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[OPINION] Civil society

DEMAND AND SUPPLY – Boo Chanco – The Philippine Star
April 22, 2022 | 12:00am


“If the number of people attending rallies can be sustained, regardless of who wins, that’s enough to push back a government that will not serve our interest. And that’s very important to me. It’s more important than the election itself.”

That comment was attributed by a Facebook meme to Dr. Ronnie Holmes, a political scientist who is also the president of Pulse Asia. It captures the essence of one candidate’s people-based quest in this election.

Indeed, this movement for good government goes beyond the candidate. I have not seen the likes of it in my decades of political reporting. This is a campaign largely financed and moved by ordinary people.

On the other hand, there is this report that a giant Chinese gambling firm is a big donor in this presidential race hoping for favors by choosing the winning candidate.

That’s normal old politics. Vested interests fund candidates who are expected to pay for attendance in their rallies and oil the machinery down to barangay level, pay celebrities to host and endorse rallies.

But for this candidate, not only do people spend their own money to attend, they bring food to share with strangers who happen to be kindred spirits.

Visual artists are donating their services to paint giant murals on so many walls and design campaign materials. Music composers are composing songs and jingles for free.

Doctors and lawyers are donating their services so rallies become occasions to serve the needs of the masa. Ordinary people are donating materials, transport, and other services to help run rallies smoothly.

A poet has launched a book of poems for her. Alumni associations of leading colleges and universities are endorsing her. Also professional associations of doctors, engineers, nurses, former Cabinet members, retired generals.

Popular showbiz celebrities are giving her free endorsements and even hosting and participating in rallies. People are doing all these as if their lives depended on her winning the election.

How can one woman inspire such confidence, such trust and devotion from people normally politically apathetic?  Even financial analysts noted this outpouring of support in their risk analysis.

What’s happening now started to happen in 1986, but was not sustained. We prematurely relaxed and gave our power back to the elite. We lost the sense of nationhood that was brightly shining only for a week.

So we are where we are now… back to square one.

The good news is, the sense of nation and love of country is back.

This time, people are going all out for the candidate who embodies their concern for good governance and has the track record to assure it.

People are investing time, money, and talent for what looks like, according to the polls, an impossible dream of winning.

And it won’t end on May 9. Whoever wins, the pink movement will become a strong civil society movement that will not be afraid to call out malfeasance in government.

Parliament will move to the streets at the first sign of serious abuse of power. With social media, civil society will keep our leaders in check at all times.

The World Economic Forum listed some of the things civil societies do: Holding institutions to account and promoting transparency; raising awareness of societal issues; delivering services to meet education, health, food, and security needs; implementing disaster management, preparedness, and emergency response; bringing expert knowledge and experience to shape policy and strategy; giving power to the marginalized; and encouraging citizen engagement.

When mobilized, civil society – sometimes called the “third sector” (after government and commerce) – has the power to influence the actions of elected policy-makers and businesses. It has been described as “Volunteerland”.

Volunteers are powering the pink movement. Having invested so much of themselves in this campaign, these volunteers are not likely to melt in the shadows after May 9. They will be ready to fiscalize even their own candidate if she wins because it was never just about her.

It took the murder of Ninoy at the airport tarmac to get us to overcome the cowardice that over a decade of strongman martial rule embedded in us. This time, things are not as black and white.

Almost 40 years after EDSA, many people are frustrated. We need more than rising GDP and an investment grade international credit rating to make us proud Filipinos.

We have also become more cynical, less trusting of our leaders. Yet, we have also become more gullible, ready to believe fake news peddled by professional mind benders using technology.

Leni Robredo probably didn’t think she could inspire so many people to support her.

Someone tweeted: iba ang influence in VP @lenirobredo. Nagiging generous ang kuripot, nagiging masipag ang tamad, nagiging disiplinado ang hindi. A true leader brings out the best in everyone. Hindi kailangan ang kamay na bakal, maging magandang ihemplo lang, at ang lahat ay gagaya.

Evelyn Aviado Flor tweeted: “It is truly amazing how this election is turning out, so many volunteers willing to campaign without expecting any personal gain or return. We are volunteers from Echague, Isabela and we go house to house using our meager funds, xeroxing campaign materials to stretch whatever money we have, at the end of the day we feel tired, but happy.

“We ask ourselves why we do this and we conclude that this is our way of ensuring the election of the best candidate for the presidency, Leni Robredo who is the epitome of good governance.”

Romano Cortes Jorge summed up why the excitement:

“A Robredo presidency will be historic: the Philippines will have a president who does not come from a political dynasty, who is not a product of privileged nepotism, who did not exploit celebrity stardom or a famous last name, and who will not have any conflicts of interest by having relatives in government or have family businesses favored by government contracts.”

We cannot depend on Congress to speak for the people. They represent the elite.

Only an energized civil society can protect our economic and political freedoms in today’s dangerous world of populist autocrats and tyrants who are using democracy to kill itself. We have to choose correctly. Or suffer the consequences.