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[PULITIKULTURA] Leni and Kiko: a win for democracy

By Marian Pastor Roces

Vice President Leni Robredo and Senator Kiko Pangilinan had already won the campaign by the time of the miting de avance. Whatever the count ultimately shows, the tandem resurfaced a kind and spirited Filipino as a political force.

Leni and Kiko roused armchair nationalists to walk their talk; Gen Z kids to grow up fast; artists to team up, gliding away from their solo flights; farmers to trudge nearly the entire length of the country to make a big, poignant statement for a return to democracy.

Leni and Kiko unbridled the culture of free, informed speech and civic participation in government that the Duterte Administration tried to repress. With each huge Leni-Kiko rally in turn, would-be and veteran freedom fighters reconnected with hundreds, then thousands, then hundreds of thousands of Filipinos similarly moved into pro-democracy action.

The Leni-Kiko crowds gave lie to the canard about the apathetic voter, supposedly the Filipino in general. Hakot crowd sourcing, so to speak, was challenged by swelling numbers of determined, self-propelled campaigners who spent their own resources and self-managed their elitisms.

To call theirs a volunteer-driven campaign is too simple. This has been and from all indications will remaina collective rediscovery of honor in a democracy.

To be sure, it would be right to argue that, again, the crowds—even at a million-strong—do not make up a Filipino majority. The campaign for the leadership of the Philippines faced a desperately polarized nation. Winning the contest, one way or the other, will not suddenly create a majority political culture.

Dalliance or indeed full-on belief in autocracy may be expected to persist in the Philippine indefinitely.Liberal democracy may also be expected to fail to meet its tests, sometimes or often, even if democracy wins the day.

Nevertheless there has been a Leni-Kiko win, culturally and politically.

Their pink campaign resembles EDSA People Power One, sure, in the slow build up and then sudden effervescence towards climax. This present pink political flush may be the same thing as the sunflowercolored 1986, hence perhaps similarly flawed by disinterest in structural change. Pink and yellow rebellions were both Philippine middle class in culture and leadership (not quite elite in fact). Both ran on heightened emotion.

But there are marked differences. The Leni-Kiko rallies had a youthful brio that was not dominant in 1986. The mood and feel before and during EDSA One was one of fear and loathing, carrying the weight of the Cold War’s ending. The recent rallies awash in pink were enormous cultural events, and not only because artists were an effervescent presence wherever these happened.

What emerged in the wake of the Leni and Kiko politics of truth is a lightness of being among their following, expressed in hundreds of thousands of acts of shared food and song; campaign collaterals that occasioned smiles; gestures of kindness by all in all pink rallies; earnest house-to-house forays; not the least, the flowering of satire.

Given the terror tactics of the Duterte Administration, this is sui generis resistance. Quite unlike anything the world has seen, the Leni-Kiko multitudes have in large measure been calm and in fact joyful. Having recognized themselves in other Filipinos asking for a return to democracy, they remained bouyed up by democracy’s immediate dividends: sparkle of possibility in the electoral process, and elation in civic action.

And while it needs saying that this stuff of fellowship—kindness, delight, bouyancy, calm, co-traveller empathy—is not thought to have value in the field of political action, it also bears remarking that it is precisely the culture of gaan that Leni and Kiko brought to surface, that is the only possible foil to BBMDuterte-GMA impunity.

Dismissing this emergent political culture as so much froth that will be dissipated by the kamay na bakal about to descend on the Philippines, is as unhappy an outcome as possibly having lost the electoral count. Leni and Kiko mirrored to Filipinos a Filipino collective self that met murderousness with scholarship and legal plans; vulgarity with grace; and plunder with the equanimity from the certainty that plundered wealth will not buy any dictators’ desired legacy.

This Filipino continues to exist. They did not belong to political parties necessarily. They were certainly not dilawan. They do not belong only to the middle class. They went out in great numbers because they held in common a capacity for outrage. And a capacity, too, of translating outrage into both action plans and spontaneous gifts of self.

Their presence in the political arena was for some time buried by sustained shaming (the hammering away online of the “disente”) and sordid manueverings (disemboweling the Commission on Elections, early decapitation of the Supreme Court). It was left for the youth—in fact the demographic majority—to infuse the political field with a pivotal nowness, a spirit unfettered by the compromises their parents made.

The election just concluded made that 21st century Filipino center stage. The bayarans hid off stage, like scurrying vermin of Medieval times. Whatever happens now, that emergent Filipino will not leave the stage. For making this happen, Leni and Kiko have already made this election season a spectacular success.

They have given the Philippine democratic project an effervescence that will produce long distance runners.

And now to count the votes properly.

Marian Pastor Roces works internationally as an independent curator, critic of institutions, and analyst of culture and politics. Through her corporation, TAOINC, she curates the establishment of museums. She is also a founding Partner of the think tank, Brain Trust, Inc.

She has long argued that governance, civil society action, and policy making in the Philippines are weakened by the absence of cultural analysis. Such analysis, in turn, needs to work with updated data. Hence Pulitikultura, Roces' platform for probing the intersection of culture and politics.

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