Locating the Vice President of the Philippines here in New York City is very easy. Obviously due to their social media posts, it was easy to recognize where they were staying and places they were going. The NYU, where the Vice President’s daughter Jill studied is located adjacent to Union Square Park, an area still considered as the West Village. And most NYU students have their dorms on the east side of the University. Hence it wasn’t surprising that the Robredos ate at a restaurant and shopped at a nearby Target located in Avenue A along 14th Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. 
​​​​​​​Why the interest in the Vice President?
The Vice President won in Quezon Province (which is my home province) and here in New York City absentee voting during the recently concluded Presidential Elections. Although she didn’t win the seat, she definitely gained many followers here in the US and back home. It would be a public interest for the Filipino people to document her trip in NYC. But this wasn't it at all.
During my research about the candidates prior to the election, I found out that VP Leni ran a grassroots campaign which mobilized thousands of volunteers across the country, ran house to house campaigns and produced the most number of campaign songs and music videos during the entire three months. Her massive crowd followed her wherever she went. it wasn’t all that as well.
Despite the limited budget that was given to her and the mostly meager importance rendered to her office and position as the second highest in the land, she was able to run her office with a tight budget and help poor communities in far flung areas establish micro-coops and distribute pandemic relief goods to the hardest hit communities. The Office of the VP ran a smooth and corruption free operation for 6 years. Yet in spite of her efforts, the level of hate and vitriol against her are astronomical. The amount of disinformation against her was ranging from ridiculous to outright slander, and yet people both love and hate her.
As I read and watched all the interviews and profiles about her, I found her to be a very reasonable woman, humble and shy at that and yet I cannot figure out for the life of me where the hate is coming from. Being associated with the “Dilawan” may be the right reason but it wasn’t satisfactory. Voicing her opposition against the sitting President wasn’t uncommon and endemic in the country either. So where are all these hate coming from? Maybe in person she is repulsive. It was so repulsive that her being in coach with her daughters or, her ironing of daughter Jill's toga still garnered negative feedbacks. So negative that the Cebu Pacific pilot went viral on his unfounded post about Leni Robredo’s alleged entitlement off the airport runway. There must be a reason behind it. There must be a story to tell. There must be something people back home sees that we here in abroad don’t. I had to find out for myself.
Last Minute Decision
Days before she arrived in New York, I sent a media request to the Office of the Vice President for her itinerary of her public engagements here in NYC. There was none. In media parlance, it means the trip was not an official VP trip and that the person warrants or requests privacy. As a member of the National Press Photographers of America, I adhere to our ethics and standards. Unless it is newsworthy coverage of epic importance and national interest, we do not engage in coverage that will breach privacy and demean the dignity of the subject regardless of political and societal status. Just because we have first amendment rights doesn’t mean we can take photos of everyone out of whim. This is what differentiates us photojournalists from paparazzi. Clearly the VP wants a private time with her children, given the toxicity of the political climate in the Philippines, it is understandable.
My job here as a photojournalist is to cover the New York City beat, everything from crime, to protest, to press conferences, events etc. So, it was reasonable to cover the Vice President while staying here in New York City. But again, my NYC press badge and my credentials weren’t vetted to be a paparazzi. So for the days of her stay here, I just kept abreast of what was happening to them on their social media posts despite my utmost familiarity of the places they go to. It wasn’t hard to figure out where the VP was staying based on their social media posts, as I have mastered the entire Manhattan from upper to lower both on the east and west sides. If I really want to, I can follow them around. But I didn’t. I kept my distance.
On Wednesday morning, I woke up ordinarily late as I was catching up on sleep. I originally planned to go to the Yankee stadium to cover her inside the arena, but because of a lack of itinerary, I cancelled my assignment and just called it a day. Having my coffee in my apartment in front of my desktop and browsing the latest newsfeed on twitter and Facebook, I saw the VP posts while they were on Radio Music Hall the day before, and she was thanking the guy named Stephano who travelled from Canada down to New York City just to see a glimpse of her. It was 8:30 am. I haven’t washed my face yet. But reading her post seemed like cold water was poured on me. This guy crossed the Canadian border to New York just to see her. I got curious. A WTF level of curiosity. I mean who would do that? Even in my own standards of craziness it was insane. There must be something in this woman that is attractive or repulsive. I am already in New York, what is holding me back? I asked myself.
So, without a thought and a quick shower, I got out of my apartment, with all my cameras, badges and gears and headed to the subway. I left at 9:21 am with my coffee unconsumed on my dining table and arrived at Yankee Stadium at 10:30-ish.
Leni in the Haystack
I expected the scenario to be utterly chaotic in Yankee Stadium. And I was right. To put into context for the sake of non-New Yorkers, the stadium has a capacity of 54,000. The Commencement exercises were held in two batches, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. While people are going out after the first batch, people will also go in for the second batch. Jill Robredo’s graduation is during the first batch so when they go out of the stadium, it would be the cluster-eff of all chaos. I already expected that it would be difficult to find the VP and her children. The probability of finding the VP is low, given the massive crowds. Some parents and family members anticipated this chaos and carried with them blown up faces of cardboard cutouts of their children just so they could locate each other. Knowing VP as a typical Filipina, petite and unassuming in a sea of diverse races, it was literally like looking for a needle in a haystack.
When I arrived at the stadium, the media door was already closed. I am supposed to be there around 8:30-ish. I checked the social media and the VP already posted around 10:20 a photo of Jill inside the stadium. So, I had no choice but to wait till the ceremony was over. 
While waiting for them to come out, I have made a mental note of questions I would ask the VP. I even carried with me a picture of her for her to sign. It was for my nephew in the Philippines who voted for her and was her admirer.
While all the media colleagues were there to cover Taylor Swift, I was there to cover the VP.
Graduation gifts stall outside Yankee Stadium
Graduation gifts stall outside Yankee Stadium
Giant monitor at the vestibule entrance of the stadium at the last 10 minutes of the NYU Commencement rites
Giant monitor at the vestibule entrance of the stadium at the last 10 minutes of the NYU Commencement rites
Group of Asian American NYU Graduates going inside the arena
Group of Asian American NYU Graduates going inside the arena
Graduates and their respective families attend the 2022 NYU Commencement Rites at Yankee Stadium
Graduates and their respective families attend the 2022 NYU Commencement Rites at Yankee Stadium
Chaos begins
After Taylor Swift’s speech was over, people arriving for the second batch of the Commencement were pouring in and the people exiting the stadium were pouring out. It happened so fast that it was like a ravaging flood gushing out from everywhere. 
As I rushed to cross the street going to the gates to find myself a vantage point where I can spot the VP, I found these four young Filipinos who happen to be there to meet VP Leni. Nico, Jelo, Joyce and Web happened to be spending their vacation in New York and took their chance of meeting the VP. I approached them and introduced myself. I told them that if ever I see the VP I will call them. Nico, who happens to be the most eager in the group, stood in the middle of the gateway to scour the crowd for the VP. At that point I was already standing over the bench when the inevitable happened, the crowd started pouring out.

People exiting the stadium and people who arrived for the second batch of commencement exercises poured outside Yankee Stadium

Nico Quejano who volunteered for Leni's Campaign and voted during the election before their trip to the US

Nico Quejano patiently standing at the gateway of Yankee stadium hoping to see the Vice President of the Philippines in person.

There were three possible routes which the VP could exit. The Parking lot route, which was the unlikely route that they would take since she has no security detail or any car to park. The closed street route which most New Yorkers used, was also unlikely for strangers in the city like VP would take. And the gateway route, which most non-New Yorkers take because of its adjacency to the D train subway. This was the most likely route she and her children would take given the easy access to the subway. The most common route that tourists take is they exit the exact same way they entered, in this case the gateway route where Gate 6 was located. I also based my guess on the photo that the VP posted earlier that morning which has the “161st Street Exit” sign behind Jill Robredo's photo. Gate 6 near the Hard Rock Café is facing the Subway entrance of the 161 Street Station. This is certainly where they will be heading as they exit.
Another hunch that I used to predict where they would exit is the personality of the Vice President. During my research about her, I found out that she likes things simple and organized and setting everything to avoid chaos. Also, the Vice President claimed that she is an introvert. A personality trait that I share with her. Most introverts are shy and intuitive and would hate big crowds and unwarranted attention. So, putting myself in her shoes, I predicted that she wouldn’t rush into the crowd and would try to wait for at least the chaos to dissipate before they left the stadium.
I stood there on top of the bench for an hour. Scanning four vantage points: 3 exit ways and 1 on this small group of Filipinos, to spot the VP. I was keeping an eye on them because Nico, who was standing in the middle of the gateway already disappeared from my sight amid throngs of people and my only reference to him is his group sitting at the corner of a bench. if they suddenly move places, I will assume that they found the VP. So scanning thousands of faces for over an hour wasn’t easy. Given that I was wearing prescription glasses means that I am prone to eye strain. My head was starting to ache at that point and was about to give up because it was impossible to locate the VP in that massive crowd. I was tempted to move inside the stadium and look for them instead, but I felt it was wiser to wait in my position. I was on higher ground.
Jelo (standing), Joyce (pink mask) and Web (green mask) sitting in one corner of the gateway waiting for the Vice President
Jelo (standing), Joyce (pink mask) and Web (green mask) sitting in one corner of the gateway waiting for the Vice President
Massive crowd outside the stadium
Massive crowd outside the stadium
Parents blow up cardboard cutout faces of their children just to locate each other
Parents blow up cardboard cutout faces of their children just to locate each other
Liwanag sa Dilim
While enroute to the Yankee Stadium, what was going inside my head were mixed thoughts. Sitting on the moving train, I asked myself why was I compelled to do this assignment. I have something important to do that day and yet I managed to ditch it at the drop of a hat just to cover a subject who I have little or no probability at all to see. Aside from being a photojournalist, I am also a nurse, a headshot photographer, and an entrepreneur. Out of these four hats I wear everyday here in New York, being a photojournalist is the least financially fulfilling hat that one could possibly wear, Minsan nga abunado pa (Abunado for Leni and Kiko least to say). So, I wasn’t sure if I could take a photo of the Vice President considering it was last minute and above all I was late for the media box. But you will never know what will happen next. In my four hats that I wear, photojournalism is the most exciting. Sometimes the universe lets you be in the right place, at the right time for something to happen while you have your camera with you.
As I stood there for more than an hour and a half now, my vision began to blur as I got dizzy scanning throngs of people passing me by. Until I saw at a distance, approximately 30 feet away from where I was standing, an image of a woman wearing a pink mask and her face seemed to be aglow. I thought I was seeing things. I glanced at the young Filipinos on the corner, they were gone. I immediately jumped out of my pedestal and ran in the middle of the crowded gateway. There I saw the VP having her photo taken with these Filipinos. I tried to snap a shot, but my camera was off. I began to panic because it was happening so fast. The VP began walking with Jill behind her, browsing her cell phone, Aika on her side and with Tricia in front of them. I was able to snatch a photo while they were walking. The VP had no security details. No help or assistant. Just her and the three daughters. It was refreshing to see in real life an  unentitled Filipino politician in the flesh. It is a rare specie indeed.

In a strange phenomenon, the Vice President sticks out of the crowd even at a distance of more than 30 ft. It's like there was a spotlight on her even under the bright light of the sun. 

They were walking slow but for some reason time was moving so fast. I ran in front of the VP and then I introduced myself. The moment I flashed my press badge, the reaction of the VP was a mixed smile and surprise. It is as if I scared the beejeezuz out of her. All she was saying to me while walking was “naku hindi po hindi po” while gesturing her hands to convey “no”. I tried for the second time and this time I was more assertive but courteous. “Madam VP can I just follow you around?” again she was reluctant but polite. She reiterated “naku hindi po private trip po”. "Madam, can I just take a photo of you po with Jill". She happily obliged. She and Jill posed for my camera. And then I requested for a selfie, which she also willingly obliged. My mistake was, I forgot my smartphone was on a timer mode so as I was taking the selfie with the VP, it was counting down five seconds. That was probably the longest 5 seconds of my life. I was yelling in my head “snap it snap it dammit. Hurry up!”. When I got the selfie. I then leaned a bit closer to the VP and asked her an off the record question. She answered it with uncertainty but with sincerity. As they walked away, I yelled for the last time, “Thank you very much po VP and Congratulations Jill!”, to which both the mother and daughter turned their heads around in nod and smiled.
I had my shots. I had my encounter. But I never had my prepared questions answered nor my picture of her signed. I believe at that moment they were also in a hurry for a private rendezvous with some Filipinos. I could easily follow them around. I had the chance, but I didn’t. Again, I am not a paparazzi but a photojournalist. After the political circus back home, I think they really deserve a break. I respected that request. I gave them space. I didn’t rush into the subway so that I wouldn’t bump into them again. That would eventually make me shoot my camera. I got my story. So, I went home.
My encounter with the VP was, give and take, less than a minute in total. But I was able to write a 3,000-word story. Imagine if I had the chance to ask her the questions I have prepared. I would probably publish a book.

One of the six shots I took of The Vice President and NYU newly graduated daughter Jill Robredo at Yankee Stadium in New York City

I wasn’t there as a fan. I was there as a photojournalist to catch a story but my one-minute encounter with the VP had a lasting impression on me. Although it wasn’t enough to really write a profile about her on a firsthand account basis, it satisfied my curiosity of whether something about her was repulsive in person.
There was none I could think of, nor I have felt or experienced.
The feeling of meeting her was very ordinary. There were no drum rolls, sparks, or fireworks. It was so ordinary that the feeling around her was very light. She has a very light and airy aura that one could easily relate to. There was awkwardness but that awkwardness was coming from her introversion and shyness. There was no entitlement. No demand for any special treatment. Her energy emits positivity. She energizes people around her as if she is the sun that charges all solar panels. This was no exaggeration. Her positive outlook in life exudes from her and people who are sensitive to these things, introverts mostly like me, can sense this. She emits positive energy on people around her. It is not exact science, but it is a phenomenon which we humans usually experience.
When I arrived home and inspected the photos I took of the Vice President and Jill, their smiles, even though they were wearing masks, were genuine, not made up. We Photographers can tell if the smiles on the camera are fake or forced.
Given the exhaustion of the day’s event in a massive crowd during an NYU Graduation, she was very patient. I sensed a sigh from the children, something like “hay pati ba naman dito sa graduation may media”, and that was a reasonable reaction, understandable at that. I think most of us can relate to it, that we, on some level, want privacy. But it wasn’t the sighs which I subjectively interpreted that stuck on me. It was the level of tolerance and understanding they have for the position of their mother. They know that their mom is the second highest leader of the land, and they knew, whether they like it or not, wherever they go in the world, people would really approach them in a way people approach celebrities. This I think is the price they paid for as a family when their mother entered politics. But they understood this. Imagining myself in their shoes, this is mentally taxing and emotionally draining, with a constant flow of people asking for your autograph, interview or even selfies wherever you go.
Going back to Nico, Jelo, Web and Joyce, I asked them if they see VP Leni as a celebrity and they said no. Nico said that “she is an inspiration to us”. This echoes two of my friends’ reasons back home why they volunteered as Kakampinks. Probably also the reason why my nephew had also supported her.

Young Filipino tourists and Leni volunteers (left to right) Nico Quejano, Jelo, Joyce and Web who took time from their travel just to see a glimpse of the Vice President in Yankee Stadium.

The Multiverse of Liwanag
On my way home the feeling was very light. Although I bruised my knee when I jumped out from the bench and was limping all the way home (the price I paid for standing for hours just to cover the VP), I wasn’t exhausted at all. It was a very light feeling. Usually, I go home from work with all these worries in my head. At that time, there was none. It was as if my worries were emptied in a bowl.
When I arrived at my station, there was this Hispanic woman walking in front of me going down the subway stairs. To my surprise, the jacket she was wearing had a pink rose with a green leaf emblem on it. It was the Universe's way of wrapping up my day.

A Hispanic woman walking past by me getting off the subway stairs, was coincidentally wearing a jacket with a pink rose emblem on the back.

Arriving in my apartment, I immediately sent Nico a message via twitter for some follow up questions. 
I then went to my private Facebook account and shared my brief encounter with the VP Leni and posted our photos together for my BBM infested family and my Kakampink friends to see. 
On the last line of my caption, I wrote “She sticks out of the crowd. Alam mo yun parang nagliliwanag. This is not an exaggeration.” 
An hour later, I received an answer to my follow up question from Nico via twitter. 
He said, “But I don't want to sound corny, but there was a kind of "glow" to her. Hahahaha. Liwanag sa Dilim levels. Kaya madali ko nakita.”.
I had goosebumps. Despite my 3,000-word story, to quote my family and friends comments on my Facebook post, "I am speechless".

Once in a lifetime encounter with the Vice President of the Philippines Leni Robredo in Yankee Stadium, New York City. This is her last foreign (private or public) trip as the VP of the Philippines.