Last man standing is a woman
FOR SEVERAL agonizing hours following the May 9 elections, the nation awaited with bated breath the outcome of the vice presidential race.
Coming into Election Day, there were signs that Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo had the momentum. Leni slowly but surely gained the admiration of many, especially when they found out that more than being Jesse Robredo’s widow, she has a long record of social activism and public service. Articulate and well-versed in a wide range of issues, she stood out during the debates. And her simple ways—such as taking the bus from Manila to Naga City and back long before it was politically expedient to do so—were in stark contrast with the privileged upbringing of her main rival, Sen. Bongbong Marcos, the late dictator’s son who spent his youth perched on the country’s seat of power.
For those who backed Rodrigo Duterte but were concerned about his iron-fisted approach, Leni was the perfect complement: a kind-hearted mother to balance—and perhaps soften—the tough father of the nation. And there were also those who backed her as she had the best chance of thwarting a Marcos victory, thus becoming the leading light of the #NeverAgain movement. These rationales for supporting Leni propelled her to the lead in the final surveys conducted before the elections.
Thus, it came as a shock when the initial results showed Marcos with a huge lead. Suddenly, we were confronted with the realization that we had not done enough to avert the return of another Marcos to power, only 30 years after Edsa I. The prospect of a Marcos victory was deeply disturbing—even if the possibility had actually loomed for months. We have failed to act on the signs, many thought, and now the nation must pay dearly.
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What went wrong? As I looked at the percentages of the candidates’ votes, my first thought was the irony of our electoral process: Democracy is supposed to be the rule of the majority, but someone can actually win even if the majority were against him or her. Surely, a two-round system with runoff voting could have averted such a hijacking of the people’s will.
I also realized that while people’s opposition to the Marcoses rested on martial law being an exceptional time in which various freedoms were suspended, these freedoms must have meant little to people whose struggle was finding food to eat—or those in the provinces who never felt included in the national discourse to begin with. We cite the massive corruption and human rights abuses, but juxtaposed with the perceived failures of the succeeding administrations, the past doesn’t have much weight—even for those who suffered or struggled during the martial law years. Perhaps for some of them, a fresh wound hurts more than an old scar.
Another answer is that we failed to educate the new generations about the realities of martial law. But why did this happen, in the first place? The glossing over of martial law in our textbooks is surely part of the reason, but so, too, is its absence in our cultural imaginary—in films, in TV shows, and even in our public spaces. Perhaps it is truly natural for people to forget (even the Holocaust is fading in people’s consciousness), but I suspect that another reason is that there are those who want us to forget. Martial law, after all, is an inconvenient truth not just for the Marcoses but also for their cronies and beneficiaries—and many of them are still around.
Of course, it did not help that the revisionists succeeded in portraying the martial law regime and the 1986 People Power Revolution as a battle royale between the Marcoses and the Aquinos, when it was in fact a struggle against the Marcoses and their cronies by a majority of the Filipino people.
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The first glimmer of hope was offered by Leni herself, when she urged her supporters not to lose hope; she said on Facebook that in the end, “we will prevail.” Around the same time, analysts said that regions with strong Leni support—like her home region of Bicol—still had a lot of votes left, and that she may yet emerge as victor.
“Walang bibitiw!” Leni urged. “Don’t give up!”
And so we waited deep into the night, and like many, I couldn’t sleep, fearful of the outcome. Just like the planned burial of the dictator at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, a Marcos victory would be a great insult to the memory of the countless victims of martial law, and to those who fought hard to win back the freedoms we enjoy today. Ironically, if Marcos were to be elected, he would do so through the very democratic processes that his father undermined.
But Leni was not to be defeated. At the latest count before I finally fell asleep, she was leading by over 20,000 votes—and when I woke up a few hours later, the lead had increased. Conspiracy theories and black propaganda notwithstanding, Marcos never managed to catch up as the count inched its way into the final percentages.
Finally, on May 27, 18 days after the elections and on Jesse’s birthday, Leni was officially declared the victor, beating Marcos by 263,473 votes. From the very beginning, she had always been the underdog, and it seemed fitting that the poll count itself would recapitulate the odds she had to overcome throughout her campaign.
On that fateful election night, the last man standing was a woman, and so it is today. For what Vice President-elect Leni Robredo has pledged to do, and for what she represents in this time of uncertainty, let’s make sure that she never stands alone.
Gideon Lasco is a physician and medical anthropologist. Follow him at Gideon Lasco on Facebook and @gideonlasco on Twitter and Instagram.
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