The show of force for Vice President Leni Robredo on Macapagal Avenue in Pasay City on April 23 amply demonstrated her camp’s strength of purpose, and the burgeoning numbers — per estimates, 412,000 at the site and 171,000 on livestream (although often faltering by dint of a dropping internet signal) — foreshadowed a pitched battle with the survey front-runner Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the polls.
The day of festivity (to celebrate Robredo’s 57th birthday) was also a day of resistance (against the Marcos resurgence suggested by the surveys). By midmorning people dressed in their candidate’s fighting color of pink were massing and marching on Ayala and Buendia Avenues in Makati preparatory to making their way to Pasay, exuberant and chanting despite the punishing heat. On the site itself people began to gather early for the program that was to start at sundown, arriving on foot or in carpools and other means, through road excavations and detours that, authorities felt constrained to officiously point out, were not intended to inconvenience the Vice President’s supporters.
Viewing the people marching in Makati, those of a certain age may recall what transpired on Ayala and elsewhere shortly before Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s dictatorship was toppled in February 1986 and he and his family were forced to flee Malacanang laden with bags and boxes of cash, jewelry and other worldly goods. Small protest actions, whether of priests and seminarians silently walking and flashing the Laban (Fight)! sign, or of laborers and office workers bearing streamers denouncing martial law, or of the film director Lino Brocka and companions escorted by a honking motorcade, periodically materialized seemingly from nowhere and became daily occurrences pelted by confetti from the windows of high-rises. Gatherings electrified the then unoccupied Ugarte Field, and, one afternoon, a seemingly unending all-women march wended its way through the business district cheered on by men lining the sidewalks — an event which, per the report that rippled through the ranks, Imelda Marcos decided to secretly view for herself from a top-floor suite at the then still-standing Mandarin hotel.
But the people that thronged Macapagal Avenue — mostly young people from all walks of life who brought their own placards, according to someone who booked nearby lodgings so he and his family could be there before, during and after the mass action — could not have deliberately taken a leaf from the historic foliage of the anti-Marcos activities in Makati more than 30 years ago. They evidently moved on their own: planning, organizing, strategizing, seeking connections, providing maps and means of transport, building stages and platforms both literal and not— and, during the event itself, marshaling the surging crowds, and providing water and other forms of physical and medical assistance to friend, family, or stranger. And, on top of everything else, maintaining the fist-pumping energy to receive and applaud their candidate’s message of commitment to elevate the quality of life from what it is to what it should be.
And the footage of men and women clearing the grounds of litter after the rally served to beef up earlier displays of discipline — for example, the venue of “Pasiglaban” spick and span hours after the 110,000-strong crowd left Emerald Avenue happily singing “ You shoot me down, but I won’t fall/ I am titanium…” But it’s reported that the aftermath of the recent “Ceboom” at a 5.2-hectare lot, the attendance variously pegged by Mandaue police at 40,000, 150,000, and 120,000, was less than perfect.
Still, a cold appraisal will not lead to conclusions of falsity or contrivance, or “hakot” (trucked-in) mercenaries that demand — because dangled — payment for warm bodies. The “LabanLeni” movement is an intriguing phenomenon that invites careful study, both for the science and the lessons it offers on how people, young and old, are wrenching free of the ways of traditional politics and, in the course of it, raising the level of awareness necessary to produce an informed and discriminating electorate.
It’s a new ballgame altogether, different because it’s nothing less than a people’s campaign driven by those who give of themselves in surprising and admirable ways. They include flash mobs of theater artists and cultural entertainers breaking out in song and dance in informal-settler communities like Krus na Ligas in Quezon City, or crooning “Rosas” in high-end malls like Eastwood.
Or, specially, those going from house to house to push the candidacies of Robredo, her running mate Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, and certain senatorial candidates. Whether in remote or urban areas, this army of volunteers performs work that requires dedication, patience, and the particular wisdom to engage potential allies or, crucially, to sense possible peril and desist from going further. How they proceed in their work proves an extraordinary commitment: From basic accounts, they bring coffee and biscuits to those on the night shift, even those awaiting vegetable deliveries (“bagsakan ng gulay”) at 2 a.m., arm sleeves to tricycle drivers, or fans or aprons to mothers and homemakers, or variations thereof — juice, say, or, if donations are good, t-shirts. Having made a connection, they nourish it in casual conversation and then introduce and discuss the issues with which to apprise individuals and households of the candidate’s essential worth to the uplift of their lives.
It’s a task of voter education that Robredo’s people have embraced as the weeks wind down to Election Day: to inform those yet unreached or undecided, person to person, of why the May 9 elections are crucial to their very lives, and what the Vice President has done and is doing for public welfare, and what she can do as president. “Tao sa tao” — certainly more than can be said of all the other contenders.
( VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)