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A strange election | Inquirer Opinion

The Leni Robredo team calls it a People’s Campaign. Rightly so because people fueled it from the very beginning. It was not as though these same people who exploded in passionate pink expression after Leni finally announced her candidacy only fell in love with her then. They already knew her, they already admired her, they had years to observe this quiet lady go about her mission in life – which, by the way, included being the Vice-President of the Republic of the Philippines.

I recall 2016 when Rodrigo Duterte took his oath as President. In fact, I stood by the road when he entered Malacañang Palace for the ceremonial handover of the official presidential residence by the late President PNoy. And I was still there when the SUV carrying the exiting citizen PNoy left in his private vehicle with a big smile on his face as he waved to the crowd lining up the road. I think he wanted to turn the Palace over to another incoming president but that did not delete his excitement for his long-sought retirement.

Witnessing those few scenes symbolizing to me the essence of democracy, the peaceful and cordial turnover of power, made me realize that I had witnessed the same turnover several times in my life. Of course, not there in JP Laurel Street but wherever I was watching or listening to one president go and another taking over. It began for me when Magsaysay was sworn in and I was in Grade School wearing short pants then. But my parents and older relatives were quite ecstatic, and I remember their happy moments.

Martial Law disturbed that tradition. It was a long hiatus from 1969 to February of 1986, but people power did bring it back. Then, another people power protest, albeit smaller, heeded by the military heeded, once more disturbed this orderly transfer of power. That was 20 years ago, two termed-out presidents had left, and two new ones took their place. Now, we face elections in May 2022 and another transfer of power to come two months after that. So we hope.

Why just hope and not feel so sure that it will happen in that legally prescribed and orderly manner? Not one specific reason but rather a combination of many. First is the willingness of the exiting incumbent to leave, a prerequisite that guarantees a civil or friendly exchange. That does not seem to be the case right now. After all the many statements about how tired he is and how he was wanting to rest, President Duterte seems to be trying all possible ways to cling to power.

Consequently, that wanting to cling to power necessarily generates attempts to make it happen. We have noticed the appointments of Comelec Commissioners that all seem to come from the same island. We have noticed who got the award for handling the transport of ballot boxes to a presidential friend, of the same island, of course. We also just finished watching a funny zarzuela of filing certificates of candidacies and then a flurry of substitutions – against the backdrop of a sitting president loathe to relinquishing power.

It is not very reassuring, but that is the reality. And those who are not in power, most especially citizens of the land, can only learn to accept that the powerful and the rich decide in their name. Yes, always in the name of the people but who were never asked in the first place. There is no competition either from political parties because there is no party system in the Philippines anyway. It remains just a game of personalities, and that is how the elections will go.

Except that many Filipinos seem to have reached their breaking point and want to disturb the game of thrones, or musical chairs of dynastic personalities. They have also dropped the idea of going through a party system of elections, preferring this time to just go directly and openly for their preference. So, in the case of Leni Robredo, it has become a people’s campaign. In my understanding, a bayanihan campaign.

It has not been since late 1985 when a bayanihan campaign was experienced. In 2010, PNoy’s candidacy drew volunteers in droves and, truly, they won the presidency for him. But a political party had begun campaigning even before PNoy knew he would run, and PNoy just replaced the previous candidate. The volunteers had to reckon with a political party and that caused irritants, of course.

Today, Leni begins without a party but asks all other parties to join her campaign. National, regional, and local parties will be joining Leni but they will not be able to wrest control from the volunteers and not overwhelm the spirit of volunteerism. Nor should they try to, in my view, not as dominant forces but much better as mentors and guides. After all, politicians and political parties have a better grasp of political reality, and they should share it.

Yet, a people’s or bayanihan campaign has greater merits today, in spirit and in form. Especially since veteran political personalities are not stopped from contributing their expertise, only their traditional overarching power over volunteer civilians. The 1985 snap election is a template for victory against all odds, even the cheating that follows an election that some may wish to win by hook or by crook.

Volunteers must transition, like it or not, to more political activities as the campaign moves towards election day. Beyond social media is groundwork, the brick and mortar, the nitty gritty. At one point, warm bodies must walk the streets, campaign face to face, enter communities, troop to the voting places, and protect their votes. That is standard for political parties and their internal structures but quite unfamiliar as a must-do for most volunteers.

The center of gravity in a democracy are the people. While experimental, it will be enlightening to witness the unfolding of a strange campaign.

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