At a recent Rotary Club of Manila forum, Vice President Leni Robredo was asked questions by BizNewsAsia Publisher Tony Lopez about jobs, her chances of winning, and her kind of presidency. Excerpts:
About 30 million of our voters do not have a job. They want their jobs right now. What can you offer them Ma’am aside from palliatives and slogans?
LR: It is it is very difficult to over-promise. But one thing that will bring jobs back is to make sure that the pandemic is under control. I have never subscribed to the false dichotomy of health versus the economy.
For me, for us to be able to open our economy again, we have to control the virus first. We have to control the transmission first. It will be very difficult to say that I know that we have to live with a virus but it is a different thing to live with them and not controlling them. So that will be the first. The first really is how can we effectively control the virus so that we can successfully open the economy already.
Second is the confidence you know even before the pandemic happened we already had problems with foreign direct investments. We were already failing in that particular aspect.
Confidence is one of the reasons why we’re not doing very well as far as attracting foreign investments are concerned. And there is a lot to be desired as far as you know gaining the confidence back so that foreign direct investments will once again flourish in the country.
That’s as far as bringing in investments as far as our local economy is concerned. We all know for a fact that a large swath of our businesses are MSMEs. A lot of them closed shop during the pandemic and that is equivalent to a lot of jobs lost.
So one of the things I’ve been pushing since last year was not just offering low-interest loans to our MSMEs but really providing for a stimulus package for the meaning to say conditional grants for our MSMEs so that they will be in a better position to open up again. Provide jobs for those who became unemployed during the pandemic. But you know everything else is policy and how government inspires confidence and to inspire confidence you know we have to make sure that corruption is in check.
We have to make sure that we are offering our businesses a level playing field and we have to make sure that opportunities are fair and are equal as far as businesses are concerned so it’s a whole lot of many different moving parts.
You don’t cite numbers of how many jobs you’re going to create in the first six months.
Sir as I have said earlier, I do not want to over-promise. I just can’t promise the number of jobs without really understanding what is the exact plane that we are taking off from.
I don’t have enough data to say that you know we have this much money to infuse in this particular activity. As I have said it’s many different moving parts and you know one thing I can promise is I will make sure that my administration will inspire confidence as far as another business sector is concerned.
Can you cite some fundamentals and demographics why you will win the presidency?
I never really intended to run. I felt like I did not have enough resources. You know the last five and a half years have been very difficult for me. Our party has been decimated. We have not had the opportunity to really deal with many different areas which can strengthen my political reach.
I was very practical. I had wanted to go back to my province to run for a local post so I was not really planning on running for the presidency. If you look at my numbers, they were not very encouraging and we expected that.
I have been at the receiving end of a lot of disinformation, a lot of fake news. It was like having undergone hazing in the last five and half years.
I was active in trying to do unification talks because I felt it would have been the best opportunity, the best solution for anti-administration forces to have a fighting chance in these elections.
I’ve been to a lot of unification talks. I had non-negotiables. When the unification talks collapsed…at the last minute, I decided to run.
Having a very difficult fight is not something that’s new to me. When I ran for Congress in 2013 I was running against a well-entrenched political dynasty in my province, I had no chance to win at all.
Out of 8 LGUs, only one mayor supported me. My win in 2013 gave me the strength to say yes to the vice presidency run. For vice president, I started at 1%. I was No. 6 of six candidates.
When I was at 1%, the front runner then was at 40%. I used the same kind of campaign that I did in 2013, and that was really going out of my way to reach as many people as possible.
When the official campaign period started, I was already third place. After the first debate, I was at second place, and then in last two weeks of the campaign I was already in the first place.
I do understand that the 2022 elections are different. It’s different because it’s for the presidency.
It’s different because I don’t have a political party anymore which can provide a vast machinery. It’s really a big gamble.
I would have to be very honest with you that during the announcement last Thursday we did not expect the kind of reception that we have been getting now.
Meaning to say, we knew that my supporters would be happy with the decision but what we were not prepared for was the deluge of volunteers that we are now getting. So even if my numbers are still low now everything is upbeat the momentum is there.
There is absolutely no guarantee that we will make it during the elections but if we fight smart, if we will be able to put up a really honest campaign, I am very hopeful about it.
How different a president would you be. Our women presidents had really a bad time. They were faced with coups, economic crisis, destabilization, and a military that lacked discipline. How will you contain them?
This is a very extraordinary time in our history. We’re in the middle of the pandemic so my presidency will be very different from the previous presidencies in the sense that I will be assuming the office in the middle of a terrible crisis that we are in.
So the focus of everything will be really controlling the disease. It will be a whole-of -government approach. One of the things that we will look into is how the budget can be realigned to make it more pandemic-focused.
No. 2, I will be giving a lot of effort into fixing the bureaucracy and strengthening the Institutions. This is a very different time in the history of our country. In a sense, it’s like 1986.
There are a lot of institutions to be fixed. In the last five and a half years, we have seen the weakening of institutions. So a lot of focus will be on that.
On governance, on fixing our kind of politics. I see a fixing, the—strengthening of our electoral laws (and) making sure that all the systems that will make corruption very difficult.
A lot of focus will be poured into making sure that whatever little budget—whatever little money we have will be judiciously and prudently used for what we need now.
In relation to the other two women presidents (Cory Aquino and Gloria Arroyo), I feel that decisiveness does not have anything to do with gender.
An efficient government is a government that gets the job done. And that is exactly what we have shown at the OVP.
We have seen decisiveness from many women leaders all over the world as they take the lead in the front lines against this pandemic.
We see very effective women leaders in New Zealand. We see President Tsai Ing-Wen of Taiwan, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. All of them are being recognized for the effectiveness of their leadership.
In the time of COVID, they are rising to the occasion, finding ways around obstacles, and quickly adapting to the crisis. They are finding ways to implement policies and communicate vital information about the virus.
Their collaborative, empathetic leadership has (carried) them through the entire pandemic.
It is easy to equate being a strong and decisive leader with brashness and aggression, with a loud domineering style of leadership. But for me, that kind of leadership more often than not disempowers and frightens others into silence.
This should not be the case. Being a strong and decisive leader means nurturing and empowering others to become the best version of themselves.
It means channeling strength without bluster, in a manner that is fair yet dignified and compassionate empathetic and thrives quietly yet decisively amid adversity.
We were able to showcase that (during) the five and a half years that I was vice president.