Leaving a legacy: How Leni Robredo navigated the vice presidency and sparked a new movement

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines)— When Angela* tested positive for COVID-19 early this year, quarantine proved to be a challenge as the days passed by.

Just like many Filipinos who caught the virus, she spent time for recovery holed up in her apartment. She called her friends and loved ones to bring supplies, but mostly fended for herself.

“It was hard battling COVID alone,” Angela, who works in the banking industry, told CNN Philippines. “I had to cook for myself and take care of myself even with a high temperature because I had no choice.”

Angela took some weight off her shoulders when she availed of a free swab testing service near her place — one put up by the Office of the Vice President (OVP).

“It was fast and free service. I did not have to book to avail. I just went there and lined up,” she said.

The Swab Cab was one of the services offered under the COVID-19 response program of outgoing Vice President Leni Robredo, who focused on the pandemic and poverty during her six-year term.

As Robredo prepares to hand over the reins to her successor, we take a look at how she navigated the vice presidency — working past her mandate and sparking a new movement for supporters.

Not just a spare tire

Talks about the vice president only being a “spare tire" and waiting for the president to step down have been a focal point of discussion and election debates. But Robredo gave the post a whole lot of meaning, supporters and allies have said.

“As vice president, although she was not a Cabinet secretary, she showed to us citizens that the vice president, unlike the connotation which others believe, is (not) merely a spare tire. With a limited budget, she was able to undergo small projects from the neglected parts of our country,” said National Unity Party president Elpidio Barzaga, who backed Robredo’s presidential bid in 2022.

Robredo earned a Cabinet post as Housing secretary in the early days of the Duterte administration, but resigned after being barred from attending meetings. Since then, she had focused on implementing her own programs.

She launched a comprehensive pandemic response program that offered a range of services, including free teleconsultation, vaccination, and transportation for frontliners.

The OVP also rolled out its flagship anti-poverty initiative “Angat Buhay.” The project reached 622,000 marginalized Filipino families nationwide, with bulk of the ₱520 million funding coming from private sector donations, the OVP said in January.

Robredo also led several relief operations, including for typhoon-struck areas.

OVP recognitions

Under Robredo’s watch, the OVP received the highest audit rating from the Commission on Audit for three straight years.

State auditors awarded her office an "unqualified opinion" rating for fairly presenting its financial report for fiscal year 2020.

In 2021, the OVP also received the PRIME-HRM Level II Accreditation for Meritocracy and Excellence in Human Resource Management from the Civil Service Commission as well as the Government Best Practice Recognition from the Development Academy of the Philippines for the OVP’s COVID-19 response.

The OVP also received a recertification from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Failed presidential bid, birth of a movement

In light of her office’s accomplishments despite limited resources, supporters encouraged Robredo to give the presidency a try. In October 2021, she answered their call.

She accepted the challenge to go up against Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., whom she defeated in the 2016 vice presidential race by 263,473 votes. “Lalaban tayo (We will fight)” was her battle cry then.

RELATED: 2016 vs 2022: Why Robredo changed mind to run for president 

But the tables were turned when the polls came in May. Marcos clinched the presidency in landslide fashion, garnering over 31 million votes. Robredo came in far second with more than 15 million votes.

Despite her failed bid, Robredo urged her supporters not to give up. She vowed that “nothing was wasted” during the campaign.

“Hindi tayo nabigo. Pinakamahalaga, hindi pa tayo tapos, nagsisimula pa lang tayo. May nasimulan tayong hindi pa kailanman nasasaksihan sa buong kasaysayan ng bansa: isang kampanyang pinamunuan ng taong bayan,” she said after the initial results came out.

[Translation: We did not fail. Most importantly, we are not yet done, we are just starting. We started something that was never witnessed before in the country's entire history: a campaign led by people.]

In an earlier interview with CNN Philippines, Robredo’s spokesperson Barry Gutierrez said that their camp sees "a new political movement" emerging among Filipinos under the new administration.

"The volunteer engagement, the citizen participation, the thirst for new politics, and something better in our political system is something that will persist beyond these elections,” he said.

What’s next for Robredo?

Robredo’s camp earlier announced the July launch of non-government organization Angat Buhay, which is patterned after the OVP’s program. This will be the “widest” volunteer center in the country, she had said.

READ: Robredo: Angat Buhay NGO still being set up, warns public vs solicitations

The outgoing vice president also met with the camp of her successor, Sara Duterte, to ensure smooth transition of duties.

As Robredo’s term comes to a close, her supporters, including those who benefitted from her office’s initiatives, could only hope for one thing.

“I hope the next VP will continue the legacy of Leni Robredo,” Angela said.

*name was changed per request of the interviewee.