IT was off-putting seeing Congresswoman Leni Robredo speaking on Tina Monzon-Palma’s Talkback on the ABS-CBN News Channel, which is not a judgment on what she was saying, which all sounded good. Save for her belief in the conditional cash-transfer program and the Budget Department’s bottom-up budgeting, Robredo proved her mettle in handling women rights and protection issues, not just by knowing the law, but by actually speaking to women on the ground, and knowing the kinds of lives they live.
It is the kind of discomfort I have with hearing and seeing Senator Grace Poe speaking about the issues of the day, no matter that she is newbie senator who is echoing much of what her colleagues are saying. For whatever reason, one finds that it is Senator Poe who is the darling of the media, at least as far as giving her the mileage she wants / needs for whatever reason.
One can’t help but be suspicious of the politicians that media give their precious time to. After all, one can imagine who it is they are refusing to speak to or about, by giving the next politico-of-choice airtime.
It was a surprise that Senator Poe had led that 2013 race for senator, especially for someone who ran as an independent—which is to say that in the beginning of the campaign her name and face appeared on both the Liberal Party and UNA slates.
Then again, in a country where Erap ranked second for the presidency in 2010, a Poe win is no surprise.
After all, she is the daughter of Fernando Poe Jr., the only other legendary icon relative to Erap himself. That FPJ died after losing (being cheated?) in the 2004 elections was enough reason for Grace to get the sympathy of the people. That sympathy translated to votes is not only Grace’s feat, as it is PNoy’s himself.
Which does bring me to the question of when. When will Grace cease to be her father’s daughter, her colleague’s trainee, the senatorial neophyte that is to be given the floor? Throughout the time that she was on nationwide TV as chair of the Senate hearings on the Mamasapano tragedy, there was nary an instance where I thought she put her foot down and spoke like a senator. In fact every time she needed to assert her position of power over the other male and/or older senators there was a tendency for her to sound like a little girl, making a request and not asserting her leadership over them all.
And then there is this: you hear her speaking of him too often. Of Fernando Poe I mean, invoking his name and saying, “Ako at ang aking ama …” or “Natutunan ko ito sa aking ama …” where she already has almost two years in the Senate and should be starting to prove herself independent of her father. One who, by the way, did not serve the public in any way as a government official, and whose contributions to nation – while formidable – are bound to culture and not public service.
Measure Grace Poe beyond the riding-the-MRT-stunts and the soundbites, and one cannot quite place where she stands on anything distinct and separate from the people she is loyal to. The Mamasapano tragedy reveals this to be true about her as well. After promising that there would be no cover-ups, it does look like the Senate itself was merely the public performance of an investigation and not exactly the source of truth about this military police operation gone wrong.
It reveals just how little control she has over fulfilling the promises she makes, yes? And the more one hears the soundbites, the more one wonders who’s in control of Poe, and when she will truly declare independence.
Leni without the trappings
It was refreshing watching Congresswoman Robredo speaking on TV about the state of being woman in this country. She spoke about how being woman actually helps with the work she does, and how the women in her district actively work for the empowerment of women. She talked about how the law seems to generally discriminate against women, and allows men to get away with things women wouldn’t be allowed to get away with.
She talked about political dynasties as both a “personal issue and long-time advocacy” because she comes from a province ruled by it. Robredo asserts that towns become more progressive when citizens know they have equal opportunity to get their turn in public office.
She spoke about the Gender and Development (GAD) budget, which is 5% of the budget of every government office, and how this does not go to actual projects that benefit women.
It took me a while to figure out why it was off-putting watching Robredo. Certainly it wasn’t what she was saying, because much of it was actually refreshing to hear. It can’t have been the way she looked, because she looked far simpler and more comfortable in her own skin than any other female politician we see on TV.
And then I realized: it was how often she invoked her husband’s name. How often she said “Ang asawa ko …” or “Ako at ang asawa ko …” or how she’d use “we” instead of “I.”
It might have been second nature, in fact she might not have known she was doing it. And for sure it is forgivable. But it would be great if she were more conscious of it, and if she started speaking as her own woman, beyond the shadow of her husband. For sure her husband was a fantastic public servant who did politics differently. But the best way to invoke him is to actually be as great – if not greater – than he was.
That includes maybe being a bit more critical of this government and its status quo. I get how Robredo might imagine CCT to be a great thing because it worked for her district, but the pitfalls of this project are also well documented. It might be the right time to take a step back from the district and see the bigger picture of nation. And take a stand for that.
Then, she would be a woman to beat in 2016.