Touch some grass

The recent “pink caravans” showing support for Leni Robredo is being hailed by some as a “worthy endeavor.” Many have paid tribute to the groundswell of support for the Vice President, saying that it is one way to express indignation against the current enemy: a forthcoming alliance of the Dutertes and the Marcoses that will certainly put this country into deeper shambles should they get elected.

However, it is worthy to point out that this is primarily a clamor among the middle-classes. As one radio commentator put it, the whole support behind Leni Robredo is a phenomenon that the middle class “can grin and bear with.” After all, several members of the caravan were also the owners of the cars that paraded across our national highways. Many of these small pro-Robredo campaigns are reliant on individual contributions in the absence of the local machinery that the Vice President previously had access to.

While you can see farmers and tricycle drivers joining in the parade, a tired factory worker cannot use his remaining sick days just to show their support for a presidential candidate. They need their minimum wage to get by the day, unlike the middle classes, who can show up at rallies and not go hungry for a week or two.

Nonetheless, these caravans are indeed a huge break for like-minded Filipinos. We often talk about the country swamped with too many Duterte supporters that to see these jovial parades—certainly brightened up with pink, a brilliant choice indeed—is a welcome respite.

So much so that pro-Duterte social media influencers, specializing in baseless muckraking, have started  to claim that the pink caravans have gained support because the Robredo camp has “given out” envelopes containing cash and some snacks in exchange for attendance.

A confident middle-class Leni supporter could have just rubbished the concern, grumbling about how the alleged money in the envelopes handed out to caravan-goers are smaller than the expenses they have incurred in joining. Because in this economy you can’t go anywhere with only P200 worth of diesel! Or for more inclusive middle-class supporters, they could just have pointed out that the Robredo camp does not have any budget, manpower, or inclination to do these dirty tricks.

But several car owners have decided to sue the hell out of these propagandists, who alleged that they were paid to join the caravan. A threat of libel seemed enough, and the author of the offending post promptly took it down and said her apologies. Many of these chattering middle-class Leni supporters might have a moment of epiphany upon seeing the apology.

Many progressives have grumbled about how the threat of libel is definitely perilous. They asked: What then is the difference between a Robredo supporter from a Duterte supporter—if they both agree that we can just power-trip people who happen to criticize our political beliefs?

But, seemingly still spiteful over the accusations that Robredo was not inclusive in her senatorial slate, these liberal middle-classes again took offense, branding progressives as fake news peddlers and coddlers of misinformation; accusing those who harbor these criticisms as giving ammunition to the ‘enemy.’

Now, the ‘enemy’ – which has now belatedly woken up to the fact that some Robredo supporters are not as ‘inclusive’ as they present themselves to be – has indeed used the whole brouhaha as ammunition. “Sino ngayon ang tyrant at diktador, kung kakasuhan ninyo ng libel ang mga hindi ninyo kauri sa paniniwala?” these trolls blared.


I was one of these progressives who dared criticize this notion of using libel as an ax to grind against Duterte supporters. Rightly so, I also received the tongue-lashing of many of these middle-class liberals.

While I do understand their predicament, I still cannot help but be astonished by the viciousness and rabidness, and the lack of political maturity of some Robredo supporters. It shows a lack of understanding for what our rotten system has done to individuals of differing classes. As a result, it portrays many of these middle-class supporters as shallow, pompous, and insensitive to the situation on the ground.

Seeing many of them rubbishing Duterte and Marcos supporters as the scum of society, many of these middle-class liberals seem to blur the line between a nonsensical clapback and an honest, open discussion on politics and society. 

It bears repeating that no Duterte supporter—maybe your aunt, or a high school classmate—will take an ounce of truth if it is being shoved to their throats that they are the problem. You cannot catch their attention if you bowdlerize them ad nauseam.

Threatening Duterte propaganda with libel, then, is no different than Duterte and his business cronies using cyberlibel against Maria Ressa. The lack of regard for the use of libel as a legal weapon to muzzle opponents is worrying. 

Why is there a libel law in the first place? And why does the Philippines have one of the most draconian libel laws in the world?

This is especially problematic for us—those who work with words for a living, and who have to contend with heavy libel threats from the powers-that-be. Instead of dismantling a weapon being used to silence critics, some Robredo supporters are all the more willing to use it to their advantage. So much for democracy, I guess.

Aside from this, this chatter about weaponizing libel masks the elephant in the room. Failing to understand the causes of misinformation and “troll” problems is the Achilles’ heel of some Robredo supporters. It may sound too harsh to say that these people are living on another plane of reality, but it should be put out there, nonetheless.

They fail to see why many poor people readily absorb the fake news being propagated online. We know that this is because of limited opportunities in making them aware of basic media literacy. We know that many trolls are paid because of the immense inequalities in our economic situation. However, many of these liberal middle-classes seem to pin the blame on the poor’s sordid state, instead of actually looking at the context of things.

They also fail to see why many people actually believe misinformation on social media. Is it because they are poor and inherently idiots, if we are to follow the logic of these liberal middle-classes? Or is it because the poor and the marginalized have been promised the heavens by too many politicians, only to be given the earth? Or is it because the poor are only victims of targeted attacks on the institutions that seek to keep everyone informed and the powerful in check?

It pains me that this is what prospective voters would receive from some of Robredo’s most ardent supporters. They are seemingly averse to the art of tireless persuasion, being espoused by the progressives whom they attack. They are allergic to constant criticism, dismissing it as unnecessary chatter distracting them from exulting one lady to the presidency.

It also spooks me to the core of what to expect when Robredo gets elected. It seems that we can see from her supporters the same pattern of disregard for the nuances of society, the same disgust for those critical of their actions—the things we hate from Duterte’s supporters.

And all Leni could do is to assuage the converted using motherhood statements and a dashing dose of all things pink. Maybe for once she can try to nudge her rabid supporters by reminding them to touch some grass; in the fields that are tilled by exploited and harassed farmers, in the lands where indigenous peoples are currently being displaced from. Because while voting for a presidential candidate who will abolish the Marcos-Duterte alliance is vital, we need a president who integrates with the masses. These two shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. [P]

graphics by Jase Manatad and Jermaine Valerio

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