In their first public interview since their father announced his presidential candidacy, the children of Leody de Guzman shared the challenges and struggles of being in the public eye, the backlash they received from the controversial Christmas family photo, and how being gay has been normalized in their household.
Why not the presidency?
For an average Filipino family, considering the possibility of making a run for the presidency may not be the usual dinner time fare. More so if one’s father, the prospective candidate, is a labor leader who has already fallen short twice in his attempts for national elective office.
Leody de Guzman ran for Congress in 2016 as a party-list representative of the progressive coalition Sanlakas, but lost. Then in 2019, he ran for senator, then lost again.
In a March 7 interview with Boy Abunda,De Guzman's daughter Leah described the family now as “partly excited, partly petrified.”
Dexter, who is younger than Leah, said he was stunned and wasn’t initially in favor of their father’s candidacy.
“Na-shock ako.” Dexter told Abunda. “Tatay ko tatakbo ng pinakamataas na posisyon.”
“This is something that we haven't imagined ever,” Leah said, “the scale of the things expected of us,” noting that compared to other candidates, Leody’s history as labor leader and activist won’t make someone think that he’d be gunning for the presidency. “And now here we are.”
In fact, Leah said her father was just initially floating the idea of running as vice president.
“Noong una pahaging lang, tapos iyon,” she said. “Inaamo-amo niya, ‘Paano kaya kung presidente?’”
Leah and Dexter said their family sat down in a meeting to discuss the big decision thoroughly and weigh in on its pros and cons. They said Leody eventually managed to convince them, with their mother Marieza being the first to give her blessing to her husband.
Naintindihan naman namin na this is for a bigger cause. This is a one-time opportunity.
“In-assure naman niya ang purpose ng pagtakbo niya,” Leah said, “is to have a channel para sa mga platform niya,” which are primarily for the benefit of the working class and to change the system in government to benefit more the marginalized sectors.
“Naintindihan naman namin na this is for a bigger cause. This is a one-time opportunity.”
“Iyon nga, naliwanagan kami na, 'Oo nga, bakit hindi,’” Dexter said.
Leody went on to accept Partido Lakas ng Masa’s call on Sept. 28 last year for him to run as president and file his certificate of candidacy the following Oct. 6.
"Simple" and "average"
Being thrust into the limelight already at the campaign level, Leah said they’re still trying to get used to it, especially being at the forefront.
“Ako iyong nakabantay sa mga interviews at Zoom meetings,” she said, “Pag may problema sa audio o setup, ako mag-aayos,” adding that she serves as the “bridge” between Leody and his campaign team.
Dexter, meanwhile, said he’s not that involved in his father's campaign, though helps by driving for him and picking the clothes he'll wear during public events.
Though wala naman kami problema doon, wala naman kaming tinatago, di kami sanay na nasa amin ang attention ng tao.
“Wala ngang pakialam iyan kung anong susuotin niya, basta makasuot lang,” he said. “E pag magde-debate, nakikialam ako minsan. Minsan naman nagtatanong din siya.”
Being thrust into the national microscope is a big adjustment, as Dexter said they are just “simple” and “average” people who would rather enjoy their private lives.
Leah said she works for a multinational company for the past 12 years since graduation, while Dexter said he has a cruise line job as a “normal millennial" who is just trying to earn his keep.
“Iyon din ang inisip namin repercussion sa pagtakbo,” Leah said. “Average person lang kami, it just so happens na ang dad namin is running for president.”
“Though wala naman kami problema doon, wala naman kaming tinatago,” Dexter noted, “di kami sanay na nasa amin ang attention ng tao.”
Controversial Christmas photo
Their first taste of public scrutiny happened last December, when Leody shared a Christmas greeting photo showing his family with a purebred dog in front of a lavish-looking table setup in an apparently well-furnished and comfortable house.
Makabuluhang Pasko sa ating lahat mula sa amin ni Marie, at mga anak na si Lei, Dex, Ash, Gucci (in no particular order) pic.twitter.com/Kyj0ugmKKF— Ka Leody de Guzman (@LeodyManggagawa) December 24, 2021
Some netizens accused him of being “burgis” who’s just masquerading as someone from the masa. Leody himself clarified later on that what his family has right now, based on the photo, is the result of their hard-earned money.
“Para bang pag tinawag na manggagawa, dapat dugyot, dapat naghahalo ka ng semento,” he told ANC in February.
Though Leah said that they really didn’t take offense at the criticisms, she’s wondering why it must be a big deal when families are expected to show their best on Christmas. “Iyong mga pinakatinatago mong pinggan, decor, ilalabas mo talaga.”
She also emphasized that what’s on the photo wasn’t an “overnight success,” as it was the result of decades-worth of hard work. “Alam naman namin sa sarili namin na ang lifestyle namin is within reasonable means.”
“Wala kaming sobrang luho,” Dexter said, while also clarifying that their dog was a gift. “Kung ano sigurong meron kami, nangarap din kami,” noting that people have been too quick to judge them.
“Ang gagawin mo lang doon, alam mo ang totoo,” he said. “You try not to read comments.”
“At the end of the day, iniisip na lang namin,” Leah said, “you just have to pick your battles.”
Leody as a father
Asked what they love the most about Leody as a father and person, Dexter took note of his unassuming attitude, especially during meals.
“Hindi siya maselan sa pagkain, siyempre laki sa probinsiya sa Mindoro,” he said. “Isda, kanin, gulay, okay na,” adding that he still eats with his bare hands.
Magugulat kami, nakikipagkuwentuhan sa nagtitinda ng lugaw, sa nagtitinda ng isda sa palengke. May rapport na sila, may bond na sila.
Leah reinforced Leody’s simplicity, noting that he’s proud of wearing hand-me-downs, even joking that it’s only his underwear that’s originally his.
She also commended his father’s congeniality, who tends to approach the “common people” whenever they go out.
“Magugulat kami, nakikipagkuwentuhan sa nagtitinda ng lugaw, sa nagtitinda ng isda sa palengke,” she said. “May rapport na sila, may bond na sila.”
Leody is also not an authoritative father figure, Leah said, especially when there are conflicts at home. “Mas gusto niya na upuan at pag-usapan ang mga mali mo.”
Leah also noted that like him, she’s an avid reader of books.
“Na-expose ako sa mga libro na inuuwi niya,” she said. “Political books, madalas iyon pinag-uusapan namin, kahit sa breakfast conversations.”
Still, Leody is humble enough to admit to not know everything, said Leah, who also taught him how to use a smartphone and how to navigate the internet.
Dexter also talked about his sexuality in public for the first time, saying he never hid being gay from his family and closest friends since his teenage years.
He explained to Abunda that upon growing up, he was into “typical” masculine activities like biking and video games with his friends who are all boys.
“Mga mid-high school, parang iba,” he said. “Naa-attract ako sa lalaki.”
Di ko siya maasar na ‘bakla ka,’ as it's normalized at home.
Asked by Abunda when did he come out as gay to his parents, Dexter clarified that no such thing ever happened, as he was convinced that they already knew it all along.
“Di naman nila tinanong,” he said. “Siguro may idea na sila, alam na nila. Wala namang nangyari na ‘Mommy, Tatay, I'm gay.’”
Dexter said he considers himself lucky as he never experienced being discriminated against by his loved ones, especially his father.
“Sinuportahan naman niya ako sa pinili kong choices in life,” Dexter said of Leody. “I'm blessed and very thankful.”
He recalled formally introducing his boyfriend to his family after college, who he initially introduced as a friend. Dexter said they never made him feel uncomfortable about his sexual preference.
Leah also noted that when they’ve had a typical sibling fight when they were young, which included throwing insults at each other, there’s never been below the belt attacks against Dexter’s sexuality because homophobia was never a part of their upbringing.
“Di ko siya maasar na ‘bakla ka,’ as it's normalized at home,” she said.
Why De Guzman?
Leah said the electorate should consider voting for their father, as he’s someone who’s not corrupt and someone who will plunder the Filipino people’s money.
As a labor leader who has pushed for workers’ rights since the ‘80s, she is convinced that her father would fight for the needs of every Filipino.
“Siya iyong nasa lugar na iyon,” she said. “Naranasan niya iyong mga nararanasan ng bawat Pilipino. Hanggang ngayon, naririnig niya ang mga pangangailangan nila.”
“We are hopeful na maiintindihan nila at mare-recognize na it's about time to do something differently,” she added.
Simula noon hanggang ngayon, ang tatay ko, kasama pa rin niya iyong mga manggagawa... Kaya manggagawa naman tayo ngayong 2022.
Dexter, meanwhile, noted that people should take the time to study Leody’s platforms and advocacies, especially those who are critical of him.
“Tingin ko pag nabasa nila, maliliwanagan sila,” he said. "Excited akong makita iyong mga taong magbe-benefit sa gagawin niya. Excited ako sa parang totoong pagbabago sa bansa natin."