Widow of respected minister to run for V-P

Philippine President Benigno Aquino (centre) at a rally yesterday flanked by Mr Manuel Roxas and Ms Leni Robredo, the Liberal Party's candidates for president and vice-president, respectively, at next year's election.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino (centre) at a rally yesterday flanked by Mr Manuel Roxas and Ms Leni Robredo, the Liberal Party's candidates for president and vice-president, respectively, at next year's election.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Philippine presidential race gathers pace with Leni Robredo entering the fray

President Benigno Aquino's ruling Liberal Party has drafted the widow of a widely respected civil servant as running mate to former interior minister Manuel "Mar" Roxas in next year's presidential race.

"I am offering myself completely, especially to those in cheap flip- flops outside, below and along the fringes of society," Congress member Leni Robredo, 51, told thousands of supporters at a rally yesterday.

The flip-flop reference aimed to invoke the memory of her late husband, former interior minister Jesse Robredo, who died in a plane crash on Aug 18, 2012.

Mr Robredo had been known to walk around in cheap flip-flops when he was mayor of Naga city, 270km south of the capital Manila.

On the strength of her husband's reputation, Ms Robredo, a lawyer and economist, was elected to Congress in May 2013, defeating the patriarch of a powerful political clan.

ONE WITH THE PEOPLE

I am offering myself completely, especially to those in cheap flip- flops outside, below and along the fringes of society.

CONGRESS MEMBER LENI ROBREDO

She has since been cultivating the same reputation for frugality and simplicity as her husband. She still takes the eight-hour bus ride from Manila to Naga, and eschews red-carpet events.

Ms Robredo had been reluctant to run as vice-president. She had earlier said she dreaded dragging her three young daughters into the "vicious" muck-raking of politics.

But Mr Aquino, 55, persisted in trying to change her mind in a bid to shore up the campaign of his personal pick to succeed him - 58-year-old Mr Roxas.

Political analysts said the Liberal Party had persevered in drafting Ms Robredo to blunt the appeal to women of the current front-runner, Senator Grace Poe, 48, and split votes in the bailiwick of Ms Poe's running mate, Senator Salvador Escudero, 45.

Naga, which Ms Robredo represents in the House of Representatives, and Mr Escudero's Sorsogon province are both in the Philippines' Bicol region, home to more than three million voters.

"Being a Bicolana and a woman, she will be competing with both Poe's and Escudero's niche constituencies," said political science professor Richard Javad Heydarian at De La Salle University.

Ms Robredo trails Mr Escudero and most other candidates, with only a 3 per cent rating in the latest public opinion polls, putting her in 10th place. But Liberal Party stalwarts expect her numbers to soar, now that she has officially thrown her hat into the ring.

Mr Aquino has likened Ms Robredo to his mother, the late democracy icon Corazon Aquino. "They both lost their husbands. They had been housewives, before circumstances forced them to lead," he said.

The vice-presidential race looks set to continue heating up as the son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos announced yesterday that he would also run for the job - the biggest step in a remarkable political comeback for his once-exiled family.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr, popularly known as "Bongbong", said he had decided to run, but did not mention his father, who ruled the Philippines for two decades until 1986.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2015, with the headline 'Widow of respected minister to run for V-P'. Print Edition | Subscribe