Sustaining the people’s campaign during and beyond elections

Words by — Datu Zahir Meditar

On a sunny Tuesday afternoon last March 15, at a local park in our hometown, Koronadal City, I experienced my first election-related campaign rally of a presidential candidate. With me were thousands of supporters from different sectors across the province of South Cotabato, bravely defying the current political situation here in the province where the governor is the president of Marcos’ political party Partido Federal ng Pilipinas (PFP). Vice President Leni Robredo also lost in Region 12 at the 2016 vice presidential election.

With this, it did not stop the attendees, including myself, from carrying different creative placards of witty remarks and progressive calls on national issues. What really struck me was when I saw a “Justice for Chad Booc” placard. It can be recalled that Chad Booc, a Lumad teacher, was brutally murdered by state forces in New Bataan, Davao de Oro last February 25, 2022. 

Booc’s death is a manifestation of how impunity remains in the countryside under the current administration, and this is not an isolated case. Several human rights violations have occurred in the Duterte regime especially with the existence of the Anti-Terror Law, just like the illegal arrest of human rights advocate and community doctor Natividad Castr.o, who was also red-tagged by alleged law enforcement agents last November 2020. 

These people-led rallies have become safe spaces in expressing peoples’ rights of speech and dissent, of how we could air out our frustrations to the current system without any fear of being harassed. It also sends a strong message that people are no longer satisfied with the current status quo that the regime has been implementing. But why do we need to put this year’s elections as a peak priority? 

A critical point in recent history 

Undoubtedly, the 2022 Philippine Elections is the most defining election in our recent history, one in which the dictator’s son is pursuing the highest position of the land with a grand systemic machinery of perpetuating lies and massive troll farms. What is worse is that he is constantly leading in the polls and surveys, and many influential politicians across the country have formally endorsed their tandem with the presidential daughter. 

With this predicament, only an organized and unified masses could disrupt an alliance composed of thieves and corrupt officials to rule over the land. In a historical lens, the collective movement of the Filipino people has proven to be effective in deposing a dictator during the 1986 EDSA People Power. Who’s to say we cannot do it again?

We can see this in the opposition’s people’s campaign whose momentum is continuously sustained by multiple sectors such as the youth, indigenous peoples, farmers, and workers, among others. It can also be recalled that the UP Los Banos student body has formally endorsed   the candidacy of Vice President Leni Robredo and Senator Kiko Pangilinan for the positions of President and Vice President. Additionally, the progressive coalition Makabayan bloc has also shown their formal endorsement to the said tandem. Additionally, for the first time in its history, the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), one of the country’s most influential labor groups, has also endorsed the same presidential bet.

With all the grand rallies they have conducted across the country, plus endorsements from politicians and marginalized sectors, coupled with many house-to-house campaigns, VP Leni’s numbers in the recent Pulse Asia surveys have increased from 16% to 24% with only a month before the actual elections. But amidst this victory lies another challenge – to sustain the momentum. 

Realities on the ground 

The Philippine bureaucracy has been dominated by the elites for the longest time. It is already ingrained in our history the many instances where the rule of law has been abused for the benefits of those in power, while leaving the masses to fend for their own and be subject to grave abuse. For example, one unforgettable moment was the Ampatuan Massacre, which is considered both the single deadliest attack on journalists and the worst case of election-related violence in Philippine history. This is a symptom of how brutal the political arena is in most parts of the country, where violence is being used to keep the status quo. 

Political dynasties are also a stapled reality, where the succession of heirs is the basis of the new elected officials, compromising the chances of those who truly deserve to be voted for. They are mostly landlords and bureaucrat-capitalists like the Villars, Estradas, Garcias, Romualdezes, Mangudadatus, and most especially the frontrunners of this year’s elections – the Marcoses and the Dutertes. 

In fact, according to a recent report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), even the party-list elections have become a back door for politicians to perpetuate themselves in power, said Danilo Arao, a journalism professor and convenor of the election watchdog group Kontra Daya.

With the 2022 elections brewing, some election-related incidents have already surfaced. Just recently, a coordinator of Bayan Muna Partylist in General Santos, Larry Barnuevo Villegas, was wounded in a gun attack in front of his home in a village on March 13. He is the city coordinator of Bayan Muna there and also chairs the Transport Integrated for Restructuring of Economic Services of Tires-Piston. He has been, on several occasions, a victim of red-tagging. 

Additionally, Filipina Grace America, mayor of Infanta, Quezon, was seriously injured following a shooting incident last February 27. Mayor America is known for her opposition to the controversial Kaliwa Dam project as she warned that the community near the dam will be endangered during calamities such as earthquakes.

And in one of the most recent election-related violence, just 20 days before the elections, the camp of Presidential bet Leody de Guzman reported gunfire shots while they were in consultation with the leaders of Manobo-Pulangiyon – a tribe displaced from their ancestral land in Brgy. Butong, Quezon, Bukidnon Province since 2017. Five people were hurt after gunshots were fired, including members of the said tribe and farmers group organizer Nanie Abela. These cases are just tips of the icebergs of the systemic election-related violence in communities across the country due to the existence of landlordism. 

The election system is now revealing of its historical pro-elite character as its COMELEC  executives are now full of Duterte appointees, signaling a greater advantage for their side. But with all these, our duty as Filipino citizens to stand with the truth should continue. In times where democracy is at stake of being absolutely controlled by elites and tyrants, an emerging weapon stands above – the multi-sectoral campaign and the people’s movement. There is still hope.

Sustaining radical love 

The Robredo peoples’ council, the main campaign arm of the VP Leni which is composed of different organizations and groups nationwide, is known for actively advocating for an honest government that is rooted in radical love. The recent improvements in the peoples’ campaign manifest the people’s resistance against the possible win of the dictator’s son in the highest position of the country. 

Just recently, the Manalakaran Pampanga grand rally drew a crowd of 220,000 on the Day of Valor, April 9, just four days after Pampanga’s dominant politician, former president Gloria Arroyo, declared “a landslide victory” for Marcos-Duterte. The same event also saw a genuine endorsement from a group of farmers to the Leni-Kiko tandem. Amidst the endorsement of influential politicians and celebrities, the endorsement of our farmers – who are the backbone of our society – is the best one yet.

It can also be remembered that in the CAMANAVA grand rally last March 26, Jeepney driver Elmer Cordero of “Piston 6” met Vice President Leni Robredo moments before she took the stage. Cordero was one of the PISTON drivers who went viral for being jailed while begging for alms during the pandemic. 

With the current culture of misinformation and historical revisionism,  VP Leni vows to address the gaps of the education sector by declaring an education crisis. No wonder why the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT Teachers), one of the country’s biggest organizations of teachers who belong to the Makabayan coalition, endorses the Leni-Kiko tandem. 

Furthermore, the militant fishers group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas’ (Pamalakaya), also expressed support to VP Leni, saying that the Leni-Kiko tandem is morally and politically obliged to accommodate the issues of their sector, including the reclaiming of the West Philippine Sea from China, ending reliance on importation, and justice to victimized colleagues, and ravaged communities by Duterte’s fascism.

This manifests that the people’s campaign is inclusive for all Filipinos, all eyeing in the narrowest target of resisting another Marcos-Duterte administration.

Constant mobilizing in and after elections

Even before the 2022 elections, various groups and opposition figures have shown resistance to all the atrocities that had happened under the Duterte regime. With the brutal killings due to the Drug War, the occurrence of many human rights violations, a failed pandemic response, activists and known leaders have been at the forefront to hold the administration accountable. 

It can be remembered that in March 2021, the ‘Bloody Sunday’ happened after a series of deadly police and military raids on activists last March 7, 2021 days after Duterte himself issued another “shoot to kill” order against alleged communist insurgents. VP Robredo even condemned the incident, claiming it a ‘massacre’.  She then called out the Duterte administration for its state-sponsored killings, saying “the Filipino people deserve better than this murderous regime.”

Countless opposition figures who have been clamoring for justice on different issues have been consistently victimized by violent attacks and red-tagging remarks from known administration figures. With thousands of grassroots organizers arrested, hundreds killed, may this election bring justice to those who were deprived from their democratic rights. 

Indeed, all these unwavering volunteerism and people-led initiatives of supporters across the country already sends a message that whatever the results are after the May 9 elections, we should pledge ourselves to remain vigilant and sustain the movement we have started. The mass movement of organizing campaigns, clamoring for better social services, and advocating for good governance must prevail, may it be on the streets or in our communities.

When the matters are now on defending and preserving democracy, there is a need to collectively take action, whether or not it is election season. It should be a constant reminder that standing up with the masses, especially in addressing the systemic issues of our country brought by the likes of the Marcoses, Dutertes, Arroyos, Estradas, among others, should go beyond elections. Whoever wins, our duty to hold politicians accountable continues. And for now, it is the interest of the people we must fight for, even if it means we exhaust all means necessary to block the return of potential dictators to power. [P]

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