The fight of Leni Robredo to win the vice-presidency is very difficult. But now, she is in a position to win.
When Leni launched her campaign, voters’ awareness of her was very low. On the other hand, her rivals like Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. and Chiz Escudero have had name recall.

Although her political party is rich in resources, she herself has limited pecuniary means. She has to rely on the support of nameless, common people to sustain her campaign. At the start, even big donors were reluctant to finance her candidacy because they thought she had slim chances of winning.

On the other hand, her opponents have a loot to spend. Her rivals have access to billions in ill-gotten wealth or to the money of the shady cronies of Marcos, Sr.

Moreover, her being a running mate of a presidential candidate who is unpopular and her being part of a political party that, like others, is a collection of trapos, make her vulnerable to being criticized by righteous crusaders.

I have read posts on the Internet criticizing Leni, precisely arising from her predicament of being affiliated with a party of trapos. One criticism says that Leni is hypocritical for being with an administration that “has done nothing for farmers.” (The context of the criticism pertains to the demand of farmers for rice and the violent dispersal of their protest action in Kidapawan.)

The criticism is wrong.

Leni has condemned the violent dispersal of the Kidapawan protestors. She said: “Heads must roll in Kidapawan incident.” In particular, she called for the relief of the top police officials of the province from their posts “so they cannot influence the investigation.”

And with all candor, she asked: “Bakit kailangang may patayan? Bakit kailangang may barilan?…Ang pinakabuod ng problema, marami na tayong kababayan sa Mindanao na naghihirap because of the drought.”

True, the administration has shockingly obfuscated the Kidipawan issue. True, the administration has performed badly in agriculture.

The average growth rate of the agriculture sector from 2010 to 2015 is about 1.5% (figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority), in spite of the PNoy’s Department of Agriculture having a budget three times bigger than the Gloria Arroyo administration’s budget for the same agency. (Arroyo’s performance in agriculture was likewise dismal, with agriculture growth rate just above two percent during her entire term). Undoubtedly, climate change has affected agriculture performance, but it cannot be an excuse for the still poor performance in agriculture, especially taking into consideration that huge resources have been allocated to Proceso Alcala’s department.

But to call Leni hypocritical for her pro-farmer statement despite being with an administration that has failed the farmers is absurd reductionism.

The views and sentiments of Leni on the rights and welfare of farmers and on agrarian reform have been consistent throughout her life.

Before she got involved in parliamentary politics, she worked with non-governmental organizations, and she directed an alternative lawyering, paralegal group that organized and empowered the poor farmers and fisherfolk. She dined with the poor, slept with them. She was with them on small bancas sailing in the sea or riding habal habal on rugged roads.

In Congress, she advocated genuine agrarian reform, taking up the cudgels for the different organizations of farmers or peasants. In fact, her support for agrarian reform upset some of her colleagues in the Liberal Party, those belonging to the bloc of big landlords from the Visayas.

Which leads me to discussing the challenge faced by principled politicians who have to be part of the reactionary system to change it. Such principled men and women — think of Ka Pepe Diokno, the Tañadas and Leni — know that their principles have to contend with the pragmatism of Philippine politics.

Yet, Ka Pepe and the Tañadas (the patriarch, son, and grandsons) joined what were essentially reactionary, pro-establishment parties so they could have a vehicle to advance their reforms. More, they inspired the formation of a progressive wing on either the Nacionalista Party or the Liberal Party.

Undeniably, in spite of being generally a party of trapos, the Liberal Party has a small progressive wing, represented by Leni, the Abads, and a few others.

In many ways, Leni reminds me of Ka Pepe Diokno. Like Ka Pepe, Leni is progressive but not ideologically rigid. Like Ka Pepe, Leni is pro-people and pro-human rights. Like Ka Pepe, Leni is morally virtuous but at the same time politically practical. Like Ka Pepe, Leni recognizes that compromises or opting for and doing the “second best” are unavoidable in some contexts.

Here’s a story that again tells of the same virtues of Ka Pepe and Leni. Remember the “Mendiola massacre” in January 1987? It was eerily similar to the Kidapawan incident. Military gunfire killed farmers. The military and their apologists accused the communists of provoking the violence.

Ka Pepe Diokno was then the head of Cory Aquino’s Presidential Committee on Human Rights and was likewise the chair of the government panel in the peace talks with the Reds. Wrote Butch Dalisay in Jose W. Diokno: The Scholar Warrior (25 February 2011):

“In deep disgust and even greater sadness, Jose W. Diokno resigned from his two positions. ‘It was the only time we saw him near tears,’ [daughter] Maris says.”

In other words, honorable politicians are not afraid to criticize their friend or ally.

Ka Pepe said (which Dalisay quoted in his essay): “Above all, we can strengthen the President by pointing out what she is doing that is wrong. I think we weaken her if we support everything she does even when we do not agree with that she is doing. Yes, men are not compatible with democracy. People expect our President and public officials to make mistakes — but of course, to correct them as soon as they are convinced that they have erred. How can they know they have erred, if we do not tell them so?”

And that, Leni has done.

Leni is the embodiment of Ka Pepe Diokno in the 21st century. Ka Pepe was the President we never had. Leni will become our vice-president; vote for her. And she will become a future President. Leni’s victory will also affirm the greatness of statesmen known for moral virtues like Ka Pepe Diokno and Ka Tanny Tañada.

Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.