‘If you stand upright, don’t fear that your shadow will be crooked’

The title of today’s column is based on a saying, “If you stand upright, don’t fear that your shadow will be crooked (身正不怕影子歪),” which goes together with another, “A tall tree attracts more wind (樹大招風).” I am sure these two Chinese maxims had been dinned into the late Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo since he became a public figure.

Sec. Jesse, who was killed in a plane crash five years ago, was the simplest, most hardworking and decent government official I know. Because he had always stood tall and straight, he attracted more vicious attacks from detractors. But it is shocking that a defenseless man resting in peace would still be the subject of calumny all because of politics; specifically, to get back at his popular widow, Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo.

Robredo reluctantly ran for vice president and won. Her opponent, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., refuses to accept his defeat and has used everything within his means to bring her down. Robredo, of course, can use the same platform to defend herself and go on counterattack.

The 1986 “snap” election comes to mind. Strongman Ferdinand Marcos Sr. lost the election to Corazon Aquino and used all means to reverse the truth. Now, history repeats itself.

It is not only Bongbong Marcos who wants to pull Robredo down. Administration supporters are on the rampage, discrediting her for being vocal against many of President’s Duterte’s policies, including the bloody war on illegal drugs she again denounced in a recent video message to the United Nations.

Robredo has also voiced her stance on Congress’ move to reimpose the death penalty, the killings under then Davao City mayor and now President Duterte, the government’s move to get pork barrel queen Janet Napoles out of prison, and the bribery scandal at the Bureau of Immigration.

I agree with Robredo that the attacks against her are meant to divert the public’s attention away from the burning issues. They are designed to distract her from doing her work. Imagine what would happen if she were to answer each of the attacks against her. Last January, the so-called “LeniLeaks” circulated and claimed that Robredo’s staff engaged some of her supporters in an e-mail conversation regarding a plot to oust Duterte.

Robredo denied the rumors, saying she wants to be remembered as the second-in-command supportive of the President. This time, the group called “We Are Collective,” composed of anonymous members, published “NagaLeaks” linking the late Jesse Robredo to illegal gambling and drugs. It was obviously created because critics failed to silence the vice president.

Robredo has slammed those behind the latest social media attack against her and her husband. “Noong wala na sigurong mapiga sa akin, iyong asawa kong limang taon na nananahimik, iyon naman iyong nabiktima ngayon,” she said at the “Women Defending Democracy” forum at Miriam College. Robredo said the false stories against her – from having an affair with a Quezon City congressman to having an abortion abroad – were concocted to chastise her for being vocal about the ills in government.

I believe the Robredos have always stood tall, and it doesn’t matter what people say about them: The truth is always their best defense.  But I also agree with the Vice President’s decision to fight back. Her critics have indeed gone way beyond decency in their foul attacks against her and her family.

I had personal experience working with Sec. Jesse against kidnappers and drug syndicates. The Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order got raw information about several drug laboratories in Mindanao. We told Sec. Jesse that we had no way of validating the information. I shared with Robredo that when I went to Naga the morning Sec. Jesse’s body was brought there, I told several Aquino Cabinet members close to me that my worst fear was that it may be the investigation into that matter that got Sec. Jesse killed (just a few months after the information was given to him).

In the midst of the attacks, Robredo has graciously called on her supporters to keep “our engagement honest and respectful.” She also said: “No matter how offensive or malicious these insinuations may be, we must always find the strength and courage to rise above and stay true to who we are.” I personally believe that this is the act of a ‘true gentleman (君子).’

But she also said her office is contemplating various options, including legal action, against those instigating the malicious attacks on her. “It is increasingly becoming clear that we can no longer simply keep silent and endure. The time has come to fight back against the bullying and the abuse. Enough is enough,” she said.

Her appeal: “We must put a stop to the massive and orchestrated campaigns of defamation and deceit that have come to characterize our public spaces, particularly social media, of which Jesse, me, and our family have also been victimized. I urge the countless others who have been subjected to similar attacks, and those who can no longer tolerate the further erosion of truth, to stand with us.”

In the swirl of falsehoods, including “alternative facts,” mainstream media should do the decent thing. Instead of dignifying the We Are Collective’s NagaLeaks by reposting its malicious content, they should downplay the vilification and support Robredo’s campaign to find out the truth and go on the offensive against those who attack her and her family. Those who are in social media should also help unmask and bring down the so-called We Are Collective and their ilk.

This is the time to stand upright. Let not our shadows be crooked.

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