Robredo bandwagon banks on grassroots to battle Marcos juggernaut

Supporters of presidential aspirant Vice-President Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo attend a rally along Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard in Pasay City, April 24. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ MIGUEL DE GUZMAN

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

TENS OF THOUSANDS of Filipinos intensified their house-to-house campaign in the homestretch of the Philippine presidential election to persuade more voters to choose a perceived underdog.

They will find out in the coming weeks after the May 9 elections whether the effort was enough for Vice-President Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo to overtake the frontrunner — Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr., the son of the late dictator.

“This appropriation of the people’s campaign and its use of people-to-people operation will be an inspiration for other parties and campaign organizations,” said Arjan P. Aguirre, who teaches political science at the Ateneo de Manila University. That’s if she wins.

Ms. Robredo’s grassroots political campaign could inspire smaller parties and alternative political forces in the future to contest well-oiled politicians like Mr. Marcos, he said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

The opposition leader, a lawyer and activist who entered politics after her husband’s death a decade ago, beat Mr. Marcos by a hair in the 2016 vice-presidential race. He protested the results for alleged cheating but failed after the Supreme Court rejected his lawsuit five years later.

Ms. Robredo’s pink-themed campaign rallies drew hundreds of thousands of supporters — workers, activists, farmers and young people. She also received endorsements from popular celebrities, beauty queens and church leaders in the predominantly Catholic nation.

On Tuesday night, social media turned pink as her supporters changed their profile pictures with a pink frame.

But she continues to face an uphill battle against Mr. Marcos, who has dominated presidential opinion polls.

“I joined the person-to-person campaign because I want to move past the online campaign and do ground work,” Josiah Quising, a fresh lawyer from Far Eastern University, said in a Twitter message. “Online campaigns have limits.”

The campaign reminds supporters that the goal is to win more votes by not antagonizing people.

“What makes a tao-sa-tao (person-to-person) approach effective is pakikipag-kapwa (fellowship) — a value deeply rooted in the Filipino psyche,” said Ver Reyes, a psychologist who heads the graduate school of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Marikina.

“It involves interdependent skills such as pakikipag-usap (communications), pakikinig (listening) and pagpupukaw (awakening),” she said in a Messenger chat. “And these skills entail a strong level of commitment from the campaigners because it is very taxing, physically and mentally.”

Ms. Reyes said it is never easy to deal with people who have picked a candidate, so campaigners should be sensitive and mindful to be able to convert people.

Mr. Marcos kept his 56% score in the Pulse Asia Research, Inc.’s April presidential opinion poll. Ms. Robredo remained at a distant second with 23%.

Her camp said the poll didn’t capture Ms. Robredo’s rally near Manila, the capital that drew a record 400,000 supporters on April 23.

“By now, Robredo campaigners know how to efficiently use their time well — by targeting voters who are seeking more information about Leni and may have not yet decided,” Ms. Reyes said.

Jean Encinas-Franco, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines (UP), said the Robredo campaign is a “master class” in civic education.

“The tao-sa-tao campaign is important because it gives voters the validation they need in these uncertain times,” she said in a Messenger chat. “They feel heard and seen.”

On Tuesday night, the Philippine-based religious group Iglesia ni Cristo, whose members have been known to vote as a bloc, endorsed the tandem of Mr. Marcos and his vice-presidential running mate, Davao City Mayor and presidential daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio.

On the other hand, about 1,400 Catholic bishops, priests and deacons announced their support for Ms. Robredo the day after. The church played a key role in two popular street uprisings that toppled two presidents.

In the Philippines, the president and vice-president are elected separately and may come from different parties.

“It’s useless at this point to expect the other nonadministration candidates to change their minds,” Maria Ela L. Atienza, who also teaches political science at UP, said in a Messenger chat. “But the election is already a two-way race between Robredo and Marcos.”

‘NEW SOCIETY’The volunteer-driven campaign that has fueled Ms. Robredo’s campaign is a promising and effective way to bypass and challenge the traditional patronage-driven practices of powerful political families, said Temario C. Rivera, who heads the Center for People Empowerment in Governance.

“Nontraditional and progressive politicians will be more receptive to this campaign style since it also frees or weakens their dependence on these same patronage ties.”

The top two presidential bets capped their campaigns in Metro Manila at the weekend, with Ms. Robredo drawing almost 800,000 people at a rally in the financial district of Makati City, according to estimates by her office.

Mr. Marcos held a rally in Parañaque City, where his more than a million supporters — according to his office — sang the modern version of a propaganda jingle used to trumpet his late father’s vision of a new society.

“There’s a new birth, a new life, a new path in the new society,” his supporters sang in Filipino.

Meanwhile, Ms. Robredo thanked her celebrity endorsers, who she said endured the heat and exhaustion during their house-to-house campaign.

“They bet their career and name,” she told the crowd in Filipino. “Despite the exhaustion, you still walked to find the next door. Let’s celebrate this historic campaign this evening. Let’s win this.”

Mr. Quising thinks knocking on doors helped him reach people’s hearts. “The internet as a medium has dehumanized most of our conversations, that’s why it’s important to reach out to ordinary people on the ground.”

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