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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, April 22, 2022

entry arrow4:58 PM | Confessions of a Political Rally Virgin

I have never been to a political rally in my entire life. Going to one—braving the stifling crowd, bearing the heat and the exhaustion, enduring the often bloated and meandering speeches of politicians—just feels like the most extreme form of rendering political support, even if you do believe in voting for that politician in the coming elections. It has never been a line I was willing to cross, although I am very much a political animal and I believe in the importance of political expression.

But go to a rally? Not a chance.

It is already enough that at the height of election season we have to navigate city streets where the faces of politicians running for public office leer at you from every street corner and from every tree that has been made to suffer the indignity of having to be papered over by an assortment of posters and tarpaulins. It’s already quite disconcerting to see them smiling at you with their blown-up Photoshopped faces, their “friendliness” almost mercenary. But to go to a rally where these “friendly posters” become fully bodied? Not a chance.

And yet there was something different in the air in the days going towards April 20th in Dumaguete. You could say that it was part conviction, part trepidation, part desperation, part anger, and part hope that were stirring the atmosphere. For months, all these feelings could only truly show expression via social media posts, often resulting to rabid sparring with others who are, in the words of comedian Ogie Diaz, “from the other parlor.” And while we acknowledge that social media has indeed impacted how politics are managed in this day and age, for better or for worse, I think people have been craving for a “physicality” of that political expression, even if they have never done it before.

The rallies in other places—Cebu, Pampanga, Davao, Bataan, Bohol, to mention only a few—were already providing us a template with which to sate this need for a physical demonstration of a political stirring. But beyond that need, and beyond being awed by the thousands who flocked to these rallies before Dumaguete happened, I think there was also a conviction that this election was “different.” It almost felt as if the Election of 2022 was a referendum on the very core and spirit of the nation. So much was at stake. Given the chance to publicly voice out one’s political convictions, you had to be present, for all that it was worth.

I think of my friend Marita Ong, proprietor of O.K. Mart, who also confessed to me that she had also never been to a political rally before. “But this time feels different,” she said. She had to come.

So she came to RUSI Ballfield on the 20th, and also 40,000+ others—not counting the 15,000 crowd that gathered at the Rizal Boulevard in a separate rally that was also a miting de avance of the city administration slate early that evening.

We went, not because of artistas. As a political rally virgin I didn’t even know there were performers involved. But a friend from theatre, Hope Tinambacan, who sang during the rally and was part of the Sidlak group of performers, commented: “Para syang cultural show, not a political rally!”

We went not because we were bayaran. Most of us spent our own money to get this thing going, to participate in the spirit of this being a “people’s movement.”

We went because we felt the need to be counted—and we needed to meet this reckoning with history full-on. In the years to come, when I will be asked: “What did you do in 2022 when the country called on you to do the right thing?,” I want to be able to say that I contributed my voice to the movement that signaled best our love for country.

I came with friends and family, knowing that this was a red [or pink!]-letter day for all of us. We prepared by printing our own shirts, with design from a pair of Cebu graphic artists [Phawip and Dawie of The Con Artists] who willingly donated it to anyone who wanted it. We prepared by plotting out, days beforehand, what food and drinks we needed to have, and what chairs we needed to bring. [We ended up deciding on an easy-to-carry platform—which served us perfectly as a common chair, as holding area for our bags, and as riser to bring us to workable heights with which to see over the heads of the gathered throng. It even accommodated the occasional stranger who needed rest from the grueling day.] We prepared because we had no idea what to expect. All of us were political rally virgins.

Our friends Anna Espino and Carlo Regalado prepared by also doing their own shirts, and crafting out their own placards and banners. I loved Carlo’s take: “Mga Mang-aagaw ng Kanta sa Videoke for Leni!” I knew many others were preparing the same thing. [Two of my favorites: “Swifties for Leni!” and “Mga Palahubog for Leni!”]

Many volunteers, led by leaders such as lawyer Golda Benjamin, prepared by fine-tuning and executing many of the essentials of very difficult logistics. Others volunteered to give performance. [One of my favorites was seeing Dumaguete medical frontliners perform "Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo." That made me tear up.] Others prepared by readying food [cupcakes! candies! biscuits and cookies!] and bottled water and fans and pink roses made from art paper—all given out for free in the duration of ten long hours as people milled about the rally venue. One of my best friends, the dentist Xandro Dael who previously voted for Duterte in 2016, loved the fiesta atmosphere of it all: “I love the keychains, pins, pencils, and food! Daghan kaayo!” he said. “Doughnuts, siopao, cookies, silvanas, ice cream—all in pink!”

We did not expect that kind of festivity at all. [Is this common in political rallies?] I overheard someone say, “Mura’g Hibalag, Buglasan, og Pride Parade combined.” True enough, there were many members of the LGBTQ community around—some in fabulous pink drag. [One appropriated the horns of Maleficent, all done in pink, and sashayed all over RUSI Ballfield, to gleeful applause.] There were also, delightfully, cheerleaders doing their routine—even in the blasting heat of the afternoon sun.

We were there since 1 PM, sheltered for a bit in neighboring restaurants to wait out the sun, came back to the grounds at 4 PM, and stood in our designated spot until 11 PM. That’s seven hours of standing up along with the rest of those thousands inside RUSI Ballfield; no one in their right mind would do that without the clearest conviction that they were doing the right thing.

And when the rally finally started around sunset with a couple of well-known comedians, the crowd only got bigger, the collective energy growing brighter by the minute. When I looked around, I was astonished that I could see people all the way to the margins of the ballfield. I was even astonished by the demographics on full display: this was a very, very young crowd—all of them incredibly impassioned. One young guy behind us, someone clad in white-washed jeans, a white shirt, and an opened polo shirt in various baby pastel hues, and who was there with his barkada, was a bundle of energy that was infectious. He was fun and demonstrative in his participative shouts, which only egged on the rest of us who were near him.

It wasn’t all flawless, needless to say. A former action star and athlete running for senator had to do an embarrassing kissing bit with a female rallyer. [In 2022? In the wake of the #MeToo movement worldwide?] And one incumbent senator with an embarrassing campaign tagline dragged on forever with what was supposed to be a short stump speech, meandering about railroads and the various possible acronyms for W.O.W., and peppered his “I love you’s” with strange insults hurled at the audience—at one time telling all of us, “Ang laki-laki ng mga ulo nyo.” He went on forever and did not make sense, and he said his goodbye a thousand times—and soon the energy that built up all throughout the evening noticeably went down. [Even the energetic young man behind us was now sitting down on the grass, noticeably grown quiet.] It was such a downer, not even the great Kuh Ledesma who immediately followed him could reignite the energy that was previously there. It took Gab Valenciano’s performance prowess to bring up the energy again—and thank God, because that was the crucial moment going into the very heart of the rally. Kiko came on with a heartfelt call for action, and then there was, finally, Leni.

The crowd went wild.

From Cong. Josy Limkaichong’s introduction to the presidential candidate, I remember the awe in her voice when she beheld the crowd from the stage: “In my whole 20-year political career, I have never seen this many people in a political rally in Negros Oriental.” [True! Oriental Negrenses are famously reticent in political demonstrations.] Later on, in a private chat, she would admit that she was overwhelmed with the huge crowd and with the unexpected turnout—and for once she was not sure how the diverse crowd [composed mostly of young people] would react to her message: “To be candid with you, it was my first time to address a crowd of that magnitude, and I wasn’t sure if my message would come across the Millennials and Generation Z.”

From what I witnessed, it clearly went over very well—and so did Leni’s call for better governance in a time when it is most needed. As my friend, the writer Tara De Leon, later on commented (borrowing from the title of a famous movie): “The kids are all right.”

Two days later, I was back in my old haunt where I work best: a hotel café along the Rizal Boulevard. One of the waiters there [name withheld to protect his privacy] told me: “Sir Ian, I was there, too—right after I got out of my shift at the hotel. And I’ve been trying to convince my friends and family here and in Siquijor to vote for Leni, even though some of them are voting for [he who must not be named].” And this waiter proceeded to tell me about the research that he did, all the articles he read, to arrive at the conclusion he has: he has to vote pink. Clearly an informed choice—and I was happy for that!

Politics is essential and should not be reduced to a flippant vote come election time. Politics is the distillation of everything one believes and holds dear—a cumulative core of everything, from sociology to history, from science to culture, from morality to legality. It is not nothing. Who you vote for is the sum of who you are as an individual and as a person of the world. In the light of those 40,000 and counting, I am gratified to know there is still some light and decency left in this world. I am throwing off my old cudgels of despair: I love finally knowing that I am not alone in the fight against the darkness that threatens to further engulf us.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, and its color is pink.


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