NAGA CITY (MindaNews/29 October) — I met CONGRESSWOMAN “LENI” ROBREDO for the first time in person during Saturday night’s presidential ball of the Philippine Jaycee senate national convention held in Naga City, the heart of Bicolandia. True to what a gentleman from Naga told me earlier that day, she exuded that natural, reserved charm that instantly captivated. When she spoke, her words resonated with tinges of simplicity but with characteristic depth. “Crush ng bayan,” he described her with an impish smile that betrayed his own vulnerability.
That evening, I was called up front to receive a citation and took the opportunity of greeting her while she was seated at the presidential table beside our PRESIDENT HERMIN ARCEO (who was very obviously ‘star struck’ too.) I warmly shook her hand and told her that I was a friend of her late husband, my ‘tokayo”. “What are you doing now,” she asked, perhaps trying to figure out whether she had met me before or not. She nodded and smiled when I told her I was back in the private sector and invited her to come and visit Davao City. Knowing that I was a friend of her late husband, perhaps, was enough. Her sweet easy smile warmed the soul. Her disposition and grace unaffected and spontaneous; her face without make-up, unblemished by the foibles of time.
Even our Davao delegation,(ART & LYN TAN, LOUIE & CHING BONGUYAN, PRESIDENT PERBS BALCHAND, NOEL DUMDUM, TED GARCIA, GARVIN JENG, BABS GUINOO and long-lost stalwart ROMY REYES) all seated in a distant table looked mesmerized as we stared and watched her every move. The crowd glued their eyes on her. Everyone looked captivated indeed.
I was not surprised when right as soon as the program ended, the whole assembly just jumped to its feet, swarmed all around her as she stepped down from the presidential table. That kept her from immediately leaving for another waiting late night appointment. Everyone wanted to have a photo with her to forever freeze for posterity that one brief moment of beholding and being with her in person. Then I remembered what that starry-eyed gentleman from Naga described her earlier to me. Indeed how true! Everyone was simply enthralled. Perhaps it was a mix of enigma and feelings of deep sympathy for her tragic loss that the whole nation joined in grief. But nonetheless.
Her late husband, DILG SEC. JESSE, was a personal friend during the years while I was working at Malacanang. He was then city mayor of Naga City. We intimately called each other “tokayo”. When he passed away during that fateful plane crash, I did not even have the chance to personally condole with the family. But, from a distance in Mindanao, I quietly grieved over such a personal loss, knowing his passion for service and his remarkable simple ways that made him stand out from among the local government officials I knew at the time. In fact, it was only after his death that the whole country woke up and started to know him. It was ironic that it was only in death that his distinctive deeds and ways suddenly and vividly became alive. Too late perhaps but nevertheless.
Then from afar, I watched how his wife LENI grieved in quiet dignity and grace.
When the lady delivered her brief message to the assembly that evening, she spoke of “challenging new boundaries”, she recalled her early days with the Jaycees; she urged everyone to stay the course but never forgetting simple “pats on the back” that kept people going and inspiring them beyond the usual bounds. Although she mentioned about continuing her late husband JESSE’s legacy and intimating that without his death she would not be so suddenly thrust into what she had now become, she was so self-effacing in not even mentioning or admitting that as a lawyer and a private sector worker herself, she had also made her own mark with her own quiet advocacies. Although it was public knowledge that originally hers was a consuming ambition to become a judge, fate intervened that changed her career path. Perhaps, the heavens had a way of making things happen with a purpose.
Today, this same MARIA LEONOR “Leni” ROBREDO, is more than just a Congresswoman of the 3rd district of Camarines Sur.
To irrepressible JCIP Senate President HERMIN ARCEO of Bulacan , in his distinctive Tagalog “ala BALAGTAS”, the lady was a beautiful star that suddenly fell in our midst from the high heavens; an embodiment of the Roman goddess of love and beauty, VENUS and akin to the goddess of great wisdom MINERVA. He was so inspired that copious words came flawless and generous. (My rough translation, I must say, could not totally capture and savor the depth and gallantry of his spoken words.)
To that starry-eyed “Nagaueno” I talked to earlier in the day, she was simply “crush ng bayan”. Everyone’s heartthrob.
To a soaking-wet tricycle driver who pedaled me home, still in my black coat and tie that late night in his tattered bike with a rickety sidecar bringing me to my nearby hotel under a gentle rain, she simply was “Ma’am LENI”. He puffed and pumped while he described her as someone who was plucked from the shadows of her illustrious husband JESSE; someone who unexpectedly trashed and dumped to political ignominy a long-standing political giant by winning 80% of the electoral votes in an unprecedented landslide. To him, “Ma’am LENI” represented “aming pag-asa sa kinabukasan”. His hope for the future.
To me? Please don’t ask. Mine are only fresh impressions from that first and brief exchange with her. And one more thing: like that starry-eyed gentleman from Naga or that star-struck Jaycee Senate President or that lowly tricycle driver, I’m afraid I may also betray my own vulnerability. (LOL)
For Ma’am LENI could very well be the ‘CRUSH NG BANSA”. (The author is the incumbent vice president for Mindanao of the Philippine Jaycee Senate and national president of the Philippine Press Institute. He served in Malacanang in various capacities both former Presidents Fidel Ramos and Gloria Arroyo.)