This is the second part of a series. You can read the first part here.
ILIGAN CITY—Ahmad Musa and fellow survivors of 2011 typhoon Sendong used their own money to go house-to-house and meet with purok leaders in support of Vice President Leni Robredo’s campaign to Malacañang.
Members of their group, the “Iligan Survivors Movement”, pooled funds so that some of them could attend Robredo’s rally in this city on Feb. 22.
“Volunteer kaming nangangampanya. Hindi na namin hiningi sa kanila na bigyan kami ng funding. Iyong mga kasamahan naming network, nag-ambag-ambag para sa mga kasamahan namin na nakapunta dito sa rally,” Musa told ABS-CBN News.
(We campaign voluntarily. We did not ask for funding. Our colleagues in the network pitched in for our peers who are here.)
While politicians traditionally shell out funds for their candidacy, “it’s the other way around” for a “people’s campaign” such as Robredo’s, in which volunteers organize and bankroll their own activities. This allows a candidate to reach many areas at once, political analyst Ramon Casiple said.
“Isang nahalata kong feature talaga ng campaign niya, they were not organized by Leni. Inorganize para kay Leni . . . Ibig sabihin, the initiative came from below,” he said.
(One feature that I noticed in her campaign is it was not organized by Leni. Rather, it was organized for Leni, meaning, the initiative came from below.)
But has a people’s campaign ever succeeded in installing someone into the presidency?
“Iyong Cory Aquino campaign is a people’s campaign,” said Casiple. “Matindi ang kalaban niya, martial law pa ’yon, walang problema na makaabot siya.”
(Cory Aquino’s campaign is a people’s campaign. Her opponent was tough, it was martial law, but she had no problem in reaching out.)
“Volunteer organization din ’yon. Akala ni [President Ferdinand] Marcos noong time na ’yon, kayang-kaya niyang ipitin kasi martial law period nga ’yon. Pero nag-organize ang mga kampanya para kay Cory Aquino on their own. Iyon ang nangyayari ngayon,” he said.
(It was also volunteer-driven. Marcos at that time thought he could suppress it because it was martial law then. But people organized campaigns for Cory Aquino on their own. That is what is happening now.)
THE CORY CAMPAIGN
Corazon Aquino took on Ferdinand Marcos in a snap presidential election 3 years after the assassination of her husband, opposition leader Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr.
Some 1.2 million people joined a signature drive urging her to run for president, with a pledge “to work actively” in her campaign. Some sent money along with their signatures, Gemma Almendral wrote in her book “The Fall of the Regime.”
Despite her “floundering campaign machinery . . . Crowds of hundreds and thousands all over the country” waited for hours to hear Aquino talk of the agonies she and her family went through during Ninoy’s incarceration, said Almendral.
She said an “unprecedented feature” of the Aquino candidacy was the proliferation of campaign materials such as stickers, dolls, hats, umbrellas, and pins which were for sale, rather than being distributed for free as the Marcos camp did.
“The money certainly beefed up the campaign coffers but the more important effect was the sense of identification and participation in the Aquino-Laurel candidacy of people from all sectors,” Almendral wrote, as quoted by government journal The Official Gazette.
“This proved invaluable in priming the people for the bigger, forthcoming struggle. The spontaneous popular mobilization and build-up would be sustained until the final confrontation with the dictatorship,” she added.
"Massive poll fraud and rampant cheating" marred the vote on the day of the elections, Feb. 7, 1986, according to The Gazette.
Dominated by Marcos allies, the Batasang Pambansa on Feb. 15, 1986 proclaimed him and Arturo Tolentino the winners of the presidential and vice-presidential races.
Aquino, meanwhile, accused Marcos of stealing the elections, but went on to capture the presidency after the EDSA uprising forced the Marcoses out of Malacañang.
THE LENI CAMPAIGN
Marcos’ son and namesake is among Robredo’s rivals for the presidency in May, 6 years after she defeated him by a narrow margin in the vice presidential race that Marcos alleged was rigged. The Supreme Court last year junked Marcos' bid to unseat Robredo.
Casiple said the Robredo people’s campaign must reach the poorest voters to secure victory in the presidential race.
“Nahalata ko sa hanay niya, middle class,” said Casiple. “Ang problema d’yan, hindi sila ang pinakamaraming boboto. Ang malaking bahagi ng ating botante ay [class] D-E (masa) crowd.”
(I noticed her ranks are made of the middle class. The problem is they don’t make up majority of the voters. The biggest chunk of our voters is the class DE crowd.)
About 75 percent of voters are from Class D, Filipinos whose incomes are not enough for a family of 5, Stratbase ADR Institute president Dindo Manhit said in an election briefing in February.
The poorest of the poor or Class E accounts for 14 percent of voters, while 11 percent are from the most affluent classes ABC, Manhit said.
“Ang makapagpanalo ng isang kandidato, kung makuha mo ang majority ng C-D-E, without fail ‘yan,” Casiple said.
(What could make a candidate win is if you get majority of CDE. That's without fail.)
Based on pollster Pulse Asia's Jan. 19-24, 2022 pre-election survey, Robredo was a far second to Marcos in the 10-person presidential race. If the elections were held at that time, Marcos would win with 60% while Robredo would place second with 16%, a 44-percentage-point lead ahead of the start of the 90-day national campaign period.
Robredo was preferred by 16% of class D (masa) and 16% of class E. In contrast, Marcos was the top pick by 61% of class D and 56% of class E. He was even ahead by 32 points in class C with 50% compared to 18% for Robredo.
Pulse Asia Research Director Ana Tabunda, in an interview on ANC last Feb. 15, said a large factor for Marcos' popularity is his association with his late father.
"Apparently, some of our people think that Ferdinand E. Marcos was a good president . . . The link between BBM [Bongbong Marcos] and his father, that's what's coming out," Tabunda said, citing focus group discussions by other groups and not Pulse Asia.
Another problem facing the Robredo campaign is a political environment that is markedly different from 1986. While Marcos had become unpopular due to allegations of corruption, human rights violations, and a severe economic crises, incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte still enjoys relatively high satisfaction ratings as he prepares to step down from office.
Although the Philippines again faces an economic crunch today — mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic — Duterte is still on track to cap his term as the most popular post-EDSA revolution Philippine leader.
He bagged a "very good" net satisfaction rating of 67 percent in December, 8 points above his September score, according to the Social Weather Stations (SWS).
Casiple said while Robredo's supporters from the middle class “have resources on their own generally they have to know the mechanics and the pitfalls” of a political campaign.
“Normally itong mga grupo are not really political organizations . . . They really have a learning process na kakaharapin talaga habang nagkakampanya,” he said.
(Normally, these groups are not really political organizations. They really have a learning process that they will face while campaigning.)
Still, Casiple said the backing of the middle class is “a huge advantage.”
“Nasa character ng middle class iyong kaya niyang abutin yong iba pang classes… They can readily approach the people, the poorest of they poor; they can approach the richest of the rich,” he said.
(It’s in the character of the middle class that it can reach the other classes.)
But Robredo's spokesman Barry Gutierrez asserted it was a "misimpression" to say that her "almost 2 million active volunteers" were largely from the middle class.
“That’s an impression that other people have articulated. I personally think that it’s erroneous. I don’t think it’s malicious. I think it’s misguided,” he told ABS-CBN News.
Gutierrez said social media photos often feature volunteers who can afford to finance their own initiatives such as distributing lugaw, producing campaign shirts, and holding caravans.
But, he said, “I would think that the bulk nung (of the) supporters actually come from D and E.”
Citing Robredo's covenant signings with the urban poor, labor groups, women's organizations, and other sectors, Gutierrez said, “In these events, you will see a more accurate, I think, reflection of the extent of diversity in terms of socioeconomic and sectoral background [of the] supporters”
“And the reason for that is obviously hindi ganoon kadaling lumabas for a lot of the working class. Hindi lahat ‘yan makakasama sa caravan for the simple reason that they’re working… They do not have the luxury of taking a day off,” Gutierrez said.
“But it doesn’t mean that they don’t campaign, and it doesn’t mean that for specific events that they look as importanteng magpakita, that they will not show up. They have,” he added.
(Obviously, it is not that easy for a lot of the working class to go out out. Not all of them can join caravans for the simple reason that they’re working… It doesn’t mean that for specific events that they look as important to appear, that they will not show up. They have.)
Robredo’s platform of governance puts emphasis on the economy, developing industries, and jobs, among others—“issues that touch most on the lives of people from D and E, working class people,” said Gutierrez.
To reach more of the masa, Robredo’s team uses social media as much as possible and traditional media “when we can afford it,” he said.
ERRING ON THE SIDE OF FREEDOM, CREATIVITY
Gutierrez said the greatest strength of the Robredo people's campaign “is really its vibrance, its independence, its creativity, its energy.”
"Hindi mo puwedeng bilhin ‘yon e (you cannot buy that). No amount of money can buy you the enthusiasm and talagang dedication of a volunteer,” he said.
But what is the drawback?
“Medyo magulo minsan (it is chaotic sometimes),” Gutierrez said, chuckling. “Obviously different people will have different ideas of what works or what is a good campaign material.”
“We have had our share of mishaps related to this. You have hadouken and all that,” he said, referring to a viral video where Robredo drew flak for mimicking a move in gaming series "Street Fighter", at the request of a supporter.
But, Gutierrez said, "If I had to choose, I would choose to err on the side of more freedom and therefore more creativity.”
“This is where we have actually planted the flag, we are really counting on the strength and dynamism of the volunteer’s campaign. And although there might be missteps, I think by and large, they are more than made up for by the energy and creativity of the volunteers,” he said.
Gutierrez acknowledged Robredo's supporters will have to fight disinformation “delivered straight to your phone at the speed of light by well-funded, well-organized troll armies,” the likes of which was unseen in 1986.
But while the the machinery for disinformation has gotten more sophisticated, so did avenues for harnessing volunteer energy, he said.
“Ultimately, 1986 was a story about people’s energy and volunteerism and good aspirations for our country prevailing over money, machinery and sheer political power,” Gutierrez said.
“I hope that this time around, the story has a similar ending kahit na iba iyong panahon at iba na iyong context (even though the times and context are different),” he added.
Pulse Asia's Tabunda and other analysts believe that all is not lost on Robredo and the other presidential candidates in the May 9 elections, despite Marcos' seemingly insurmountable lead.
"I would encourage the other candidates to give it a try, to still try, strategize, improve their voter preferences," she told ANC last month.
CLICK HERE FOR PART 1: Old friends, new allies, struggling partners: Faces of the Robredo people’s campaign