Jillian Robredo: ‘They’re underestimating my mom’

With Vice President Leni Robredo. ‘The fake news and the bashing? It’s very tiring na.’ Facebook photo

By Cristina DC Pastor

For the first time, Jillian Therese Robredo is voting in a presidential election in May, and in a weird sort of way, her mother is on the ballot!

“Exciting!” she giggled like a little kid.

Now 21, and a senior completing her Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Mathematics from New York University, Jillian is the youngest of three daughters of Vice President Leni Robredo and her late husband Jesse Robredo (former Naga mayor, Interior secretary). She has been largely distanced from the campaign last year because of school and a part-time job. But while in the U.S., she was able to join a “Pink Caravan for Leni” in Central Park. She also went to L.A. and met up with organizers there.

“At least we have a U.S. presence,” she said in all good humor.

On her last winter break, Jillian came home.  She has been helping her two sisters Aika and Tricia who have been with the campaign from the beginning. Eldest Aika is the all-arounder having been by Robredo’s side almost full-time. Middle daughter Tricia is a doctor so she is the contact person for all COVID-related concerns, which is now becoming an important role. Jillian does weekly Zoom podcasts and steps in wherever she is needed. “Hopefully they’ll utilize me more,” she said.

Jillian was 12 when her father died in a plane crash. He was traveling to Naga City where he usually spent his weekends. His body washed up the shores of Masbate.

Jillian spoke softly recalling that fateful day in August 2012:   “Growing up you would think you would lose a parent when you’re in your 40s. Hindi siya parang slow burn na he died because of an illness. It’s all of a sudden. Super gulat talaga ako.”

The family, already a close bunch when Jesse was around, became even more inseparable. Robredo and Jillian who were living in Naga at the time decided to join Aika and Tricia who were studying in Manila. Leni took on both roles as mother and father and the girls saw how she juggled her parental obligations  with devotion and grit. Growing up, Jillian and her sisters made a conscious effort not to give their mom any troubles. They all turned out to be mature, caring and responsible daughters.

The Robredo women. Already close as a family but father’s passing in 2012 made them even closer. Facebook photos

“My life revolved around my family,” she said. “If Mama was coming home early for dinner, sige maaga na rin ako uuwi. We made an effort to be with one another. Kaming apat lang nakakaintindi how heavy it was when my dad passed away.”

More of Jillian’s thoughts in the interview below:

The FilAm: How do you think your life will change when you live in Malacanang?

Jillian Robredo: Hopefully no big changes kung manalo siya. From Congress to VP transition, na-expose talaga kami magkakapatid to a more public life. Ngayong VP si Mama hindi kami nakikialam kung anong ginagawa niya. My Ate Aika is executive director of an NGO, Tricia is a doctor, I go to school. Hiwalay talaga yung work and family. Even after the elections we will be back to our regular personal spaces.

TF: How’s the campaign? Any threats? I cannot imagine a campaign where you cannot shake hands with people.

JR: COVID is a threat. Especially my mom, she goes out a lot, she likes ground level work. Buti na lang there’s Zoom. The second threat is fake news and misinformation. Magkasama yung dalawang iyon. Kami magkakapatid looking at our mom, and all the fake news and the bashers, it’s very tiring na.

TF: What are the polls saying?

JR:  I think the polls have been very interesting so far. Now, she is No. 2. For  us it’s a good sign. Goes to show there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.

The ‘bunso’ is now a college senior at NYU. With late dad Jesse. Instagram photo

TF: Do people in NYU know whose daughter you are?

JR: The Filipinos know but my American classmates are not really aware of what’s happening in Philippine politics except probably my closest friends.

TF: Your mother made a statement there should only be one member of the family in government at a given time. Why did she say that?

JR: My mom is against political dynasties. When she was in Congress she authored a bill banning political dynasties. Before, it was just my dad. He was mayor and she was a practicing lawyer. When he passed away my mom ran for Congress. Now that she’s in politics ayaw niya na parang family business yung politics. But it’s not a family business because you don’t really earn a lot from it.

TF: The idea of living in Malacanang.  Is that exciting to you?

JR: I never really thought about it. We try our best not to let politics affect our personal life. The way I look at it, it’s not like ‘ah we’re moving to a big house.’ It’s more like, ‘it’s part of Mama’s job.’  

TF: There is this perception that your mom, being a woman, may not be able to hold herself against the macho politicians and police and military generals. Are people underestimating her?

JR: Yeah (laughs). In 5-and-a-half years of being VP napakita niya that she’s very capable. Ang dami niya nagawa. If she wins marami pa siya magagawa. In the 2016 campaign, she said ‘the last man standing is a woman.’ Hopefully in May 2022 ganun pa rin mangyari.

TH: Did you ever have a conversation where she told you and your sisters how to behave when she becomes president?

JR: No, never niya kami sinabihan na dapat ganito ka in front of the public or what to say in interviews. Ewan ko kung ganun lang ka grabe yung confidence sa amin ni Mama. Growing up, sanay na kami that our parents were into politics or in the public scene. Parang na-instill na sa amin how to be a good person growing up.

TF: Do you think your mom will be a good president or a great president?

JR: I think she’s the most capable, maybe the only capable candidate. Hindi naman nami tinatago na ayaw namin siya mag-run before she announced.  Isa ako. ‘Mama done na; wag na 2022. Magpahinga ka na lang. Maba-bash ka na naman when you run again. You can help in other ways.’

No candidate reflects much of the values I believe in. Looking at what she has done in the last 5-and-a-half years nakita ko siya magtrabaho sa office or even at home. After dinner magbabasa pa rin siya ng papeles sumasagot pa rin siya ng mga kailangan sagutin. We all deserve a great president.

© The FilAm 2021

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