The final crowd count was both surprising and a cause for hope.
For the past six years, especially the last two during the pandemic, the Philippines has been mired by bad governance. This has been exacerbated by a spate of corruption issues, a misogynistic culture, and increasing hostilities against individuals with opposing political beliefs and affiliations.
This year, the country has a chance for a better future with the national elections looming in the horizon. But it’s going to be a tough battle. I may sound biased here, but the best candidate to lead the country post-pandemic, the incumbent vice president, is also placing a far second in pre-election surveys, in large part because she has been the target of disinformation mainly in social media (though some traditional media outlets are playing a significant part as well). Her vice presidential candidate, an incumbent senator, is also lagging behind in the vice presidential surveys, which are dominated by the daughter of the current president.
The main beneficiary of these fake news and propaganda is the son of a former dictator. That dictator plundered the nation’s coffers and committed human rights violations, mostly during a nine-year period where martial law was imposed over the country. But the son (along with his mother, his sister, and influential people around them) has succeeded in whitewashing that piece of history and had catapulted himself to a comfortable lead in surveys. This, despite a tax evasion case, the lack of clear platform and track record of public service, a history of lying, and refusal to attend debates.
Still, a shift of momentum is increasingly becoming evident. Volunteer supporters of the incumbent vice president have succeeded in organizing campaign rallies around the country as well as targeted campaigns in certain cities, presenting her platforms should she win the presidency as well as debunking false information meant to discredit her and her slate.
These rallies have been producing record numbers of crowd turnout, the highest being in the city of Pasig, drawing 137,000 people. Even in provinces that are considered bailiwicks of the dictator’s son and his allies, significant crowds have been turning up, showing the increasing support for a government that is transparent and is borne of a genuine desire for systemic change.
One of the most recent rallies is in San Fernando, Pampanga, the second one we attended (the first one was in Malolos, Bulacan in early March). It’s a grand event that at first seems like a cultural festival, with things the province is known for in display: the giant lanterns, the kites (the province hosts an annual hot air balloon festival), and stalls serving free sisig. The event also featured performances from some celebrities.
But in the end, it’s the message of hope, the message of true unity, and the message of the power of the people that draw the crowds. These crowds themselves are volunteers, coming out of their way to show their support for candidates whose advocacies and values align with theirs. It’s a statement that the people are here to help them win this no matter the odds.
This is best typified when some farmers from the region climb onstage to raise the hands of the presidential and vice presidential candidates. It shows that the most powerful support comes not from the local government units or the political dynasties that have etched their power and influence in their respective provinces, but from the people whom these politicians are supposed to serve.
It’s a poignant moment that can only result from an organic outpouring of support. This becomes all the more evident when the event announcer reveals the final count of the rally’s crowd. There is a new record: 220,000.
Post election update: The incumbent vice president lost by a huge margin, and the Philippines is now about to enter a new era with the former dictator’s son as its president. It was a disappointing (quite an understatement, to be sure) setback for the opposition movement born seven months ago. To be fair, the odds were stacked against it right from the start, as it was up against the well-oiled machinery of seasoned dynastic politicians and their band of online trolls. Nonetheless, the movement pressed on, and a wave of supporters grew in the succeeding months. It wasn’t enough to secure a victory, but it was enough to show what volunteerism and grassroots campaigning were capable of. It showed the world how, even if just a minority stand for what they believe in, fight for what they truly care about, seeds of hope can be planted. Sure, there will be setbacks — no social movement that fought the status quo became a success overnight. But with proper nurturing and direction, these seeds will grow. And it will make us realize, eventually, that the fruit was worth fighting for.