Leni Robredo: The Pink Revolution
What a difference a single day can make in politics, especially in our fiesta-style democracy. Undoubtedly, Vice President Leni Robredo managed to upstage all her rivals last week, both those who have officially registered their candidacy for the presidency as well as those who will likely pull off an 11th hour “substitution” maneuver next month.
Thanks to an emphatic speech, well-timed announcement, and exquisitely choreographed presidential campaign launch, Robredo has not only rebooted liberal politics with a vengeance, but could also upend next year’s elections. Having survived years-long political and legal harassment while keeping her dignity and moral convictions intact, the VP wasted no time reminding everyone of her steely determination.
“I am firm in my resolve—we need to free ourselves from the current situation. I will fight. We will fight,” she said in her sonorous speech, which surely impressed even some of her naysayers, while reducing her most ardent supporters to tears. She presented herself as the candidate of not only decency and hope, but also competence and collaboration.
Perched at the heart of Robredo’s campaign is nothing less than a revolt against populist incompetence and the “old and rotten politics” of traditional politicians. Once again, we saw the same feisty Robredo who pulled off the greatest electoral upset of the 2016 elections.
The new Robredo, or rather her return to form, clearly resonated with millions of her countrymen. Literally overnight, social media platforms turned pink as countless Filipinos, from prominent celebrities to humble folk, proudly drenched themselves in the new hues of the political opposition.
It didn’t take long before big brands, noticing the upsurge of the “pink wave” online, tried to cash in by riding the new craze. It goes without saying that Barbie and Hello Kitty had a good week.
And with a torrent of electoral excitement came an amusing linguistic befuddlement: Over Google, the search frequency for the Filipino translation of “pink” jumped by a whopping 50 percent, as netizens playfully wondered about the latest version of “dilawan,” the derogatory term attached to “yellow” liberal supporters.
All of a sudden, it became cool to be a “liberal” in the Philippines, especially as the tide of populism recedes with accelerating speed. The pink wave was not only an expression of support for the VP, but also a reflection of the explosive cocktail of simmering anger and widespread disillusionment greeting the twilight months of the populist in Malacañang Palace.
Surely, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. wasn’t too happy with seeing his 2016 rival once again stealing the show. Nor did the other candidates, who refused to heed her call for a “united opposition” in pursuit of their own personal ambitions.
As for Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, the incumbent’s best bet as an anointed successor, her putative campaign for Malacañang is rapidly losing momentum. To be clear, drama is crucial in politics, but so long as the script is fresh and well thought out.
Back in 2016, the 11th-hour substitution move worked for her father, simply because it was both unprecedented as well as resonant among millions of diehard supporters. This time around, however, there is neither the element of surprise, since all other candidates are expecting such a move, nor the much-vaunted “rally ‘round the flag” effect, especially since Marcos is consolidating his base among those on the right side of the political spectrum. The ship has sailed.
Historically, presidential elections in the Philippines tend to be anti-incumbent, as people gravitate toward change over continuity. Although an incumbent VP, Leni Robredo is ironically entering this race as the only candidate to have consistently opposed the policy excesses as well as the worst instincts of the incumbent.
Robredo’s top rivals are either former allies of the President who conveniently switched sides in Mr. Duterte’s twilight months in office, or are still his allies of convenience who happen to also have their own historical baggage.
Nevertheless, the pink revolt online will ultimately have to be backed not only by a formidable ground war (i.e., nationwide machinery) as well as air war (i.e., media presence), but also by a committed and progressive grassroots movement, if it is to succeed in overturning our era of “old and rotten politics.”
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