PINK inspires hope but the battle for good governance is long and painful

Around six years ago, in my attempt to make light of the imminent grim future of the Philippines under Duterte, I wrote a piece that embarrassingly suggested that a Duterte presidency was not that bad. He did not have that much political clout, so I reckoned if he did something malevolent while in power, the powers that be in Luzon, where around 50% of voters reside, would just oust him and restore “normalcy” in governance.

It did not take that long for me to cringe at my predictions. Not only did Duterte become a very powerful political figure, but he has also demonstrated the awesome powers of being a president in the Philippines to unprecedented extents.

Duterte’s regular threats of killing people without due process became mundane and largely tolerated by Filipinos. Worse, these threats translated to actual macabre scenarios on the streets. His government managed to send a senator to jail with cases where most of the witnesses are convicts and the prosecution could not even initially identify what narcotic substance was involved. He unilaterally withdrew or attempted to disengage from treaties entered into by previous governments.

Duterte created a country-wide new normal even before the term gained popularity because of the pandemic. His new normal has not only been uncomfortable; it also manifested death, corruption, anomalous actions, a bastardization of the free press, and innumerable instances of lies and hypocrisy.

Next year, there is an opportunity to correct the undesirable changes and anomalous new normal the country has been suffering from. Fortunately, the 2022 presidential election is not offering the country the best option of a “lesser evil.” There is an opportunity to elect a real antithesis to the abuses not only of the present administration but also of the dictatorship that has sent the country to the doldrums some half a century ago, which is now trying another strike at taking over the country. A candidate in pink is bringing out a host of emotions among Filipinos.

The Pink Slip for Abusive Regimes

Pink has become the new color of protest and Vice-President Leni Robredo’s decision to pick it as her campaign color carries substantive symbolism. First, it serves as the pink slip that makes it clear that the abuses and incompetence have run their course and must come to an end. The message is not only intended for the incumbent in Malacañang. It extends to the previous occupant family who is now making another attempt at taking control of the entire country.

On the other hand, different sources on color psychology and meanings refer to pink as the color of hope and optimism, which is very fitting for the kind of situation the country is reeling from at present. The pandemic continues to devastate Filipinos and bringing the country to the pink of health is of utmost concern.

As actress-host Camile Prats wrote in a tweet, “Pink has always been my color? finally a light at the end of this very dim tunnel #LabanLeni2022.” Pink has symbolized hope for the country that has been enduring years of incompetence, disregard for the rule of law, lack of compassion, and an inexplicable sycophancy to a foreign power that has never shown goodwill to the Filipinos.

Robredo’s announcement to run for the highest post in the land has been met by, as Robredo herself describes, a shocking flood of support. On the day she filed for her candidacy, celebrities and internet personalities expressed support by wearing pink and using the hashtags #LabanLeni2022 and #LetLeniLead2022. These include Regine Velasquez, Vice Ganda, Quark Henares, Sharon Cuneta, Ogie Alcasid, Maricel Soriano, Liza Soberano, JC Buendia, and Lisa Macuja, among many more.

A couple of caravans were held in support of Robredo’s candidacy. There was one in Iloilo and another in Negros Occidental. Some ordinary folks also showed their support. A traffic enforcer in Muntinlupa gave away “pink puto” while a number of stores installed streamers indicating their support for Robredo.

October 7 showed that Robredo is not as weak a presidential candidate as the surveys tend to depict her. The unexpected expression of support was particularly notable on social media where the hashtag #LabanLeni2022 registered over 400,000 tweets and stayed on the trending list until the next morning.

TV news programs, as well as online news sources, have been flooded with content about Robredo’s candidacy and the noticeable explosion of pink. In an interesting coincidence, the skies of Metro Manila also turned pink, a rousing scene depicted in the introductory sequence of the newscast TV Patrol.

Pink appears to signal hope for those who have already decided that the Dutertes or the Marcoses are too powerful to be beaten. The unexpected expression of support dispels the notion that it would have been better for Robredo to let the survey frontrunners pursue the fight. It has reinvigorated supporters of good governance who have partially accepted defeat in the face of the lingering popularity of the president and the apparent political weakness of the vice-president.

Not Just a Protest Candidate

As mentioned, Leni Robredo is not just the lesser evil option voters have to make do with. She is also not a mere protest candidate plucked from a political or well-known family to rally people against an atrocious regime and a former dictator’s clan.

Unlike the late Corazon Aquino who was forced to become the figurehead against the Marcos dictatorship, Leni Robredo enters the presidential derby with proven competency and an unimpeachable track record in public service. While it can be said that Robredo is in a way being “forced” to take the challenge of running for president, the human rights lawyer is not going to battle unarmed and unacquainted with the difficulties she will be facing.

With her cheerful campaign color, she is coming out with the resolve to fight for what she believes is right without being calculating and fixated on strategies. As 1Sambayan convenors revealed, nobody could be sure about her decision and the choice of pink for her campaign color was something she reportedly decided on her own.

Despite the limited budget of the Office of the Vice-President, Robredo managed to stretch her resources and collaborate with the private sector to do more in helping people. She organized a shuttle service to help front-liners with their transportation amid the lockdowns. To help address the shortage of PPEs, she coordinated with local garment manufacturers to produce PPEs at prices lower than those obtained by the DOH and DBM-PS. Her office initiated COVID-19 testing as well as vaccination services through buses. It was also the OVP that launched the first community-based learning centers to help students who found it difficult to attend classes during MECQ and ECQ periods. Moreover, the OVP gathered, warehoused, and distributed various donations to Filipinos across the country.

Many can attest to how organized the OVP has been in its initiatives. They may not be on a scale as wide as what the national government can reach, but they show that it is possible to do more with good leadership even with very limited resources.

Vice-Presidential candidate Lito Atienza, the running mate of Manny Pacquiao, raised eyebrows when he questioned what Robredo has done to deserve the presidency. He was quickly rebuked by many supporters who readily cited the many initiatives of the Vice-President during and even before the pandemic. Robredo’s camp also responded by pointing Atienza to the OVP’s official Facebook account, which documents the things Robredo has accomplished.

One of the great things about Robredo’s stint in government is that it is easy to cite the things she has done. Everything she does, especially when it involves donations from private partners, is properly documented.

A Robredo supporter shares on Facebook his reasons for supporting Robredo, which proves the kind of competence, efficiency, and transparency the OVP practices. The supporter praised the Vice-President’s work ethic and noted how organized the OVP’s fundraisers are. The supporter highlights the sending of email reports to donors not only to thank them but also to inform them about distribution of their donations.

Transparency and accountability are alien concepts to Duterte as evidenced by his refusal to make his SALNs accessible to the public voluntarily. With Marcos, lying about his credentials is by no means an act of transparency. His treacherous underhandedness is also demonstrated by how he deceived his erstwhile running mate, Miriam Defensor Santiago. Santiago’s volunteers attest to how the late senator was treated unfairly by the Marcoses during her presidential run. Miriam was quoted as saying, “Hindi naman ako kinakampanya ng mga yan.”

Robredo embodies the exact opposite of the unwanted characteristics of her opponents. There are no records of her wittingly lying or making misrepresentations on substantial matters. She has never been convicted of any charge, unlike Bongbong Marcos who was convicted over a tax case. Robredo’s pink evokes not only a sense of harmlessness but an assurance of accountability and dignity. It can stimulate dormant trustingness that has been suppressed by years of skepticism over a regime of constant lying and hypocrisy.

True Colors

While Robredo’s campaign color largely brought optimism and hopefulness, it also invited derision from some parties. Fellow presidential candidate Isko Moreno, for instance, assailed her supposed switch from yellow to pink with unexpectedly harsh words. Moreno called Robredo a “fake leader with fake color.” He went on to say, “You’re not even proud of your party. Kung kayang mong iwan ang mga kasama mo [sa partido], paano pa kaya kaming 110 million Filipinos?”

Even before Robredo could respond, her supporters were quick to give Moreno a clap back. It is Moreno, after all, who has a clear record of switching parties. From Nacionalista, he jumped to UNA, PMP, and NUP in the process of finding established parties that can help him with his political ambition. His recent switch to Aksyon Demokratiko clearly mirrors himself in his own criticisms against Robredo.

Robredo has never switched parties and has remained a Liberal Party member. Her decision to run as an independent, according to her, is her way of saying that she is still open to unifying or coalescing with other democratic forces to fight politicians deemed inimical to the country’s democracy.

The decision to go from yellow to pink is also her way of making a statement that she is ready to be more open to working with others in the fight to end or prevent the return of abusive regimes. It can be said that it is also her way of distancing herself from the reputationally damaged yellow color of the Aquino family and the Liberal Party. However, it is not surprising for anyone to try to take out excess baggage or things that could imperil the achievement of goals.

On the other hand, Robredo’s choice of using pink turns out to be instrumental in bringing out Isko Moreno’s true colors. The way he attacked Robredo is completely contrary to his claim of becoming a “healing president.” He called Robredo’s supporters “yellowtards” and taunted opposition senate bets in 2019 by describing their defeat as “nainidiro.” These are words not someone who has intentions of unifying the country would be uttering, and a presidential aspirant at that. In fact, these are words rabid Duterte and Marcos fanatics or “trolls” are fond of using.

Moreno’s unraveling is just sad, especially for someone like me who was initially partly convinced by the idea that Isko Moreno could help defeat the administration’s candidate and Marcos. Perhaps, like what other people through before, having Isko and Leni in the presidential race is reassuring. Someone altruistic like Robredo would not hesitate to swallow her words (of fighting till the end) to withdraw from the race and endorse Moreno in case both their survey numbers appear insufficient to defeat Duterte’s candidate or Marcos.

Such a scenario appears extremely remotely possible now. It is disappointing how Moreno made it clear that he is not part of the opposition, even though he conveyed back in September that he is still open to a unified opposition in 2022.

“So, I would rather continue to talk and try to be reasonable with those we know, with our fellow public servants. At the end of the day, taumbayan naman kausap natin. But just the same we will continue to reach and be reasonable to all sectors – business, institution, organizations, and of course parties,” Moreno said. He also did not react to 1Sambayan’s public announcements about considering him to be the coalition’s standard-bearer. He did not ask the coalition to exclude his name the way he did back in June.

The Winnability Question

Leni Robredo won the vice-presidency with 14 million votes even at the height of aggressive Duterte-Bongbong political maneuvers. Some say that this number is Leni Robredo’s base, although there are also those who would argue that many have already changed their minds as they tolerated or started embracing Duterte as depicted by the president’s high approval/satisfaction ratings over the past five years.

Can Robredo win just like how she did back in 2016? Optimists like former Senator Trillanes say yes. To recall, Robredo also started in single digits in the 2016 vice-presidential surveys. Even until election day, her survey numbers were lower than those of Marcos’. But she emerged victorious in the end.

Robredo’s supporters can hold on to this optimistic view, but it is important to remember that Robredo had the advantage of being backed by the administration’s political machinery back then. She benefited from the coalitions and wide reach of the then prominent Liberal Party. Now, the situation is completely different. She is in the opposition challenging the machinery of the administration. She has a near-100 awareness level among survey respondents, but her approval numbers are relatively low for a vice-president and her vote share in election surveys has stayed in the single digits.

With the electrifying groundswell of pink support shown on the day Robredo filed her candidacy, it is safe to say that Robredo’s chance of becoming the next president has significantly improved. However, supporters need to do more especially on social media, where a significant portion of the campaigning will likely be taking place. Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube, in particular, are still dominated by pro-Duterte and pro-Marcos content that has largely remained unchallenged for their false, fabricated, and misleading claims.

REGISTER AND VOTE!

Pink has made many believers in competent and honest governance hopeful that it is possible to block six more years of a Duterte in Malacañang or the return to power of the Marcoses. It has inspired many to do something as it appears there is a chance to elect someone with the dignity, capability, integrity, and vision befitting a national leader. It has energized a base of voters or Filipinos in general who are seeking better governance and a rejection of historical revisionism.

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