Not all rosy between husband Jesse and President Aquino, admits Leni
When her husband Jesse was still alive, Liberal Party (LP) vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo repeatedly pressed him to quit President Benigno Aquino III’s Cabinet.
Jesse Robredo, ex-Naga City mayor and Ramon Magsaysay awardee, was at the time the interior and local government secretary.
“I’m willing to admit there were many times during Jesse’s incumbency that I told him ‘just let go already,’” Leni revealed to the Inquirer in an interview last week.
Days before the August 2012 plane crash in the waters of Masbate, Jesse had talked to his wife about the precariousness of his position.
“That was the Sunday before the plane crash,” Leni, now the representative from Camarines Sur and LP candidate for vice president alongside standard-bearer Mar Roxas, said.
“I was driving him to the airport, and he said, ‘hindi ko alam kung may patutunguhan pa ba ito’ (I don’t know if this is heading anywhere),” she remembered him saying in a defeated tone. He was flying to Cebu to make a series of appearances on President Aquino’s behalf.
In those days, Jesse’s “feeling was that he could be sacked at any time,” Leni said in the interview.
The President at the time was rumored to be dissatisfied with Jesse’s performance in the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). Politicians were lobbying to have him replaced. His confirmation in the Commission on Appointments had stalled multiple times.
Friends and relatives were advising Jesse to quit, Leni said, especially after the Manila bus hostage crisis in 2010 when it came out that the President had stripped Jesse of his supervisory powers over the police force in favor of Mr. Aquino’s shooting buddy Rico Puno, then an interior undersecretary.
At one point, Leni recalled, Jesse told her “being mayor is better—because you have more immediate results.”
“He wasn’t sure he was staying on,” Leni said. “We weren’t sure he was staying on. That’s the reason we couldn’t move to Manila. We thought that if we settled in Manila, what if he suddenly got fired?”
But Jesse hung on. “He told us (his family) that whatever limited power he had, even when he had no control over the police, there was still an opportunity to make a difference,” Leni said.
“That had a huge impact on me,” she said. “To me that’s selflessness. To others, they would read it as a lack of confidence in him [by the President].”
But she said her husband did not resent the President for keeping him on tenterhooks. “You’re uncertain, and you’re unhappy because you’re uncertain … but he never took it against the President,” she said.
In fact, Leni said, Jesse was “like a kid” whenever Mr. Aquino praised him, showing her his text messages. “Remember he was mayor for six terms, but all of a sudden, he was answerable to somebody,” she said.
“He wasn’t absolutely happy that he was not able to recover from the stumble, but at the same time he had no hurt feelings. I think he felt more fulfilled when he had the chance to make changes in local government. He still got to accomplish many things,” Leni added.
After Jesse’s death on Aug. 18, 2012, the narrative of his stint at the DILG changed.
President Aquino embraced him as an exemplary public servant who made important changes in local governments through his full disclosure and good housekeeping policies.
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