, rendering legal assistance, counseling, and other legal services to indigent litigants to ensure their free access to the courts, as mandated by the Constitution. She then joined Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (SALIGAN) - Bicol Chapter, where she was branch coordinator and lawyer for 13 years. Here, she represented marginalized individuals in court, and provided legal education for clients through legal clinics and helping them understand relevant laws by translating and publishing Bicol Versions of the text. Aside from this, Leni Robredo founded Lakas ng Kababaihan in Naga in 1992 and was President of Naga City Council for Women from 2008 to 2010.

Work in the 16th Congress of the Philippines

Photo: DW
Photo: DW

In 2013, Leni Robredo won as Representative of the Third District of Camarines Sur. During this time, she was Vice Chairman of two committees: Committee on Good Governance and Public Accountability, and Committee on Revision of Laws. She was also part of the Committee of Appropriations; Bicol Recovery and Economic Development; Climate Change; Human Rights; Land Use; Local Government; People’s Participation; Rural Development; Suffrage and Electoral Reforms; Welfare of Children; and Women and Gender Equality.

Among the laws she passed are:

  • Philippine National Railways Charter Extension - Republic Act RA10638, an act extending the corporate life of the Philippine National Railways for another 50 years which was enacted on June 16, 2014
  • Sangguniang Kabataan Reform Act of 2015 - Republic Act RA10742, an act establishing reforms in the Sangguniang Kabataan creating enabling mechanisms for meaningful youacth participation in nation- building which was enacted on January 15, 2016
  • Tax Incentives Management and Transparency Act - Republic Act RA10708, an act promoting fiscal accountability and transparency in the grant and management of tax incentives which was enacted on December 9, 2015
  • Open High School System Act - Republic Act RA10665, an act establishing and appropriating funds for the open high school system in the Philippines which was enacted on July 9, 2015
  • Graphic Health Warnings Law - Republic Act RA10643, an act prescribing the printing of graphic health warnings on tobacco products which was enacted on November 15, 2014
  • Decriminalizing Premature Marriage - Republic Act RA10655, an act decriminalizing premature marriages which was enacted on March 13, 2015
  • Strengthening the Probation System - Republic Act RA10707, an act rationalizing and strengthening the probation system and amending the “Probation Law of 1976” which enacted on November 26, 2015
  • Election Service Reform Act – Republic Act RA10756, an act rendering election service non-compulsory for public school teachers which was enacted on April 8, 2016

Term as vice president

Amid a productive term in Congress, she was called upon to run for the Vice Presidency, and rose above many odds to assume the second-highest elected post in the country. Determined to bring the Office of the Vice President closer to the people, she led the crafting of its flagship anti-poverty program, Angat Buhay – an endeavor inspired by six key advocacy areas; namely, food security and nutrition, women empowerment, education, healthcare, rural development, and housing. It has reached out to poor communities around the country, through the generosity of partner-organizations and individuals, most of whom are from the private sector. She also launched Istorya ng Pag-asa, a program that aims to spread hope and positivity by featuring extraordinary stories of ordinary Filipinos through words and portraits shown at events, exhibits, and social media.

Soon after her appointment as ICAD co-chair in 2019, VP Leni set out to work in the bid to harmonize government efforts in the anti-illegal drug campaign, meeting with various government agencies, local government units, and private organizations, and other stakeholders. She also visited several communities, including those which were deeply affected by the drug problem. Despite holding the post for only 18 days, VP Leni relentlessly sought to steer the anti-illegal drug campaign to a more holistic, data-driven, and humane approach, believing that the fight against illegal drugs is not only the fight of government, but of every community and every Filipino. She went on to release a report, which detailed the current state of the anti-illegal drug campaign, and the various gaps that need to be filled and proposed solutions to these.

Moving forward to 2020, the Vice President led her office in its initiatives, first to help communities affected by earthquakes in Mindanao and the Taal Volcano unrest in Batangas and nearby areas.

VP Leni continued to exemplify grace and resolve as she and her office stepped up, launching one initiative after another in response to the many needs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite limited resources, the Office of the Vice President launched many initiatives, through the help of many partners and donors, aimed at filling in the gaps found in terms of supporting frontliners and communities in need during this time—from providing PPE sets, locally produced protective suits, and medical supplies to frontliners across all regions of the Philippines; to providing free shuttle service and dormitories for frontliners in Metro Manila; to distributing relief packs, hot meals, and other assistance to communities; helping locally stranded individuals return to their respective provinces; giving market vendors and tricycle drivers a platform to boost their livelihood anew through community marts; giving livelihood opportunities and assistance to individuals, communities, and sectors who lost their jobs and sources of income; providing distance learning support for students, teachers, and their families; promoting mass testing and vaccination efforts; and providing free medical teleconsultation services to patients, among others.

The Vice President and her office remained relentless as Filipinos faced more challenges when Typhoons Quinta, Rolly, and Ulysses barreled across Luzon towards the end of 2020. VP Leni was among the first in government to visit hard-hit areas, including those in the Bicol Region and the provinces of Isabela and Cagayan. Fostering her office’s culture of swift and strategic response, alongside the Filipino Bayanihan spirit, the OVP was able to bring relief assistance to many affected communities and, eventually, also start rehabilitation efforts through the BAHAYanihan housing initiative.

Under VP Leni’s leadership, the OVP has also gone to great lengths to professionalize its ranks and cultivate a culture of excellence there. The office carries a quality management system certification from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO 9001:2015), which it first successfully obtained in 2017. It earned its recertification in 2020, maintaining its streamlined processes amid the COVID-19 crisis. Moreover, the Commission on Audit has given the OVP an unqualified opinion—considered the highest rating from state auditors—for its financial reports in 2018, 2019, and 2020.

Believing in the power of collaboration, and a faith in the people, VP Leni vows to keep working to help her fellow Filipinos, especially those in the fringes of society.

Leni Robredo: Personal life

Leni was married to Jesse Robredo, whom she met while working at the Bicol River Basin Development Program, from 1987 until his death from a plane crash in 2012. The couple has three daughters: Jessica Marie "Aika" Robredo, Janine Patricia "Tricia" Robredo, and Jillian Therese Robredo. Their eldest daughter, Aika, was an executive assistant at the Office of Civil Defense and holds a Master of Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School (which Jesse also received from the same school), while their second eldest, Tricia, is a licensed physician and was a UAAP basketball sideline reporter for National University. Their youngest, Jillian, is currently studying biomolecular science on a scholarship at New York University.

Since May 14, 2017, Robredo hosts her own public service radio program entitled BISErbisyong LENI, aired on DZXL.

Honors and recognition

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

On August 1, 2016, Robredo was awarded the Honorary Outstanding Woman Award of the Year 2016 by the Thai government, coinciding with Thailand's Women's Day. The recognition was given to Robredo for her work and advocacy on women's empowerment and gender equality.

On August 23, 2016, Robredo was awarded the Most Influential Filipina Woman of the World award by Filipina Women's Network (FWN), a non-government organization.

Three universities have conferred Robredo with honorary doctorates:

Polytechnic University of the Philippines (2015, Doctor in Public Administration)

University of Saint Anthony in Iriga, Camarines Sur, her home province (2017, Doctor of Humanities)

University of the Cordilleras (2017, Doctor of Laws).

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