Excitement over the upcoming Philippine elections seemed to reach a fever pitch recently when the Leni Robredo-Kiko Pangilinan ticket staged its largest rally yet along Macapagal Avenue in Pasay City over the weekend. The rally saw crowds of 412,000 attendees and appearances by over 50 celebrities, in addition to many representatives of marginalized groups and a sea of ordinary citizens who came out in support of the candidates.
Vice President Leni Robredo also happened to be celebrating her birthday on the day of the rally, further fueling her supporters who were in high spirits despite standing in the heat from noon until well into the evening.
Aside from her birthday celebration and the massive show of force, some of the highlights of the day included the securing of an endorsement from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its United Justice Bangsamoro Party — a historic show of support as it is the first time the party has officially supported a presidential candidate in the elections. Given its long history of conflict with the government, securing MILF’s approval is seen as crucial to long-lasting peace and cooperation in Mindanao’s Bangsamoro autonomous region.
Bangsamoro Interim Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim said that Robredo “sees eye to eye with the UBJP and is considerably familiar with the history, context, struggle, and issues of the Bangsamoro,” as he and Representative Toto Mangudadatu raised Robredo’s hands in Maguindanao before the vice president flew back for her rally in Pasay City.
The Muslim-majority Bangsamoro region in the southern Philippines has long had a history of fighting for its independence and the recognition of its Islamic heritage within the predominantly Catholic country. The National Commission of Muslim Filipinos estimates that about 10-11 percent of the population are Muslim, most of whom live in Mindanao.
The MILF and UJBP endorsements are just the latest example of marginalized groups and ordinary folk that have raised the hands of Robredo and her running mate — a symbolic but powerful gesture of endorsement that was once only associated with governors, mayors, and other top local officials said to hold influence over their provinces.
Here is a recap of all of the other groups of regular Filipinos who have taken the stage to raise Robredo’s and Pangilinan’s hands:
San Nicolas farmers
Few eyes were dry at the 220,000-strong People’s Rally in Pampanga after a group of farmers from the village of San Nicolas went on stage to raise the hands of Robredo’s running mate, Senator Kiko Pangilinan, who has long championed the farmers in his senatorial work.
The surprise gesture came weeks after Pangilinan had been excluded from campaign events where politicians commanding votes in their provinces had snubbed him in favor of Robredo and another vice presidential candidate, Sara Duterte — the running mate of Robredo’s fiercest rival and survey frontrunner Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
Pangilinan called Robredo to the center of the stage where they joined hands with the farmers together.
The indigenous Aetas group in Zambales climbed onstage in their traditional garb as they vouched for the integrity of the Robredo-Pangilinan ticket and their track record in ensuring the welfare of indigenous people and other marginalized groups. Robredo had previously been a pro bono lawyer for indigent people before her foray into politics, while Pangilinan has long advocated for farmers and fisherfolk in the Senate.
In an impassioned speech, Aeta chieftain Fe Domulot said, “As indigenous peoples, our history has always been tainted by violence and oppression, lack of education, and human rights violations. We know in our hearts that they are the only candidates who truly understand our rights, our feelings.”
The Dumagat tribe of the Sierra Madre mountains also raised the pair’s hands at a rally in Quezon province.
During a campaign event in Bataan, Robredo said that she was surprised that the event had attracted some 65,000 supporters, acknowledging that she was in enemy territory after the province’s top officials had already endorsed her rival Marcos.
Yet instead of local authorities, the province’s priests were the ones who emerged onstage to raise Robredo’s and Pangilinan’s hands “after seeking the Lord for guidance and discernment.”
Infanta Bishop Bernardino Cortez and the priests raise the hands of VP Leni Robredo and Sen. Kiko Pangilinan at the Infanta People’s Rally on Monday, April 18. Joining them are Dumagat tribe members of Sierra Madre. 📸: VPLR Media Bureau | @MB_RAntonio pic.twitter.com/v4ZWRP1r9E— Manila Bulletin News (@manilabulletin) April 18, 2022
In Quezon, Bishop Bernardino Cortez and other clergymen also performed the hand-raising gesture.