Vote in the Philippines: Volunteers back reformer against dictator’s son

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A supporter has penned a moving campaign song that has been played nearly 4 million times on Spotify. Other volunteers are bursting into Filipino villages, canvassing to support Vice President Leni Robredo in next week’s presidential election.

The stakes are high: If Robredo’s opponent Ferdinand Marcos Jr. wins the presidency, as the polls suggest, it will mark a stunning reversal for a nation where millions flocked in 1986 to kick the country out. a dictator and the father of Marcos, whose legacy continues to overshadow his son.

Followers from diverse backgrounds – families with grandparents and children, doctors, activists, Catholic priests and nuns, TV and movie stars, farmers and students – joined the rallies festivities of Robredo by the tens of thousands. She called the fledgling movement a “pink revolution” after the color worn by its volunteers.

Huge crowds, along with drone footage and videos posted online by followers, evoke memories of the massive but largely peaceful 1986 ‘people power’ uprising that toppled strongman Ferdinand Marcos in a democratic stage Asian who impressed the world.

While the rallying call then was to bring back democracy after years of brutal and corrupt dictatorship, the battle cry of Robredo’s supporters is a promise to bring good governance without corruption with her as a new door – reformist torch.

“We wanted good governance, honest and hard-working government officials who really care about the people, and it’s finally here,” said Nica del Rosario, a 32-year-old musician. “Let’s not waste this chance because someone like her doesn’t come around very often.”

Along with his colleagues, del Rosario wrote and sang two campaign songs for Robredo, including “Rosas” – Tagalog for roses – a tribute to the opposition leader’s patriotic and humble politics that became a moving anthem for his supporters. . The song has been streamed over 3.9 million times on Spotify in just two months, and has gone viral on Facebook and YouTube and brought fans to tears at rallies.

But Robredo is fighting an uphill electoral battle against Marcos’ son and namesake, who has topped voter preference polls with a seemingly insurmountable lead.

Robredo remained in second place in independent polls for the 10-man presidential race, well behind Marcos Jr., with just a week to go until 67 million registered voters choose their next leader on May 9.

Marcos Jr. topped Pulse Asia’s latest poll with 56% support, though his rating dipped slightly among the lower middle class, and Robredo came in second with 24% after rising nine points. Other candidates were far behind in the March 17-21 survey, which polled 2,400 Filipinos of voting age nationwide with a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

Marcos Jr.’s candidacy was backed by his vice presidential running mate, Sara Duterte, the daughter of incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte, who has remained popular despite his bloody crackdown on illicit drugs and dismal human rights record. the man who has claimed thousands of lives since 2016.

“There is always the possibility that people will change their decision,” Pulse Asia President Ronald Holmes said of voter preferences. It is also difficult to grasp the effect of word-of-mouth and door-to-door campaigns, he said.

Activists who helped oust Marcos 36 years ago fear Philippine history could be turned upside down if his son takes control of a country long seen as the Asian bulwark of democracy. Marcos Jr., a 64-year-old former senator, has defended his father’s legacy and stubbornly refuses to acknowledge and apologize for the widespread abuse and looting that plagued the Philippines during his rule of martial law. Courts in the United States and the Philippines as well as government investigations have provided compelling evidence from this period.

“My worst fear is the return of the Marcos…because we will face worldwide condemnation. People will ask us, “Haven’t you learned? You said in 86 never again and now he’s back. So what are you telling us?’ said Florencio Abad, a political inmate in the 1970s under Marcos who went on to hold senior government posts after the dictator’s fall and now advises Robredo’s campaign.

Robredo, 57, a former congresswoman and mother of three, is running as an independent and does not belong to any of the country’s entrenched political dynasties or wealthy landowner clans.

She was cited for her integrity and simplicity in the poverty and corruption-ridden Southeast Asian nation, where two presidents had been accused of looting and overthrown, including the elder Marcos, who died in exile in the United States in 1989. A third was detained for almost four years on a similar allegation, but was eventually cleared.

Like her late husband, a respected politician who died in a plane crash in 2012, Robredo’s calling lies in avoiding the pitfalls of power. As a member of Congress, she regularly traveled alone by bus from her province to the capital and back, often at night, using the long journey to sleep.

Besides their electoral rivalry, Robredo and Marcos Jr. are worlds apart from history.

As a student at Philippine State University in the 1980s, Robredo had joined the anti-Marcos protests that culminated in the 1986 democratic uprising.

In 2016, she narrowly defeated Marcos Jr. in a cliffhanger run for vice president in their first campaign showdown. He fought an unsuccessful legal battle for years to invalidate his victory over alleged fraud and still refuses to concede.

Without the huge logistics required for a presidential campaign, Robredo hadn’t originally planned to run for the top job, but changed his mind at the last minute last year after Marcos Jr. announced his candidacy and talks to field a single opposition candidate have collapsed. The emergence of campaign volunteers was a lifeline, according to its allies.

“She had no machinery and it was really the volunteers that energized the whole campaign,” said Georgina Hernandez, who coordinates volunteer efforts nationally for Robredo.

Robredo’s volunteer army, which Hernandez says numbers nearly 2 million, initially engaged in all sorts of campaigns – from turning roadside walls into pink murals with his portrait and foreign exchange to the provision of free medical and legal services to the management of soup kitchens for the poor.

Most, however, turned to house-to-house campaigns and staged star rallies as Election Day approached, she said.

Mary Joan Buan, a volunteer activist who also joined the 1986 revolt, said opposing the rise of another Marcos to the presidency decades after the dictator’s ouster had become more complex given a well-run campaign. financed to restore the image of the Marcos family who started social networks several years ago.

“A lot of people now rely on social media and use platforms like TikTok to get information, so it’s doubly difficult,” Buan said as he went door to door for Robredo in a depressed Manila neighborhood. A few residents have outright told his group that they support BBM, a popularized reference to Marcos Jr. that does not mention his last name.

University of the Philippines sociologist Randy David said the rare and spontaneous volunteer movement that has emerged for Robredo is a wake-up call for would-be bullies.

“Traditional politicians are wary of the boundless potential of social movements to shape election outcomes as well as their ability to take on new forms and persist beyond elections,” David wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, a major daily newspaper in the Philippines. Manila. “But it’s the autocrats who fear them the most, because they almost always carry the seeds of regime change.”

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Associated Press reporters Joeal Calupitan and Aaron Favila contributed to this report.

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