Philippines election: At Robredo's rally, supporters say passion will prove poll numbers wrong

Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo speaking during a Labour Day celebration in Quezon City, Metro Manila last week. PHOTO: REUTERS
Supporters of presidential candidate Leni Robredo attend a campaign rally in Makati, Manila, on May 7, 2022. PHOTO: AFP
Supporters of Ms Leni Robredo dance during a campaign rally in Makati, Manila, on May 7, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
Supporters of Ms Leni Robredo attend a campaign rally in Makati, Manila, on May 7, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - They came even before the sun rose for a political rally that will not officially start till well after the sun had set.

By mid-morning on Saturday (May 7), they were joined by tens of thousands more, filling the wide streets at the heart of Makati city, the Philippines' financial hub.

All wearing something pink, they drove, cycled and walked. They came with their children, their dogs.

This is the level of devotion that supporters of Vice-President Leni Robredo believe will win her the Philippine presidency next Monday, despite what opinion polls say.

Ms Robredo, 57, a former human rights lawyer, trails Mr Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the 64-year-old son and namesake of the late dictator, by more than 30 percentage points in opinion polls.

That does not bother Dr Mia Ann Felicisimo, 56, a paediatrician.

"Those are just numbers. Look around you. Does this look like she's that far behind?" she said, gesturing at the throng.

She had driven to Makati with her daughter and son, parked at a mall and made her way in 34 deg C heat to stake out the closest spot she could get to the main stage where Ms Robredo is expected to speak at 8pm.

Around her, as in past rallies for Ms Robredo, the atmosphere was festive and communal.

"It's like they're going to a basketball game," one reporter tweeted.

A man in his 60s was giving out free pink-coloured soya bean curd at a roadside.

Inside a building, a group of volunteers from a sorority were busy churning out posters expressing support for Ms Robredo with cheesy lines like "People less than 5ft tall for Leni", and preparing rice porridge for marchers.

At just past noon, there were easily more than 100,000 at the rally.

The goal was to get as many as one million there. By night’s end, there were some 780,000.

Addressing her supporters, Ms Robredo exhorted: “Let us celebrate tonight a historic campaign.  Let’s go. Let’s win this for the Filipino people.”

Supporters of presidential candidate Leni Robredo gather on the main road as they take part in a campaign rally in Makati on May 7, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

A day earlier, she toured her bailiwick - the Bicol region, about 400km south of the capital Manila, where some 500,000 supporters waited for her along her multi-city route to give her a send-off as she wrapped up her bid for the presidency.

It has been a bruising and very divisive election.

While Ms Robredo's supporters have shown fierce devotion to their candidate, Mr Marcos Jr's have proven to be just as obstinate.

This is because of the history and the politics that the two candidates represent.

Mr Marcos Jr has been framing his run for the presidency as a crusade to reverse what he perceives as a great injustice done to his family, who were forced to flee the Philippines in 1986 after a military-backed pro-democracy revolt succeeded in ending his father's more than 20-year reign.

He is also promising to continue where the populist leader Rodrigo Duterte left off.

Ms Robredo, on the other hand, likens her run as a pushback against efforts by the Marcoses to whitewash a history riddled with indictments for mass killings and institutionalised kleptocracy.

She is also promising to roll back Mr Duterte's policies, in particular his bloody drug war.

The chasms that have emerged as a result of the election have not been just ideological. They are personal as well, dividing families, friends and co-workers.

Dr Felicisimo said her younger brother, a real estate agent, was at the rally for Mr Marcos at the same time she was at Ms Robredo's.

"He's a die-hard BBM (Bongbong Marcos, after Mr Marcos Jr's nickname) supporter. We've had fights already during family gatherings. He's just resistant to facts. He believes all this propaganda he's getting from Marcos," she said.

Her elder sister is supporting Mr Marcos Jr as well, only because a religious sect she is devoted to told her to vote for him.

But there is no shortage of optimism and communal spirit at Ms Robredo's rally.

At one corner, a young woman held a placard with the words: "This isn't our last rally. We still have a victory party."

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