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Leni Robredo for President: Too Little, Too Late?

As COMELEC closed the curtains on filing one’s Certificate of Candidacy, we continue our Presidentiables series with the biggest enigma of them all: Leni Robredo.

And then there were five.

Vice President Leni Robredo is the fifth major political player to join the race for the Presidency in 2022. After months of speculation, the Bicolana has added her name to the list, which for the sake of this discussion will not include Senator Bato dela Rosa. As of writing, said list consists of Senator Manny Pacquiao, Senator Ping Lacson, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, and former Senator Bongbong Marcos.

But why a certain cloud of mystery, or unusual buzz over this late announcement from VP Leni? It seems as if just when her stars aligned, other constellations shone brighter in the political heavens.

Let’s discuss.

Of timing and sincerity

Political pundits convinced that Davao Mayor Sara Duterte will still be running for President claim her strategy to be simple: shield her from attacks for as long as possible.

If you’re Leni Robredo, such reality only exists in an alternate universe. You find yourself on the receiving end of attacks on a daily basis. And yet, she waited. Almost until the last minute. She took the jabs to the chin, and still made the most predictable move.

The official press release is that she had been busy trying to form a “United Opposition” composed of her now-opponents sans Marcos. But the events of early August 2021 merit review, as talks between her and the Lacson-Sotto camp fell apart.

Remember, it was her who rejected Lacson’s proposal of a United Opposition strategy. Robredo cited that she did not want to “lead on” her supporters, but the meeting’s aftermath still left some political insiders scratching their heads.

Fast forward a month or so and word got out that talks between Robredo and Pacquiao finally picked up, as well as separate talks with Manila’s Moreno. Unlike Lacson, both aspirants were faring much better than the Vice President in surveys. She had no bargaining power whatsoever. Expectedly, talks of unification faltered.

Fighting in clusters

As the clouds parted for VP Leni’s plans, skies also cleared over broad alliances in the horizon. One of which was Lacson and Sotto’s parties (Reporma and NPC, respectively) coalescing with Ronnie Puno’s NUP and Jojo Binay’s UNA. Binay will be running for Senator under the ticket, along with Former Agriculture Sec. Manny Piñol, among others.

Moreno, too, enjoyed a superstar-laden show of support as he unveiled social media darling Doc Willie Ong as his Vice Presidential running mate. His first wave of political allies included the Rectos of Batangas, and Former Senator Serge Osmeña III repping Central Visayas. In a shocking move, 18-year Liberal Party stalwart Edgar Erice also shifted to Moreno’s Aksyon Demokratiko, abandoning the Yellows.

As Leni Robredo announced her candidacy, Moreno was swearing in no less than Former Vice President Noli de Castro to his party, who was set to join his Senate ticket.

Senator Pacquiao pulled his own surprise, kicking off filing week with House Deputy Speaker Lito Atienza as his VP.

The administration and ruling party PDP-Laban were also not without their own headlines. President Duterte himself made appearances at Sofitel to raise the hands of big-name allies such as DPWH Secretary Mark Villar and actor Robin Padilla joining the Senate race.

So down the road, Robredo may realize that she may have had a strong chance at being part of a broad coalition had she accepted Lacson’s offer. Who knows, maybe the Pacquiao and Moreno discussions would’ve changed temperature. This will simply go down as one of the big what-ifs of Philippine political history.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards,” as Steve Jobs said.

New color, same team

So to no one’s surprise, the social media rally started, about 48 hours prior to Robredo’s announcement. Twitter parties, hashtag campaigns, profile picture frames, you name it. Leni’s supporters flooded social media with 50 shades of pink.

According to her, they did not plan the color. But really, who believes that?

It was the most bizarre of rebrands. A wash-over on the Liberal Party’s decades-old yellow theme (they even kept the ribbon).

Robredo will be running as an Independent, but she still remains as LP Chair. Her running mate? Senator Kiko Pangilinan, LP President. Her campaign managers? Bam Aquino and Frank Drilon. Even her strange political bedfellow Former Senator Sonny Trillanes is running as Senator under, you guessed it, the Liberal Party.

Lack of consistency, impact

Alas, we are presented with a mind-boggling campaign. The woman who on multiple occasions, had denied having any ambition whatsoever on becoming President, has taken up the mantle.

With the media’s help, she can’t seem to shake off the accusation that she’s only running to keep another Marcos from taking the Palace. Her message of change, harping on mismanagement of the pandemic, simply parroting Lacson, Pacquiao, and Moreno. So it falls flat, specially on mass appeal. Not the push one would want with dismal survey numbers.

So many people admire Robredo. Much of it is rooted in her husband, Jesse, who’s practically revered in political circles. But what may have happened here, is that the Vice President fell into the trap laid by those around her. You see, whatever she had imagined in terms of broadening alliances, may have never been in the plans of those who now stand to gain from running with her.

Simply put, is she getting what she really wants? What does Leni Robredo stand for?

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