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Inside Youth Volunteers' Fight for Leni-Kiko, 'It's Now or Never'

Their generation depends on May 9.
by Ara Eugenio
May 5, 2022
Photo/s: Courtesy of Gelo Solitario, Laya Guides
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College freshman Gelo Solitario says he campaigns for Leni Robredo like his generation's future depended on it, balancing the demands of online classes and navigating the alleyways of his hometown to reverse in a face-to-face encounter what decades of misinformation had wrought.

With Robredo behind in the surveys just days before May 9, volunteers like 19-year-old Solitario are not leaving anything to chance, even if one survey showed that seven out of 10 Filipinos aged 18 to 24 want Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr. to be president. 

"It's now or never," Solitario told reportr.

Solitario is among two million campaign volunteers for Robredo, many of whom are first time voters, according to the vice president's spokesperson, Barry Gutierrez.

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In Southern Philippines' Tagum City, 20-year-old Laya Guides also feels anxious over Robredo losing to Marcos and of President Rodrigo Duterte's daughter, Sara, beating Sen. Kiko Pangilinan for vice president.

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Guides is out for Robredo in her city that is a Duterte bailiwick, fearing that a leader like her only comes once in a generation and that if the Vice President loses, she would have to spend the rest of her youth being led by two children of strongmen.

"Part of me is very hopeful, but oftentimes, I'm also filled with anxiety just thinking about how the dictator's son could be our next President. I care not just for my own future, but also, for the people around me," she said in her native language, noting how painful the last six years under President Duterte has been for her. 

In 2016, Guides was a 14-year-old girl who went with her family to one of the incumbent's rallies in Davao City, listening to him campaign to be the country's first President from Mindanao, whose centerpiece program, the drug war, promised to primarily protect women and children like her from drug addicts.

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She didn't know then that she'd spend the next years trying to overcome her biases for Duterte, growing more disenchanted each time he disrespected women and God, and failed to follow through on his campaign promises that include eradicating criminality in 3 to 6 months, and standing up to China over the West Philippine Sea. 

Photo courtesy of laya guides of tagum youth for leni-kiko
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'An emerging movement'

The Philippines is no stranger to tireless youth participation, especially when it's democracy that is at stake. Notwithstanding a culture of strong and close family ties that teaches the value of respecting elders and authority, young Filipinos often find themselves at the forefront of political movements.

Apart from statistics that showed the economic costs of Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.'s brutal regime, analysts have noted the human and social costs of that period, including how an entire generation of Filipinos, who could've been today's passionate and incorruptible leaders, was lost. 

"Oh, how quickly, they forget," sings Taylor Swift in her song "Only the Young" that is about how young people hold the power of correcting wrongs done by previous generations, often referenced by volunteer group “Swifties4Leni” and used as a soundtrack for campaign videos. 

"I have been attending rallies for more than 14 years now (I started in college!) but, as I have first discovered in Pasig and eventually in other rallies as well, these are rallies I have not seen before," Cleve Arguelles, a De La Salle University political science professor, said of the pink rallies that first defined the so-called "Robredo People's Pampaign".  

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"I am undeniably moved, even for someone whose bread and butter is the study of political developments," he added, explaining how amazed he was at these rallies managed to attract broad support from diverse groups of Filipinos that are young and old, students and professionals, ARMY and BLINK, rich and poor, straight and queer, and many others. 

Apart from ordinary Filipinos, celebrities have also come out in support of the Robredo campaign free-of-charge. There are also children of Marcos-Duterte's UniTeam supporters, who made public their differences in political beliefs with their parents.

According to Arguelles, the capacity of this particular presidential campaign to bridge class, gender, sectoral, and generational divides holds immense promise and exhibits a feeling that is reminscent of the 1986 People Power protest against Marcos, Sr. and his family.

"After six years of demobilization under Rodrigo Duterte, Filipinos are mobilizing for democracy and good governance again," he said.

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Regardless of the outcome of the May 9 vote, Arguelles said this presidential election has proven how the "strong mobilizing capacity" of ordinary Filipinos remains, as they have organized rallies, showed up in huge numbers, and volunteered to take care of each other's needs, "all because they have embraced a campaign and a candidate; all because they have been convinced that another Philippines is possible."

Robredo has acknowledged how outside the euphoria of pink rallies and social media news feeds, the real battle is on the ground. This is why her campaign enjoined supporters to go house-to-house.

According to youth volunteers like Solitario and Guides, who heeded the call, the challenge of talking "puso sa puso" or heart to heart is humbling, seeing first-hand how social media disinformation has rewritten reality for most ordinary Filipinos -- the Marcos regime lionized and opposition candidates like Robredo vilified. 

Solitario said he would never forget this one jeepney driver he spoke with, who said he had completely lost faith in the power of his vote. 

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"Sabi lang niya po kasi, 54 years old na siya, tapos sawang-sawa na siya sa paulit ulit na pangako ng dumaan na mga adminsitrasyon kasi para sa kanya, 'yung pagboto wala na pong saysay," he recalled, noting how the man spoke in particular about the high prices of oil and other goods under the Duterte adminstration. 

Courtesy of Gelo Solitario of Youth for Leni-Kiko Valenzuela
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"Sabi pa niya, 'pero ano nangyari tignan mo 70 pesos na naman presyo ng gaas, paano na kami ng pamilya ko niyan? So sabi ko po, kaya po kami nandito kasi naniniwala kami na yung pinaglalaban namin, meron pong mararating," he said.

"Hindi lang sarili ko ang nakasalalay. Maraming Pilipino na nagugutom araw-araw, na naghihirap para lamang may pantustos sa pamilya nila, kaya para sakin, mahalaga na manalo 'yung tunay na may malasakit para sa bawat isa, lalo na sa mahihirap," he added. 

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