I HAVE never liked regional stereotypes. They objectify people and turn them into predictable cultural zombies.
I hate stereotypes, more so if the one that you have to live with is one that turns your mother and sisters into she-devils. This is how Bicolanas have been stereotyped. In fact, there is one town in Albay province where men are stereotyped to be destined for the priesthood, while women are fated to be what is now termed as guest relations officers, or GROs.
I find it offensive when two Bicolanas have been seen as stereotypical of my mother who is everything that these two women are not, by millions of miles.
Leila de Lima. Leni Robredo. Two Bicolanas that we should in fact be proud of. One is a senator, only the second from our region, after Tecla San Andres-Ziga. The other is supposed to be the Vice President, a first. Leila is from Iriga City, and Leni has roots inSorsogon, but is now a resident of Naga City.
The Bicol region is the home of the most perfect-coned, active volcano. It has the smallest edible fish in the world, even as its social and natural landscapes have been honed and shaped by storms and volcanic eruptions to become home to a resilient people and a fertile land.
It is therefore unsettling that Bicol’s supposed pride, Leila and Leni, have found themselves in the eye of their own political storms.
Both are being hounded by political controversy, mostly by their own un-doings.
Leila de Lima, a confessed ex-mistress of a married man who happens to be her former driver-bodyguard, is now in the eye of an investigation in both houses of Congress. Her salacious relationship has become the canvas on which allegations of influence peddling and drug collections to finance her senatorial run are being painted. All the fingers of men tainted by accusations of involvement in the illegal drug trade are pointing to her.
Leni Robredo, the widow of a popular icon, is herself in the midst of a political storm. The legacy of good governance that her husband Jesse Robredoleft behind has been tainted by her perceived ineptness in handling the job given her by the President as Chair of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC). For five months, she was perceived as a non-performer. She has spent more time traveling, posing for magazine covers, and contradicting the positions of the man for whom she should be acting as an alter ego. And for this, she was constructively dismissed by the President.
Leila and Leni are now being painted as victims by many, as women being bullied by flawed, lecherous, powerful men.
Male members of the House of Representatives are accused of turning Leila’s sexual proclivities into public perversions of the kind deserving an intensity equivalent to typhoon signal number 5. The President himself has been accused of acting inappropriately by making fun not only of Leila’s alleged sex video tapes, but even of Leni’s knees Leila retaliated by hauling the President to court on a petition designed to gag him from further exposing her secrets. Leni, on the other hand, reprimanded the President, saying his remarks were tasteless and his conduct unbecoming of a gentleman.
But these two women are far from the innocent victims that many would like to imagine them.
Leila de Lima is not a victim. Her theatrics and hysterics could not negate the fact that her having a relationship with her driver who was her subordinatecould be construed as sexual harassment. Furthermore, she simply does not have the prudence and delicadeza to inhibit from the Senate hearings where she is implicated as a party, and instead confronted witnesses in a shameless attempt toward self-exoneration.
Leni Robredo is not a victim either. She would like to paint herself as one, but her palpable self-serving posturing and tendency towards image-making, from having her photos taken while waiting for a bus, to making a big thing in taking that bus, to sharing a private text message to win sympathy, to having her digitally altered pictures gracing the cover of magazines,indict her as being all form and dramabut lacking in substance.
Bicolanos should have been proud of Leila and Leni. But many Bicolanos aren’t.
Maybe it is because these two are perceived, rightly or wrongly, to embody the worst of how our women have been stereotyped–ambitious, aggressive, lusting not only for power but for the pleasures of the flesh, opportunistic. This has led quite a few Bicolanas to express their discomfort at having these two women represent them.
If there is one final commonality between Leila and Leni that is just too embarrassing for any Bicolano, it is the fact that both are also respondents to electoral protests, with allegations that both may have benefited from electoral fraud. If proven, and both are removed from office, then it would be such a shame to bear for a region that has survived storms and volcanic eruptions.