I witnessed my first political rallies in the early 60s. Our house in Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao was in the vicinity of the community amphitheater where candidates would orate before the public to win electoral favor.
I recall my first glimpse of a Philippine president who was Carlos P. Garcia, albeit he had retired by then during the time of Diosdado Macapagal. Garcia was a master of the Visayan Cebuano poetry known as balak and his public speeches were often laced with metaphors, a talent for which he became known as the Bard of Bohol and the Prince of Visayan Poets. This was before the era of the silly song-and-dance numbers of today when candidates would gyrate even if they look outlandishly ugly.
A spectacle I remember was during the campaign for the 1965 presidential elections. Macapagal’s had a fireworks display, but a special one. A scaffold right beside the stage was mounted. As the pyrotechnic was ignited, the name Eva (for Mrs. Macapagal) lit up on the top of the scaffold. Such were the entertainment values of the presidential rallies of yesteryears.
Macapagal’s opponent of course was Ferdinand Marcos who had commanding stage presence with his oratorical tenor. The Marcos rally had no fireworks but the public was agog to see his beautifully coiffed wife Imelda. Marcos stepped out of his car right outside our house. I remember he fixed his hair with a comb after alighting.
I had the opportunity to see Marcos again when he came to our city for the snap presidential elections of February 1986. By then he was already tainted with fourteen years as a dictator and kleptocrat. Bodyguards carried the aging tyrant on stage. The sonorous boom of his voice was gone. His body looked emaciated. That was my first time as well to witness a crowd that was “hakot” – people loaded in droves. Probably because northern Mindanao by then had become a Marcos opposition country, his local organizer made sure the rally was well attended. But the crowd was morose and quiet.
After the rally ended, everyone dispersed. Behind the now empty stage, I saw a contraption that I had not quite understood yet. It was a portable toilet. There were rumors that he had a kidney transplant, and rumors during those days were passed only within the confines of one’s home because of Marcos’s dreaded security apparatus. The man was incontinent by then and had needed that portable toilet. Those rumors were proven true when mobs entered Malacañang on the evening of February 25, 1986 and found, among other secrets, soiled diapers. Marcos literally left shit in Malacañang.
If there was anything to typify those rallies, it was that they were funded and organized by the candidate’s party. After the ginormous crowd of last Sunday’s Emerald Avenue rally in Pasig, the old Marcos template of hakot and spectacle had a paradigm shift. What is the reason for the shift?
The rally we saw was volunteer-driven. Volunteer street sweepers made sure there was no garbage left on the streets. Asked why they did that, they replied, “Because we have to be the change we want to be.”
Doctors volunteered to have a free clinic for those in need of first aid. Many brought food and snacks to distribute for free. A station for lost-and-found items successfully returned lost wallets. One rallyist from Dumaguete almost gave up. Back at home for the night, his friend called. Somebody had found the wallet, the money intact.
It also was a rally of defiance. One group of friends came in an unusual costume – pink onions over their heads to rebel against disinformation that still shots of drones were photoshopped using a mass of pink onions.
Instead of politicians spending money to invite crowds (often stolen money), the Pasig rally was funded by the people themselves. Showbiz entertainers proudly volunteered their services for free. Many rallyists came bringing homemade posters. The most provocative messages: we want hope for an honest government; we want a leader who can inspire the best in the Filipino, an accountable servant leader.
This was a massive show fueled by people willing to sacrifice the little they have for a cause they believe in. What is the driver for these rallies? The discourses are revealing.
There is fear of cheating with the connivance of Comelec. There is rejection of Rodrigo Duterte’s bastardization of the highest office of the land, that the presidency they want is neither a green joke nor a lousy late night TV show of boring perorations. It is not a presidency where the president regales his audience that he has an ample-sized sexual tool and that he fondled a household help’s private part when she was asleep. Rodrigo Duterte perverted and debauched the presidency and the people are rebelling. Addressing crime and corruption within three to six months of his presidency was merely rhetoric of hot air bombast. And then there is the fear of another dictatorship and kleptocracy.
When 137,000 roaring warm bodies are on the streets, when 192,600 netizens watched on Facebook and 45,000 in YouTube, the medium is the message. The Davao city-dominated Comelec would be on the wrong side of history if it cannot guarantee a clean and honest election. That rally was a warning and the warning comes from the people.
When you see that mass of people in the Philippines crying for change and good government, a president usually gets ousted.