THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE, WHICH WE ARE PRESENTING TO YOU IN A FIRST PERSON NARRATIVE, IS ACTUALLY A COMPENDIUM OF STORIES WE GOT FROM SEVERAL TRUSTED LOCAL SOURCES WHO WISH TO KEEP THEIR IDENTITIES ANONYMOUS. IN ORDER TO ASCERTAIN THE CREDIBILITY OF THEIR STORIES, WE UNDERTOOK RESEARCH AND VERIFIED THE FACTS, MINING ONLINE SOURCES WHENEVER AVAILABLE, AND DOING THE NECESSARY FACT-CHECKING ON THE GROUND. GIVEN THAT THIS EXPOSITION IS OF CONSIDERABLE LENGTH, WE DIVIDED IT INTO SEVERAL PARTS WHICH WE WILL BE PUBLISHING IN SUCCESSION. PARTS 1 AND 2 COVERS JESSE ROBREDO'S RISE TO POWER UP TO HIS UNTIMELY DEATH, WHILE PARTS 3 TO 5 FOCUSES ON THE AFTERMATH OF JESSE'S DEMISE AND LENI'S EVENTUAL POLITICAL ASCENDANCY. THIS HERE IS THE FIRST OF A SERIES.
The Shocking Truth Behind Leni and Jesse Robredo Part 1
Much has been said about Leni and Jesse Robredo. For years since Jesse’s sudden and tragic death in 2012, mainstream media has had a love affair with the man whose life can only be described as nothing short of inspiring. It cannot be argued that Leni’s phenomenal rise to power owed much to her late husband’s legacy, which was perceived and accepted by many as impeccable and beyond question. Despite being largely unknown outside of his home turf Naga, the stories we have come to hear about him after his demise captivated our hearts. After all, it is not every day that we hear of a man so unbelievably modest and unassuming that in spite of his stature, he kept his feet firmly planted on the ground - in his trademark slippers that quickly became a national symbol of his rarity. Judging from all popularly held accounts, Jesse Robredo could just as well have qualified for sainthood.
Albeit the popular myth that surrounded the Robredos, there is still much that deserves to be told to the predominantly unknowing public - things that most people are not aware of, things that may have been deliberately omitted from many accounts, secrets too damning that they could effectively alter the common perception, secrets only a Nagueño would know.
I come from Naga City – a small, relatively obscure place south of Metro Manila that had recently been branded “Robredo country.” So much that every time I ride a taxicab here in Manila and the driver would ask me where I’m from, the easiest reaction to my response would be “Ah, Robredo.” It’s as if the name is synonymous with the place, and you can only offer a silent nod to the popular consensus held about the man responsible for putting our hometown into the map. Something inside of me wanted to speak out. But nah… silence would be much more comfortable. Why waste your time bringing up the truth? It wasn’t at all easy to disagree because it felt as if you were treading on sacred ground and bashing a dead guy’s hallowed memory was tantamount to blasphemy. Hence, the safe and comfortable silence.
Then Leni became Vice-President. I felt silently enraged, knowing full well that her popularity had been built mostly on lies, and a lot of people are blind to this fact. To many Filipinos, Leni is the meek, humble widow who represented the marginalized, the oppressed and downtrodden majority who lived on the fringes of society. “Mga nasa laylayan ng lipunan,” according to her political slogan. Behind her success is Jesse - whose unique brand of leadership and inspirational back story became a template for those who wished to serve and make a difference - a name that has become a franchise, thanks to a highly effective PR campaign that capitalized on our collective ignorance than on our innate wisdom to determine what is authentic and what is not. But despite all this, I still felt no urge to come out of my comfort zone. “Let it be,” Paul McCartney sang. Her position holds no value anyway. And knowing her, it’s unlikely she’ll make much out of it. So I elected to keep my mouth shut.
That is, until she started criticizing the President. It would have been perfectly natural to air one’s criticism, given the fact that we live in a democratic country, but what disturbed me was the manner by which she broadcast her displeasure. She did this while she clung like a leech, using the privileged Cabinet position given to her by the President as a means to forward her agenda and hog constant media exposure and mileage. How utterly shameless, I thought. This, on top of her poorly disguised attempts to project herself as something she’s not (those engineered and staged photographs of her taking a bus that have been used to dupe the public into believing she’s a woman of the masses) and her brazen duplicity, which I find extremely appalling. It just so happens, hypocrisy and opportunism are two things I consider most repugnant. Clearly, Leni is being used by some quarters to undermine the government in an attempt to reclaim power. With recent efforts by the international press to portray the President as some sort of a psychopath hell bent on destroying the country, Leni is being peddled as a more fitting alternative to replace Duterte - in effect taking us back to the way things were.
The buck stops here, I thought. I have to say something. The once predictable silence must come to an end.
By now you might be wondering, what in God’s name am I talking about? Am I a Dutertard? The way I’m going, I must be. Last year’s election was widely considered as the most divisive Presidential contest ever in our country’s history. It drove a deep wedge between us, and ugly labels have been thrown at each other in an attempt to delineate one’s leanings. If you are supportive of the President, you are a Dutertard. If you are not because you are satisfied with the previous dispensation, than you must be a Yellowtard. The war continues and has become more intense especially in social media, and as it was during the elections, you cannot be caught in the crossfire. It’s either black or white with no gray areas in between. You have to take sides.
So I comforted myself with the knowledge that I am not alone in this struggle. Despite my being a Bicolano, I am for Duterte because given the sorry state we’re in, he’s exactly the type of leader we need and not some inept, pretentious fraud who wants to put us back into the same shit pile we tried so desperately hard to crawl out of. Duterte may not be perfect, he curses and doesn’t give a fuck about niceties, but at least he’s authentic and more importantly – he gets the job done. My sentiments are shared by a lot of people so instead of feeling slandered by this label, I took it as a badge of honor and proudly declared myself so - a Dutertard, by choice. From this day on, I’ll wear it with pride.
Before I embark on this storytelling journey let me clarify that it is not my intention or desire to vilify Leni Robredo or besmirch Jesse’s previously untarnished reputation. What good would it do me to slander a guy who’s already six feet under? This article, I assure you, would not be in aid of vilification. To “vilify” means to speak ill about someone who is morally above ground. Vilification, hence, is no different from character assassination - meant to destroy and disparage someone who is, in truth, reputable. Reputation is the underlying premise of vilification. If your reputation is beyond reproach, any attempts to besmirch you may be considered foul. If it is not, then it would be fair to say that you are simply being exposed for what you truly are. If you really want to know the truth about Leni, you have no choice but to deconstruct the myth that made her into what she is now - and much of that she owes to the legend that is Jesse Robredo.
This, my dear readers, is an exposition - an attempt to present an alternate history, to tell you the version which is not known. Each coin has two sides and it would not be fair for you to see only one side and have that version peddled to you as gospel truth. I do not expect you to believe me outright. I speak mostly from recollection and from my own personal understanding of past events. But I challenge you to fact check every single thing that I say. No matter how hostile and partial I may appear, I promise to be fair to Jesse as much as I could. I will not dispute his accomplishments or deny the good things he has done to specific people. This work is simply meant to balance what you know about him and would be more of an attempt to demystify him, thereby exposing his human frailties. He is, after all, human - like the rest of us. I promise to offer nothing but the truth, so help me God. That is why I have attached my sources (online links to published news articles) so you can validate. I’m also issuing a challenge that since not everything can be verified online (a lot of what you will hear from me happened during the pre-Internet age), you may want to go to Naga City and do your fact checking on the ground – where most of this stuff really happened. Given the bulk of the new information, this article may be of considerable length so I ask you to please bear with me. Despite my urge to cut right to the chase, I find it imperative to start from the very beginning, in order to provide context and perspective - two things that are absolutely necessary to understand the truth. I likewise issue this challenge to my fellow Nagueños, especially to those who are loyal to Jesse’s hallowed memory who may feel betrayed by this exposition – take off your blinds and learn to accept the hard truth. As American author Edward Abbey once said, “Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.”
Finally, let me take this opportunity to beg your indulgence as to why I’d prefer to keep my identity anonymous. Much of the stories you will hear from me involve actual events and actual people (mostly living) - and I feel it is my patriotic obligation to name names and describe specific events in sufficient detail in order to bring out the truth. After all, how can you fact check and verify my stories if I do not disclose the identities of those involved? Now here comes the tricky part. Given that the characterizations of a lot of people in this article are not what you would consider flattering, and in several occasions directly portray them as crooks and criminals engaged in illicit and nefarious activities, unduly exposing myself is a risk that is quite difficult to undertake. People die for knowing too much, more so for exposing what they know. When Jesse was still alive, I would not have been careless to share these stories with just about anyone. Far too risky considering he’s in power. Later, you will learn that there are some who literally paid the ultimate price for doing what I’m doing now. Hopefully, this article will shed some light on the disappearance of one of these people and provide justice where justice is due. As promised earlier, I will call a spade a spade and will not mince words. In the interest of telling you the stories as they really happened, restraint is something I am not inclined to adhere to.
So let us start from the very beginning. Again, this might take some time so please bear with me, since it is necessary to know the back story.
Much about Jesse Robredo’s political career you can actually Google yourself. I do not want to waste your time telling you something which you may already know or repeat stories you may have online access to [i.e. Scharff]. Repetition bores me, so forgive me for skipping the usual sentimental stories. I'm just gonna fill in some details that are commonly omitted by those who have covered him – a lot of them we believe are paid writers anyway posing as investigative journalists (I’ll leave it to your imagination to figure out who I'm referring to). If they are indeed the objective investigative journalists they claim to be, they would have stumbled upon this shit a long time ago and spared me the ordeal of having to write this article. In fairness, however, much of what has been written about his lineage and early beginnings are true. Jose Perez, a local journalist who wrote for the Bicol Mail, narrates in his 2007 article [Nagueño]:
If there is one thing common between Camarines Sur Rep. Luis R. Villafuerte and Naga City Mayor Jesse M. Robredo, it is the blood of Confucius that runs in their veins.
In fact, the two came from the same great grandfather from China who upon residing in the Philippines adopted the Filipino name “Robredo,” a name that both of them have to share, whether they like it or not.
The rest of their character, traits and beliefs, political and otherwise, however, are worlds apart.
Their great grandfather Lim Pay Co, with his son Lim Teng by his first wife, arrived in Manila at the turn of the 19th century. As a young boy, Lim Teng was tutored by the Spanish friars. He and his father were later baptized by a Spanish friar surnamed Robredo.
The friar baptized Lim Pay Co and Lim Teng as Serafin and Juan, respectively, and gave them his surname. Since then, they were known as Serafin Robredo and Juan Lim Robredo.
While it was not clear what happened to Lim Teng’s mother, Serafin while settling in the country took a second wife by the name of Josefa de la Trinidad, a widow. Juan Lim Robredo (Lim Teng), meanwhile, married Luisa Chan, a local Chinese girl.
His stepmother, Josefa, bore four children, Soledad, Jose, Juan II and Serafina, who became Juan’s half-brothers and half-sisters. They were all surnamed Robredo with their original Chinese name Lim Payco sometimes attached to their Filipino name. All of them, including Juan Lim Robredo, were educated by the American school system.
Juan Lim Robredo
Juan Lim Robredo became proficient in four languages, Filipino, Spanish, English and Chinese. While his wife tended to their sari-sari store, Juan was employed as a court interpreter because of his language proficiency. On his free time, he also had a photo studio and worked as a photographer. Later, he and half-sister Soledad became teachers at Anglo Chinese School in Naga City, where Soledad met her future husband, Mariano Villafuerte, a co-teacher at the same Chinese school.
At the age of 21, Juan married Luisa Chan and from their union were born six children, Serafin, Adelina, Juanito, Josefina, Jose and Juanita. Both Serafin and Adelina died at very young age due to illness. Josefina died before the start of the world war, or a few years after the death of their father Juan. Juanito, along with their mother Luisa, died during an attack by the Japanese soldiers while hiding in Sipocot, Camarines Sur. It was also at this time that young Jose was wounded by a bullet that pierced his stomach but survived through the help of friends and foot doctors who came to their aid.
Today, only two of Juan Lim Robredo’s six children are alive, Jose Robredo, Sr. and Juanita Robredo Hao Chin.
Mariano Villafuerte, a fine orator and speaker was to become a congressman and later as governor of Camarines Sur when the Japanese Imperial Army invaded the Philippine islands. It was a tragic chapter in the history of the country, as it was in the rest of the free world when people died as a result of the war. Then Gov. Mariano Villafuerte and his wife Soledad, with their eldest son Jose, died in the hands of vengeful guerillas as the Americans were advancing to free the Philippines from the fleeing Japanese soldiers.
The couple left behind six young children: Pura, Fe, Mariano, Jr., Carmen, Luis and Lina. Luis was to become a powerful political leader in Bicol while the rest of his brothers and sisters became successful professionals in their own right.
Jesse and Louie
After the war, Jose married Marcelina Manalastas, a young Filipina from Navotas, Rizal. Together, they built their house in Tabuco, a village across the river town of Naga. They soon bore five children: Jocelyn, Jose Jr., Jesse, Jeanne and Josephine.
In 1986, Jesse was picked by his uncle Luis, then an Assemblyman, to run as mayor of Naga City and won. Four years later, they would part ways and become bitter political rivals, with Luis even denying in public that they were blood relatives.
Luis, the province’s top political kingpin, on at least four elections would field his own mayoral bet to challenge Robredo, including his elder sister Pura Luisa, Jesse’s aunt, but as always Jesse would come out as the runaway winner.
Now congressman, Luis Villafuerte only recently had a falling out with his own blood, his son LRay, the province’s incumbent governor who is running for reelection.
LRay is now being challenged by a man handpicked by his own father, a scandalously unexpected quirk of fate that even the shrewdest of politicians could not imagine to happen.
Meanwhile, Luis is not letting off his disdain for Robredo. He accuses Robredo of being a Chinese citizen, an alien who should not be allowed to hold office reserved for Filipinos unlike Jojo, his other nephew, who ironically also comes from the same great grandfather that found the Philippine islands an ideal place for his forebears to multiply and become good Filipinos.
To sum it all up, Jesse Robredo and Luis Villafuerte were related. When Jesse attended college at De La Salle, he stayed at his Uncle Luis' house in Makati. Upon finishing graduate school, Jesse went on to work for San Miguel then returned to Naga City in 1986 to become Program Director for the Bicol River Basin Development Project. This is where he met Leni Gerona, who would later become his wife.
It was Luis who worked for Jesse's appointment as chief of the USAID-funded BRBDP and groomed him to become Mayor of Naga. When the EDSA Revolution broke out in 1986, Luis found himself jumping the Cory bandwagon after being a staunch Marcos ally since entering government service (yes, the proverbial balimbing). In 1988, Jesse was elected the youngest ever Naga City Mayor – narrowly defeating Ramon Roco, brother of the late Senator Raul Roco.
True enough, Jesse would not have become Mayor of Naga City if it weren't for his Uncle Luis. His opponent Ramon Roco was a lawyer whose brother Raul was a rising star in local and national politics. It cannot be overstated though that Luis is manipulative and overbearing. He treated Jesse as his minion and considered Naga as his political turf.
There are conflicting versions as to why the two parted ways politically. A Rappler article provided the following story [Rappler]:
A July 2011 Princeton University case study by Michael Scharff said Robredo discovered Luis's association with many of the illegal practices in the province, including the illegal numbers game Jueteng.
Luis denied any involvement, and told Rappler it was solely "a police issue" which he had no control over when he was governor. He offered to take a lie detector test. Gumba told Rappler it is "impossible," for a governor not to know who is in control, "unless [he] wants the police to control the province."
But Luis remains adamant he is honest, and truthful, and that Jesse Robredo is the devil.
"[Jesse] was glorified like a saint but he's a sinner. You think he's in Heaven? He's fornicating in Hell," Luis said without flinching.
Juan Escandor of the Inquirer offered a different reason. According to him [Bong]:
Both parted ways in (the) 1992 elections with Villafuerte fielding his sister Pura Luisa Villafuerte-Magtuto against Robredo. Robredo made such a mark in Naga City politics making him the only political leader here whose handpicked local candidates all won in the elections without let-up since 1992, including the local elections in 2010, for seven consecutive elections. The cause of the quarrel between uncle and nephew? Robredo supported Fidel Ramos in his presidential bid against Ramon Mitra whom Villafuerte supported.
Whatever, the truth is that Luis simply wanted to control Jesse - and Jesse resisted. It is true that Luis had something to do with Jueteng - an allegation he consistently denies up to now. His son Bong Villafuerte controlled Jueteng in the entire province - and saw Jesse's win in Naga City as some sort of a prize. Since Luis put him there in the first place, it was natural for him to expect payback.
This has been the official line from Jesse ever since. Luis wanted to control Jueteng in Naga, and he was against it vehemently. The rift suddenly turned into a battle between "good and evil."
1992 marked the first election bitterly contested by the two camps. Jesse was seeking reelection and Luis retaliated by fielding his sister Puring Magtuto against him. By this time, Jesse had a firm grasp of his own turf and was quite successful in branding his uncle as the bad guy among his constituents. Luis unleashed hell against Jesse. There was massive vote buying for Puring and her entire lineup. The strategy backfired. Jesse won together with his entire lineup. "Ubos kung Ubos" was born.
From that time on, Luis would forever lose his grip on Naga. A new political kingpin was born. Jesse Robredo had transformed into a political monster of his own making. In 1995, Jesse ran unopposed. Still reeling from his devastating loss to Jose Bulaong in 1992, Luis was unable to field a credible lineup against Jesse.
Luis Robredo Villafuerte campaigning as Congressman of the 3rd District of Camarines Sur, 2010
Jesse would clean up Naga and formed a squad to rid the city of lewd shows, a vice that proliferated during the term of his predecessor, Carlos Del Castillo. Nightclubs and cabarets were taken out and had no choice but to relocate to Milaor, an adjacent municipality. Despite the cleanup, prostitution thrived in Naga. Pimps and prostitutes swarmed the streets at night (Jesse might not have encouraged prostitution yet it cannot be denied that it was largely tolerated, perhaps in exchange of protection), especially in places like Rodson, Dinaga, Plaza Rizal, Crown Hotel and Kanyaman, where you can easily pick up flesh like fish in the wet market.
Now at the bottom of their disagreement was the issue of Jueteng. As we mentioned earlier, Luis and his son controlled Jueteng in the province. Jesse's claim, however, that he resisted his uncle's evil plans is a blatant lie. Proof: Eduardo Mercado.