In what is thought to be a solid Leni Robredo stronghold in a Western Visayas province of Iloilo, a dangerous and silent undercurrent of pro-Marcos support could pull a surprise and sweep the former senator to power in May.
An estimated 80 percent of the Ilonggos still support the vice president as university students, academics, young professionals, and clerics and religious groups all came out and voiced support for Robredo.
They are noisy and are going out of their way to campaign house-to-house for Robredo. They are spending their own resources unlike supporters of the only son and namesake of the late dictator, who wait for funds before moving around towns and villages to convince voters to support Marcos.
But among the poorest sectors of society — classes D and E — a river of discontent could help Marcos overturn Robredo. The frustration and discontent run deep and silent as a river and may drown the noisy crowd of pink supporters. It could turn the May 9 balloting into a class war between the haves and haves not.
Traditionally, Iloilo province is a “yellow” country where the Liberal Party has been dominating elections for decades. It is now a “pink” country where Robredo is expected to win big on May 9.
In 2016, Robredo won big in the province. She can do it again as local officials led by its first-term governor, Arthur Defensor Jr., and city mayor Jerry Treñas have come out openly for her. Majority of the mayors outside the city also support her.
Strong support for Robredo was demonstrated when she held a political rally at a local stadium. It was packed with “pink” supporters who came all the way from different towns in the province.
Robredo’s camp and the local officials need not spend a peso to bus supporters as the supporters, wearing pink shirts, came with their banners, posters, and other campaign materials. They also brought food and contributed cash to hire transportation. Those from the north had to travel for more than two hours for the rally.
The Leni crowd in Iloilo mirrors the people who have been gathering in Robredo political rallies elsewhere in the country — in Cavite, Tarlac, Bulacan, Zamboanga, Samar, and even in known Marcos bailiwicks in the north.
There is an impression that Robredo is slowly picking up momentum as local officials have started defecting to her campaign.
The National Unity Party (NUP) and the Cusi wing of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) may have endorsed Bongbong Marcos but some party members, including the NUP president, Cavite congressman Elpdio Barzaga, have openly supported Robredo, pushing for a Robredo-Sara Duterte-Carpio (RoSa) tandem.
The Partido Reporma in Davao del Norte and Davao del Sur had abandoned its standard bearer, Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, and shifted support to Robredo. It was a major coup for Leni who is very weak in the Davao region. In the 2016 elections, Davao was dominated by Alan Peter Cayetano, the running mate of President Rodrigo Duterte. She came a distant third after Bongbong Marcos. But the 2022 elections would be a different story.
The defections and strong middle class-led campaign are not enough to carry Robredo to the presidency as the various opinion polls have give a different picture. Marcos continues to have a big double-digit lead with about two months before the elections. It validated the strong, silent support from the poor — the C, D, and E classes in society.
Security guards, waiters, jeepney and pedicab drivers and the jobless in slum communities nationwide, including in Iloilo, are silently backing Marcos.
Some people call them gullible as they are easily swayed by promises of cash and gold. They are not to be blamed because they have been constantly bombarded by a steady stream of false narratives on social media platforms.
Younger generations of Filipinos who were born after the 1986 EDSA People Power revolution did not experience the harsh Marcos rule during Martial Law. It did not help that schools did not educate them about the repressive regime.
Some textbook materials even glorified Marcos for building edifices, roads, and bridges, and teachers forgot to teach about the human rights abuses and excesses, as well as the billions in government funds stolen and stashed in foreign banks during Marcos’ 20-year iron-fisted rule.
In the last six years, a populist leader, Rodrigo Duterte, demonized his political opponents, including his vice president, as he trumpeted his achievements in fighting oligarchs. Poor Filipinos who have identified with him applauded his feats, forgetting he also created his own oligarchs and mismanaged the country during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Philippines is so polarized. The divide is so deep among social and economic classes that the poor do not blame Duterte for the country’s problems even if the economy was plunged into recessions for the first time in more than three decades.
Tax collection has fallen because businesses closed during the lockdown. Debts have been piling up and the Philippines has emerged as the World Bank’s top borrower in the last two years.
Duterte will leave behind a mess but poor people are not blaming him. Instead, they blame the “yellow” political opponents. Duterte’s propaganda through social media is so effective.
The Marcos family also has its own propaganda, reinforcing Duterte’s narrative through false information. Many have believed Duterte and Marcos’ narratives that it’s difficult for the legacy media, whose credibility has been demolished by government’s propaganda, to counter the disinformation.
It has divided the country. The poor are blaming the political elites, represented by Robredo and his supporters from the Liberal Party. Some poor voters say they like Robredo but hate the people around her and voting for Robredo will simply return to power the Liberal Party people.
But they don’t realize that a vote for Marcos will continue corruption in government from the time of dictator Ferdinand Marcos and former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the current administration under Duterte. Both Marcos and Estrada were toppled by peaceful protests.
However, the poor saw the uprising against Marcos and Estrada as a movement by the rich businessmen who conspired with generals, clergymen, and the middle class to restore the old political system.
In 1986, the poor had high expectations the removal of Marcos would improve their lives. But they were frustrated. Cory Aquino restored the pre-Martial Law order. The old political families displaced by Marcos clawed back to power.
Some political science professors blamed Cory for restoring the corrupt and inefficient political system. But Cory had to consolidate power and she needed these political families to survive more than half a dozen coup attempts financed by groups out to seize political power.
The worst part in the country’s history is that the people have forgotten the democratic space that Cory restored. The Philippines though remained a feudal society and is an imperfect democracy.
What is sad is the poor people are looking at the son of the dictator as a savior. In their lenses, the excesses of his father were blurred. The promises of gold have blinded them.
This is really very dangerous. A class war is silently brewing and could explode on May 9.