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Rm. N-411, House of Representatives, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines
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The Manila Times
Rep. Edcel C. Lagman’s
Weekly Thursday Column

THE repeated question, which the surveys do not capture, asked by the marginalized and disadvantaged sectors, millennials and senior citizens, civil society and non-government organizations, progressives and professionals is: “How can I help Leni?”

This is a vivid expectation and a manifest desire for Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo to run for President, and Filipinos are ready to support her bid. This is spontaneous volunteerism, which no money can buy, no black propaganda can detract, and no mercenary trolls can derail. It is a clear consensus than only Leni can unite the opposition and win against President Rodrigo Duterte’s anointed candidate. It is a vital realization that only a united opposition can bring back trustworthy and enlightened leadership, accountable and honest governance, and genuine pro-people policies and programs. It is a firm resolve to end Duterte’s repressive and unresponsive administration, and it is also an ardent articulation for genuine change.

It is Robredo’s call to tap this emerging popular support for her which is reminiscent of Ramon Magsaysay’s ascendancy in 1953 against reelectionist President Elpidio Quirino and his administration’s vaunted machinery, and Cory Aquino’s victory in 1986 against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his entrenched hegemony. The people’s will and the people’s wrath will inevitably catapult the people’s choice to victory.

There is striking parallelism between Magsaysay and Aquino on the one hand, and Robredo on the other.  

Magsaysay was hailed as the “Man of the Masses” because of his genuine affection for the common man. His political ideology that “those who have less in life must have more in law” was not a mere electoral slogan, but an enduring advocacy. His unrelenting campaign against corruption transformed the military establishment and the civil bureaucracy into honest integral components of government.

Robredo’s steadfast campaign against corruption and solicitous concern for the poor and underprivileged find robust affinity with Magsaysay’s advocacies.

Magsaysay, as Quirino’s Defense Secretary, was credited for breaking the backbone of the Hukbalahap insurgency whose adherents were branded communist rebels. Instead of pursuing a vicious and violent war against the Huks, Magsaysay gave them land and justice. He understood that economic deprivation and widespread injustice caused the Huks to rebel. He founded the Economic Development Corps which distributed lands in Mindanao for captured Huks and surrenderers, gave them houses, schools, medical facilities, potable water, electricity, farm implements, seedlings, inputs, and modest initial capital, not as dole-outs, but as government’s counterpart to the former rebels’ commitment to live in the land and make it productive.

Magsaysay’s humane approach to dissenters and rebels was in contrast with Duterte’s all-out war against perceived leftists, communists and critics. Since the organization of the National Task Force on Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), it has engaged in virulent red-tagging and terror baiting, exposing the victims to violent attacks and summary executions. P40 billion is proposed for NTF-ELCAC in the 2022 national budget, a 100 percent increase over its 2021 funding. Its “developmental projects” merely duplicate the traditional on-going rural projects of local government units. Verily, its funds could be used for partisan purposes in the 2022 elections.

Robredo is critically opposed to the NTF-ELCAC whose huge appropriations can be more effectively used for the procurement and rollout of much needed vaccines.  

In November 1985, Marcos called for a snap election, more than two years after the murder of Ninoy Aquino upon his return from the United States to lead the opposition against the despotic and decadent Marcos martial law regime. Over one million two hundred thousand signatures endorsed Cory Aquino to run against Marcos. She accepted the challenge and unified the fragmented opposition. She rode the crest of overwhelming popularity in vanquishing Marcos, who attempted to cheat her but was ousted by the Filipino people. In Cory’s own words, she was the “complete opposite of Marcos” and she “was also a Marcos victim” like multitudes of Filipinos.

The contrast between Cory and Marcos was indelibly real: Cory was a symbol of democracy, Marcos was a ruthless tyrant; Cory was exceptionally decent, while Marcos was inordinately profligate; Cory had unquestionable integrity, Marcos was odiously corrupt.

The contrast between Leni and Duterte is likewise appallingly clear: Leni’s probity is indubitable, while Duterte is a captive of corruption; Leni is a kindhearted steward of the people, while Duterte is an iron-fisted overlord; Leni is libertarian, while Duterte is authoritarian; Leni is an efficient worker, while Duterte has embarrassing work ethics; and Leni has the decency and character of a national leader, while Duterte’s language and demeanor are utterly unpresidential.

Both Cory and Leni had their respective characters honed and strengthened by the tragic deaths of their respective husbands. Like Cory, tragedy has providentially spurred Leni to the podium of national leadership and elevated her as an exemplar of genuine public service.

To answer the question “What can I do to help Leni?”, Filipinos can do the following: 1) collectively convince Leni to run for President and unify the opposition of differing shades and past alliances; 2) concur with her that once she files her certificate of candidacy, she must pursue the presidency by all means and against all odds; 3) contribute to her campaign through modest donations and steadfast crusade for her candidacy nationwide; 4) register and vote to seal her victory; 5) reject all forms of vote buying and repel harassment of voters; 6) safeguard the ballot; and 7) pray for Divine guidance and intervention for Leni’s victory.

Now, what can Leni do? Robredo should ultimately accept the people’s challenge and endorsement for her to seek the presidency; unite the varying political, economic, social, and religious forces which dauntlessly oppose Duterte’s pseudo leadership and inept governance; and redeem the future for Filipinos.


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