Old friends, new allies, struggling partners: Faces of the Robredo people’s campaign

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 11 2022 03:38 PM

Fisherman Rene Mabanto stands beside a boat in Barangay Tangke, Talisay Cebu, as the community waits for the arrival of Vice President Leni Robredo. ABS-CBN News 
Fisherman Rene Mabanto stands beside a boat in Barangay Tangke, Talisay Cebu, as the community waits for the arrival of Vice President Leni Robredo. ABS-CBN News 

(First of 2 parts) 

TALISAY CITY, Cebu — Rene Mabanto has yet to fix the roof and walls of his home that typhoon Odette damaged in December. But he spent around half of his earning from a fishing trip to buy gasoline and join a fluvial parade backing Vice President Leni Robredo’s bid for the presidency. 

Pink flags painted with “Leni” and “Kiko”, the nickname of Robredo’s running-mate Sen. Francis Pangilinan, fluttered from Mabanto and his fellow fishers’ boats as they sailed off Barangay Tangke here on Feb. 8, the start of the official campaign period for national candidates. 

“Kami ang naggastos. Hindi kami humingi ng ibang tao. Kami lang ang nagtulong-tulungan, kaming lahat, para lang ikampanya namin ang presidente [namin], si Leni,” said Mabanto, president of the area’s “Bantay Dagat.” 

(We spent for it. We didn’t solicit from others. We pitched in, all of us, just to campaign for our president, Leni.) 

“Alam namin na kung siya ang manalo, sigurado kaming tulungan kami niya,” the 59-year-old fisherman told ABS-CBN News on Feb. 24. 

(We know that if she wins, she will surely help us.)

Mabanto is among some 70 fishermen from the seaside Sitio Salvador, who invited Robredo to their community on Feb. 24. 

They hope that she will help resolve issues on land ownership in the shoreline, which limits the area where they could fish, said Joksan Branzuela, a fisherman and spokesperson for Mananagat sa Talisay Pamo Association (MATAPA). 

“Nakita namin iyong consistency niya na tumutulong talaga… Siya lang ang nakikita naming maaasahan sa laban namin,” he said. 

(We saw her consistency in helping. She’s the only one we see who can help in our fight.) 

Vice President Leni Robredo met the fisherfolk of Brgy. Tangke, Talisay City, Cebu on Feb. 24. The presidential candidate was welcomed by Joksan Brazuela, vice president of MATAPA. VP Leni Media Bureau
Vice President Leni Robredo met the fisherfolk of Brgy. Tangke, Talisay City, Cebu on Feb. 24. The presidential candidate was welcomed by Joksan Brazuela, vice president of MATAPA. VP Leni Media Bureau


 
A former lawyer for the disadvantaged, Robredo promised the fishermen of MATAPA further coordination with her team. 

“Ang ayaw kasi natin, maramdaman n’yong pumunta lang kami dahil nagkakampanya kami ta’s pagkatapos nito magkakalimutan na,” the presidential contender said. 

(What we don’t want is for you to feel that we only went here because we are campaigning and after this, we will forget you.)

“Ito po ‘yong pinakabuod po ng klase ng pamamahala na gusto nating itulak, iyong pamamahala na hindi lang nagbabasa kami ng report sa opisina—pero iyong pamamahala na kami mismo ang pumupunta para kayo iyong nakakausap na direkta at maramdaman iyong kahirapan na pinagdadaanan n’yo,” she said. 

(This is the gist of the kind of governance that we want to push, governance in which we just don’t read reports in the office—but governance where we go to you and talk to you directly and feel the suffering you go through.) 
 
SUPPORT THAT ‘CANNOT BE BOUGHT’ 

Robredo later that day attended 3 more assemblies and a grand rally in Cebu, which she said were all initiated by volunteers. 

While organizing these events would have been easier with the backing of more local officials, Robredo said, “hindi kasi matatawaran iyong volunteers.”

“Ito ‘yong kind of support na hindi mo nabibili. Ito ‘yong kind of support na ini-earn mo,” she said in an RMN Cebu interview.

(Volunteers cannot be matched. This is the kind of support that you can’t buy. This is the kind of support that you have to earn.) 

Cebuanos show their support for presidential candidate Vice President Leni Robredo, running mate, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, and their senatorial slate at the Southwestern University, Cebu City, Cebu on Feb. 24, 2022. VP Leni Media Bureau
Cebuanos show their support for presidential candidate Vice President Leni Robredo, running mate, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, and their senatorial slate at the Southwestern University, Cebu City, Cebu on Feb. 24, 2022. VP Leni Media Bureau

 

When she was an administration candidate for vice president in 2016, many of her sorties were organized by local politicians, Robredo said. 

“Kumbaga pupunta ka sa lugar, ayos na lahat dahil iyong governor sa ‘yo, iyong mayor sa ‘yo. Pero walang volunteer noon na gaya ngayon,” said Robredo, who has the backing of most of the opposition forces under President Rodrigo Duterte. 

(You’d go to place and everything was already prepared because the governor, the mayor was with you. But there were no volunteers then similar to what we have now.)

“Hindi mo rin ma-blame iyong mga local officials kasi itong papa-attend-in nila ng rallies talagang sinusundo nila, pinapakain, binibigyan ng pamasahe para pumunta sa rallies. Pero ito sa amin ngayon, wala, walang ganoon,” she said. 

(You cannot blame local officials because they fetch the people they want to attend, they are fed, given fare money to go to rallies. But with us now, there is nothing like that.) 

While there are volunteers who lend their vans and vehicles for the use of other supporters, Robredo said, “Hindi siya systematic na kailangan mo hakutin iyong mga tao para pumunta. Ito organic, kaniya-kaniya silang punta.” 

“‘Pag nakita mo yong rallies namin, wild na wild ang mga tao, para siyang party… kasi lahat sila nagpagod.” 

(It is not systematic, you don’t need to haul people to go. This is organic, they go on their own. If you see our rallies, the people are wild, it’s like a party because they all worked for it.)

 NEW ALLIES 

At a rally in Iligan City on Feb. 22, first-time voter Ken Shane Melegrito and other youths started arranging at 5 a.m. racks of pre-loved clothes they hoped to sell, profits from which would be used for tarpaulins and an outreach program to promote Robredo’s candidacy. 

Melegrito is a member of the “Lanao Youth for Leni” which was only organized the previous week with at least 130 members. The 20-year-old said the most difficult part of campaigning for Robredo was overcoming “preconceived anger” against her because of false information online. 

“Napaka-polarized ng people ngayon… Mahirap siya, pero laban lang. It is very important for me to enlighten people because 6 years ang nakataya dito,” said Melegrito, a student at the University of the Philippines-Mindanao. 

(People are very polarized. It’s difficult, but just fight. It is very important for me to enlighten people because 6 years is at stake here.) 
 
Robredo during the rally at Rizal Park acknowledged the youths in the crowd. 

“Bakit maraming kabataan dito ngayon? Dahil alam n’yo na kinabukasan n’yo ‘yong pinaglalaban natin ngayon,” she told her supporters, as she asked them to help fight online disinformation. 

(Why are there many youngsters here? Because you know that we are fighting for your future.) 

Hundreds of Mindanaoans shouted Vice President Leni Robredo's name and and welcomed her by singing “Bayan Ko” at the at the Iligan City Public Plaza, Iligan City, Feb 22, 2021.
Hundreds of Mindanaoans shouted Vice President Leni Robredo's name and and welcomed her by singing “Bayan Ko” at the at the Iligan City Public Plaza, Iligan City, Feb 22, 2021.

In the same rally, “Ricardo”, an OFW on vacation, shared how he and fellow Robredo supporters in Hong Kong mounted Zumba workouts, lugaw (hot porridge) programs, and information dissemination among their fellow migrant workers. 

“Kung meron silang mga misinformation, pinapaniwalaan nila something na ma-prove mo namang hindi tama, sinasabi namin,” he said. 

(If they believe in misinformation, something that you can prove is false, we tell them.)

A doctor and strength coach, Ricardo said he would probably have a “comfortable life” no matter the outcome of the election. But he said he was campaigning for Robredo “based more on conscience and what I really need [to do] for the future of your children, your children’s children.”

MARCH TO MALACAÑANG 

The struggling, the comfortable: Faces of the Robredo people’s campaign 1
The struggling, the comfortable: Faces of the Robredo people’s campaign 2
The struggling, the comfortable: Faces of the Robredo people’s campaign 3
The struggling, the comfortable: Faces of the Robredo people’s campaign 4

Vice President Leni Robredo signs a covenant with the farmers in Sumilao, Bukidnon on Feb. 23, 2022, which outlines her plans for farmers and fishers. VP Leni Media handout

Vice President Leni Robredo signs a covenant with the farmers in Sumilao, Bukidnon on Feb. 23, 2022, which outlines her plans for farmers and fishers. VP Leni Media handout

Vice President Leni Robredo signs a covenant with the farmers in Sumilao, Bukidnon on Feb. 23, 2022, which outlines her plans for farmers and fishers. VP Leni Media handout

Vice President Leni Robredo signs a covenant with the farmers in Sumilao, Bukidnon on Feb. 23, 2022, which outlines her plans for farmers and fishers. VP Leni Media handout

Robredo the next day linked arms with a couple of women as she marched with farmers of the Higaonon tribe in Sumilao, Bukidnon, who welcomed her in their mountain community with pink flags and buntings. They held a handmade poster with the phrase “Sumilao farmers for Leni to Malacañang.” 

Fourteen years ago, Robredo and her late husband Jesse, then-mayor of Naga City, welcomed the Sumilao farmers to their hometown, a stop in their 1,700-kilometer march to Malacañang to get back their ancestral land. Saligan, the nongovernmental organization Robredo belonged to, helped the farmers. 

For the group, Robredo is “not a politician,” said Bajekjek Orquillas, who at 21 was the youngest among the 55 farmers who marched to the Palace. 

“Noong una pa man, kasama na namin siya, hindi na siya iba sa amin. Nakilala namin siya bilang abogada, bilang isang kaibigan, bilang isang parang ina namin ng Sumilao farmers,” she said. 

Sa ngayon, ang ipinaglalaban niya ay laban din natin. Kami na nagtagumpay, gusto din naming makamit ng iba pang magsasaka sa buong Pilipinas ang napagtagumpayan namin kung saan kami ngayon nakakarating.”

(From the start, she has been with us, she’s no stranger to us. We knew her as a lawyer, a friend, a mother to us, Sumilao farmers. Her fight is our fight, too. We, who succeeded, want other farmers in the who Philippines to achieve what we did.)

MOBILIZING 2 MILLION VOLUNTEERS

Robredo's campaign has "almost 2 million active volunteers present in all provinces and cities and different countries," her spokesman Barry Gutierrez told ABS-CBN News.

The volunteers are "mostly from the youth, women and senior citizens," he said. 

Robredo has the backing of supporters from various other sectors, from lawyers and doctors, labor and urban poor groups, to nuns, priests, and lay people, LGBT advocates, and even out-of-the-box groups like "Mga Takas sa Bahay for Leni" and "Mga Gwapo for Leni." 

“I can say for a fact that iyong supporters and the volunteers really literally come from all walks of life... The common theme is they’re willing to come together in support of something they all believe in” said Gutierrez.

"While they principally focus on campaigning within their own sectors and in their own communities, because after all these are the people that they know best… they do reach out to the general public," he added.
 
Gutierrez said the national campaign team provides guides on answering frequently asked questions about Robredo, sources her volunteers can cite, and photos and videos they could use for campaign materials.

"One thing we don’t want to do is put a harness on our volunteers. We’ve always maintained from the start that they know their communities best, they know their networks best, they know what messages will resonate with the particular people they are talking to," he said. 

“Basically, the level of coordination is provide them with information, provide them with the materials and let them run with it.” 

Cebuanos numbering in the thousands show their support for Robredo, Pangilinan, and their senatorial slate at the Southwestern University, Cebu City, Cebu on Feb. 24. VP Leni Media handout
Cebuanos numbering in the thousands show their support for Robredo, Pangilinan, and their senatorial slate at the Southwestern University, Cebu City, Cebu on Feb. 24. VP Leni Media handout

Gutierrez acknowledged coordinating with various groups of supporters was a "challenge."

He said this is where the "Robredo People's Council" or RPC comes in, by bringing together different groups "at the local level", per province or city.

"It also provides them a common ground na puwede silang magkita (where they could meet) and organize activities," he said, adding that the RPC spearheaded "almost all" of Robredo's rallies in the last few weeks. 

The RPC is patterned after the "people's council" that the Vice President's late husband Jesse Robredo started in Naga City, where he was a longtime mayor, to allow citizens to propose initiatives and give feedback to local officials, Gutierrez said. 

The Office of the Vice President also consulted its own people's council regarding livelihood projects and other initiatives, long before this year's elections, he said. 

Robredo earlier said if she is elected president in May, a people's council would allow citizens to participate in governance.

This would mean adopting the people's council "on a much grander scale," Gutierrez said. 

"Per sector or per region, hindi ko pa alam kung ano iyong magiging detalye d’yan. I suppose kailangan ma-work out pa iyong specifics,” he said. 

(I do not know the details yet. I suppose the specifics would have to be worked out.) 

For now, Robredo faces an uphill climb, as her closest rival, former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., enjoys a wide lead in pre-election surveys. 

“We’ve never had the machinery or the money to compete. But what we have that no one else has is really this people’s campaign," said Gutierrez. 

"It’s the energy, the excitement, the willingness to actually come forward and fight—incidentally I would think for VP Leni—but more importantly, for the belief that they have that she represents the best chance that our country has for getting out of the rut that we are in… Iyon talaga ang inaasahan namin," he said. 

(That's what we are relying on.) 

But can a movement defeat machinery and deliver victory? 

For a political observer, one need not look further than the 1986 people’s campaign of Corazon Aquino for answers.

PART 2: From Cory to Leni: A look at 2 presidential people's campaigns