Illustration by Katie Ferreol.

"She's A Woman": How Leni Robredo Breaks Biases in the Philippine Elections

Responding to people who question her competency to run for office due to her gender, presidential candidate Leni Robredo utilizes her femininity to prove that a leader’s success is not gender-specific.

May 9, 2022

“The best man for the job is a woman.”
These notable words were spoken by Philippine presidential candidate Leni Robredo as she gave her closing remarks in the national debates on March 19. Dressed in her signature pink suit and heels, she wore her gender with pride as she stood amongst the male candidates.
Leni Robredo is the sole female contender for president in the May 2022 elections. In her six years as the current vice president, she utilized her position to respond to the pandemic and eliminate corruption present in the political system. One of her most prominent achievements includes the Angat Buhay program, which has mobilized 520 million pesos in resources to address the needs of the country’s poorest communities. She also received the highest Commission on Audit rating for 3 years –– where her office honestly and fairly presented their financial position and had their financial statements in order –– as well as led her team’s two-year Covid-19 response, which drove the launch of antigen testing sites and the introduction of telemedicine programs: this brought forth almost 10,000 Covid-19 care kits to be distributed nationwide.
Vice President Robredo formerly represented the “Dilawan” (liberal party), which garnered massive support. Opponents of the Dilawan Party claim it only provides representation for the upper class and are strong advocates of the Aquinos, who rose to power after removing dictator Ferdinand Marcos from office in 1986. This 2022, however, V.P. Robredo has chosen to run independently, which allows her to mold a new identity that promotes inclusivity amongst political beliefs. If elected, she promises to ensure genuine job security to workers in the public and private sector, as well as allocate more of the nation’s GDP towards resolving the education crisis. However, despite her obvious competence garnering the utmost support from younger generations, many are still questioning Robredo’s abilities — most of these questions are based on her female identity, indicating a shockingly enduring misogynistic mindset in the nation.
Both the competing candidates and their voters — specifically from the federalist party — present her slightest movements and behavior into a liability to convince undecided citizens that she is too “emotional” to run for office because she is a woman. She has fallen victim to political internet bashing, trolls and misinformation, calling her lutang (head in the clouds), lugaw (slow), and loser with no sources, just pure malice. What should be noted is that no other candidate has become a target of such a storm of online hate, because of two reasons: they are not a threat in the polls, and they are “more qualified” — or in layman terms, they are male.
Women in Philippine politics like V.P. Robredo almost 40 years ago have faced similar trials. President Corazon Aquino, the successor to a grueling period of Martial Law, was told by infamous dictator Ferdinand Marcos that she had forfeited her role as a woman by ''challenging the men”, saying women belong in the bedroom. After what was nicknamed the most corrupt snap elections in the Philippines, peaceful protests against electoral fraud led to Marcos’s departure and the appointment of Aquino as the first female president of the Philippines. Though Aquino served as the face of the revolution and ended the corruption of the Marcoses, overtime she was seen to be lacking experience for the role and was unable to handle the country: with this, Leni’s ultimate tie to their party severs the support of multiple citizens. Current female candidates]( even face such political misogyny from their own family: President Rodrigo Duterte admitted that he does not want his own daughter Sara Duterte to run for president, as women are on “different emotional levels” from men and are not fit to run for the role.
Male competitors employ this “emotional and weak” female stereotype to dispute V.P. Robredo’s capabilities and discredit her platform. On April 19, three presidential candidates falling behind in the polls –– Isko Moreno (#3), Ping Lacson (#5) and Norberto Gonzales (last) –– held a conference to announce that they are not dropping out of the race after talks with V.P. Robredo’s campaign team. However, what was meant to be a simple announcement turned into a forceful call for V.P. Robredo to withdraw her candidacy. The almost two hour conference directly negates the three candidates’ claims that “it is not a fight against gender but a fight against character”. Candidate Isko Moreno directly quotes how V.P. Robredo’s motivation to run was only to “defeat [BongBong] Marcos” (Ferdinand Marcos’s son) — yet, he does not critique any of her policies and admits that he and other male candidates hold their tongues in presidential debates because “she is a woman” and that she “might be offended” by their words. Such language is laced with misogyny and exhibits that he and the other candidates do not see her as their equal.
Despite such ill-mannered treatment, V.P. Robredo and her supporters remain unfazed. Instead of taking the backlash sitting down, she utilizes these indications of her hyperfemininity to proclaim that her achievements speak beyond gender. During her campaign, the use of popular feminist media like Taylor Swift’s “The Man” — a song imagining society’s treatment of her if she were a male — has become the theme to the sexist tribulations faced by V.P. Robredo. In addition, powerful female artists have used their social media to show support for a fellow strong, empowered woman: "Goddess of Pop" Cher tweeted her support for V.P. Robredo after being told of her historical significance to the Philippines. Grammy-award winner Ariana Grande reposted a video of a V.P. Robredo rally unanimously singing her 2017 hit “Break Free”, where Filipinos seek to break free from the corruption of political dynasties.
Most importantly, the use of pink, a stereotypically “feminine” color, has become a staple for V.P. Robredo’s campaign. While other candidates resorted to common household colors like green, red and blue, this became such a distinct and genius marketing tactic for V.P. Robredo’s platform––when you see anyone wearing a pink pin, a pink mask or with a pink ribbon tied around their bag, you immediately know who they support. Companies and schools have paraded their support by lighting their buildings in that signature hue. It has become the color of hope for the community, where kulay rosas ang bukas (“the future is colored pink”). It is a visual metaphor that combats patriarchal norms and represents a new future for the Philippines.
By the time of this publication, national voters are beginning to choose their next leaders in office (May 9, 2022). Filipinos are experiencing what could be a historical turning point for the nation. Beyond our role in choosing an honest and compassionate leader, what is needed is to keep the conversation going: not only to reduce prejudice in politics but to ensure honest critique for each candidate that goes beyond gender, no matter who steps up to the title of president in the coming days.
I will leave you with words from Vice President Robredo’s closing statement in the KBP Presidential Candidates Forum: “I am often told I am weak because I'm a woman but I've never shirked from a challenge. I am offering a brand of leadership that is trustworthy, competent, industrious and dependable. You will not be fooled, you will not be robbed, you will never be left behind.”
“In 2022, the last man standing will still be a woman.”
Katie Ferreol is a Staff Writer. Email her at
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