Upper left photo: Vice President Leni Robredo delivers the keynote message at the 12th NaFFAA Empowerment Conference in Pennsylvania on Aug. 6. Upper right photo: Consul General Mario L. de Leon, Jr. introduces the Vice President to the audience. Lower photo: Robredo (center) together with (from left) Dr. Aida Rivera, Chairman, NaFFAA Host Committee; Eleanor de Leon; Consul General de Leon; and Atty. J.T. Mallonga, NaFFAA National Chair. Below: Robredo addressing the Fil-Am media.  (Photos by Boyet Loverita)

Contributed to the Filipino Reporter

The Vice President of the Philippines, Maria Leonor Gerona Robredo, began her first press conference on her first official visit to the U.S. at the Radisson Hotel Valley Forge in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania on Aug. 6 by thanking the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) for inviting her.

According to her: “I received the invitation even before I was elected. The outgoing NaFFAA President, J.T. Mallonga, told me that, win or lose, they want me to honor them with my presence at their National Empowerment Convention. I guess he was so sure that I was going to win. So here I am!”

Dressed in a printed red business suit, the youthful Vice President disarmed her audience with her candor and honesty, stating that she was grateful for the opportunity to be able to thank Filipino-Americans personally for their support.

“I won big in North America, thanks to you. I hope I can return the favor by being of service to you and to our country. So much has to be done. We have six years to do it. I hope to implement changes except in myself. At the end of those six years, I hope I will still be the same person.”

As everyone knows, President Rodrigo Duterte initially refused to give her an official appointment, so she came up with her own core advocacies: hunger and food, public health, education, rural development, and women empowerment.

When the President relented and reconsidered his initial statement, he appointed her head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council to coordinate the efforts of six shelter agencies, so that became her sixth advocacy.

The Council does not have a heavy mandate, but she can see that much can be done to alleviate the housing backlog.

Since the agency does not have the necessary data, her first goal is to compile data.

As with her other five advocacies, she wants to have a comprehensive plan.

She is not concerned only with how many houses were built or how many people are fed, she is after measurable objectives that go beyond those numbers, such as: what kinds of houses are built and are they built according to an urban development plan?

Or are those who receive free meals given a nutrition awareness program?

The goal should not only be building houses but what kind of houses; not only to feed the needy but what kind of meals are provided.

According to Robredo, her office has a limited budget since she is not expected to do much except if anything happens to the President.

She moved her office from the Coconut Palace which was the office of her predecessor to save half of the rent.

Since she is not allowed to execute programs, her office spends four days of the week (Monday to Thursday) serving as a secretariat or a conduit for those who do her six chosen advocacies directly and link them to companies that can help them with funding.

Friday and Saturday are for “Laylayan” trips to the 20 poorest provinces, to listen to the people and make profiles of the places to find out how they can be helped.

With these profiles, she hopes to be able to engage us, Filipinos who are far from our country, and enable us to help our kababayans back home.

Questions from the accredited press people which were submitted beforehand to Consul Felipe “Bong” Carino, who was in charge of the press conference, were read after the initial remarks of the Vice President.

Most of them asked for ways to help the Philippines and how to make sure the help reaches the right people.

Trust is therefore an important part of the solution.

She exhorts us to be patient with the red tape and bureaucracy that many times discourage us from extending our help to our kababayans back home.

She is encouraging the youth to visit the Philippines to have a first-hand view of situation and the ways they can help.

To answer the question regarding overseas Filipino workers, the Vice President spoke of the Migrant Resource Center she established in Naga City.

The Center provides a wealth of resources to help those who want to work abroad and those who want to return home after working abroad.

As the press conference was winding down, a question on the floor came from Cristina DC Pastor regarding the extrajudicial killings back home, what she thinks about them and what we can do about it.

The Vice President does not condone them.

She lost two friends gunned down by men on motorcycles.

She believes they had nothing to do with drugs.

One was a barangay captain, between 60 and 70 years old, and the other was a sheriff.

A friend of her daughter’s, a high school Math teacher at the Ateneo, was also killed in the same manner.

So far, there are no leads in these killings.

This started during the campaign.

It seems like there is a culture of hatred, when people are killed with impunity.

This should change but she has only one voice.

The media should do something about it.

Is this what we want?

If not, public outcry should become stronger.

More voices should be heard.

The press conference lasted about 40 minutes.

About 50 people attended but some people who were not part of the accredited media or the Conference organizers or attendees were spotted.