Let a Million Lenis Bloom

John Din, Columban Regional Coordinator for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in the Philippines, reflects on the outcome of the election and the campaign of misinformation waged against Leni Robredo.

After decades of elaborate work to rebrand the Marcos name by historical denialism and a massive disinformation campaign through social media, Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos, son of the former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos Sr, is now elected as the 17th president of the Philippines.

The campaign period was characterised by a battle between truth and lies. Vloggers and trolls, promoting the rebranded image of Bongbong Marcos and with their call for unity, constantly bombarded the public with spliced videos, TikTok and Facebook posts aimed at vilifying the image of Leni Robredo, a staunch opponent of the son of the dictator and the current Vice President of the country.

Although Marcos Jr has denied having trolls, studies have shown how most of the social media campaigns boosted the image of the Marcoses while disparaging and berating Leni Robredo.

Leni Robredo has been accused of all types of falsehoods, like being a communist, that she ordered the killing of her own husband, that she is bobo (stupid) and  puppet of the Aquino-led Liberal Party, among others. Her three daughters have not been spared from the vicious attacks.

Although, there were ten presidential candidates, the race narrowed down to Leni Robredo and Bongbong Marcos. According to Marites Vitug, a noted Filipino journalist and author, “Nothing less than democracy is at stake with this election.”

Leni was unfazed by the attacks which started when she ran as vice president in 2016 beating Bongbong Marcos. The latter filed a case of cheating against Robredo, but the supreme court unanimously dismissed the case in 2021. Even if the court has already decided, Bongbong and his trolls continue to claim that he was cheated.

Leni has inspired community volunteerism from all walks of life, from farmers to fisherfolks, religious from different denominations and interfaith groups, priests, Sisters and lay to professionals, artists, LGBTQs, street vendors, young and old, the healthy and the sick, etc.

Huge numbers of supporters on their own initiatives flocked to attend her rallies. Food sharing, caring for each other’s wellbeing and helping each other to clean up after the event became a trademark of Leni’s rallies.

She awakened the spirit of volunteerism that appeared to be dormant after the EDSA revolution in 1986. This was a campaign moved and financed with contributions from ordinary people. In seven months, her campaign rating rose from 8% to 28%. Yet, this was no match to the political machinery and well-funded disinformation strategy of the son of the dictator.

Crisente Talita and his family is one of those inspired by the volunteerism and vision of Leni Robredo. He is a member of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) in Zamboanga del Sur, Mindanao. In one of their meetings, it was recommended that every Catholic family would put a poster against vote-buying on their houses and to include the phrase: “Dili mi modawat ug kwarta.” (We do not receive money.)

Many reacted to this phrase. Those who complained preferred to just put the ‘no vote buying’ phrase. The reason was that they are afraid that it would create division among their families, since some members of their families are working with the three candidates who are known to buy votes.

Crisente decided against the opinion of the many and created a poster that said, “We are a Catholic family; we do not receive money”, in addition to the ‘no vote buying’ call. Together with his wife and children, they created a poster and hang it outside their house. They also posted it on their Facebook page.

On their Facebook page, many suggested that the poster should be shared to all. Crisente said he tried to offer the poster to other Catholic families in the parish, but they refused saying they might not have the chance to receive Php3,000.00 (US$57), Ph 6,000.00 (US$114) or Php8,000.00 (US$152) from the candidates.

Inspired by Leni, Crisente stood for the truth and that inspired many of us navigating in the flood of lies proliferating. Leni lost in the election. Leni’s effect was no match to the machinery of lies, power and money. She was only one, who inspired a movement against all odds. But imagine if more Lenis bloom… In the midst of the looming martial law 2.0 let a million Lenis and Kikos* bloom….

[*Francis ‘Kiko’ Pangilinan was the running mate of Leni Robredo for Vice President and shares the same advocacies and views with Leni. He is a lawyer, politician and farm owner who has been serving as a senator of the Philippines since 2016.]

John Din is Columban Regional Coordinator for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in the Philippines.

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