SHE SPEAKS OF PEACE: Aika Robredo: not just her parents’ daughter

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / December 12) – The World Economic Forum (WEF), a bastion for business and enterprise, conducted a study on the impact of women on the economy in 2015: “There is more in addition to evidence that lack of gender equity imposes significant economic costs because it slows down productivity and weighs on growth. Our new study analyzes the links between these two phenomena: income inequality and gender inequality. We find that gender inequality is strongly associated with income inequality over time and across countries of all income groups. “

I begin with this study to stress that supporting women’s livelihoods and businesses is not just about promoting human rights, it’s also good for the economy.

Our guest on She talks about peace understands it very well. Jessica Marie “Aika” Robredo runs Restart Micro-Enterprise Inc., which helps people get back on their feet through livelihood opportunities. RestartME has extended its aid to victims of typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, the siege of Marawi. RestartME also supports those affected by COVID. Aika chose to work in NGOs after completing a Masters in Public Administration at Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Prior to development work, Aika worked in the private sector – involved in marketing, planning and operations in the energy sector. She also worked in government, first as Executive Assistant to the Secretary of Transport and Communications, then in the Civil Defense Office, where she worked on resilience and disaster risk management.

Economic support for rural women is needed, especially in conflict affected areas like Marawi, not only for their own livelihoods, but for the overall economic development of society and the community. There are many studies, including those from the WEF, that reveal how a country’s economy grows faster when women earn. Even though women empower themselves socially, through peacebuilding or human rights training, they cannot truly be empowered if they have no income.

One of the many success stories of RestartME is a bakwit marawi, Nanay Raidah. Prior to the 2017 siege, she had a mini-grocery store, which supplemented her husband’s income. Their family income vanished in a cloud of smoke during the siege. Four months later, Raidah received a PHP 10,000 disaster loan, in addition to her existing business loan from the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development, Inc. (CARD), to revive her mini-grocery store. RestartME had provided the funds to CARD. Nanay Raidah now continues to develop her small business.

Then there is Khaironesa M. Musa, who owned a gold store worth around Php
1 million. She lost everything during the siege. Today, with a small loan, she ventured into clothing and is gradually recovering her income. (for more success stories visit

I asked her about the situation of the bakwits in Marawi, four years after the siege, if they had been rehabilitated. She underlined the difficulty of preparing a more permanent and sustainable basis for economic growth, given the temporary nature of resettlement areas. The inhabitants have no certainty on the length of their stay in these communities. Thus, investing in the infrastructure of their micro-enterprises becomes a risky proposition. “Then COVID happened,” she said. She also underlined the need for a clearer direction for the economic rehabilitation of the bakwits.

Aika is proud of the achievements of RestartME. RestartME has provided zero interest rate loans to microfinance institutions (MFIs) operating in disaster areas so that they can pass them on to their members. She explained that right after a disaster, RestartME bridges the gap between destruction and recovery. In Marawi, she explained how many women were housewives who had no choice but to find a way to help support their families. Women, with no business experience, bravely started their microenterprises – like a sarisari store or buy and sell – just to help their families survive. Whether in Marawi or any community affected by COVID or in a typhoon-ravaged barangay, women are responding in the same way. Aika says two qualities that make these women successful are their commitment to paying on time and their seemingly innate ability to budget well. The latter may be due to the fact that mothers are usually responsible for making ends meet, regardless of family income.

What influenced his career choices? Aika admits that she won the parental lottery, having Jessie and Leni Robredo as parents. But with this luck comes a great responsibility, one that she didn’t want to carry. Having Jessie as a father, she wasn’t too keen on politics and government. I can understand that – as local elected officials who are effective, they spend day and night serving the needs of their constituents. Family life suffers. So she decided to go into the private sector. She loved the corporate world, with its structured and disciplined work style.

She then joined the audience, believing it was time to serve the country. She brought her virtues of working in business to her work in government. She notes that in government she has learned to be more patient. I can understand that too. Government agencies evolve very slowly, in part because of accountability requirements and the need to coordinate so many moving parts. Now that she is part of civil society, she recognizes the difficulty of being heard – of pushing for change. She refuses to change her last name, preferring to be known simply as “Aika”.

My co-host, Malaysian writer Dina Zaman, asked, while noting how difficult it was for Aika and her sisters to come to terms with their mother running for president in the 2022 election, what did she think of the involvement of the women in national politics? How does it feel to be Leni Robredo’s daughter?

Aika says the feminism she learned from her family is not combative. If you want the cooperation of men, don’t seem like a threat and show that women are not the enemy. Her mother was a supporting wife, never in the political limelight. But once you are in a leadership position, give it your all. These are lessons she learned from Vice President Leni Robredo. Steel in a velvet glove.

Will we be better off with women leaders at the national level, like New Zealand?

Aika replied with a firm “Certainly!” She thinks there will be more empathy, more understanding in government with women in leadership positions. The stereotype of a strong woman is a loud, aggressive leader, like men. However, Aika believes that a leader needs more strength to be held back. In a toxic political climate, it helps to have a leader who knows when to put the brakes on, a cooler head with more empathy. She observes that this is more common in women.

Aika Robredo is very clear on her own path: she is moving away from electoral politics.

For more on our captivating conversation, listen to She Talks Peace on Spotify:

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(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Amina Rasul is the president of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, an activist from Mindanao and the Bangsamoro, for peace, human rights and democracy) .

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