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‘Our generation’s fight’: Robredo’s campaign to stop Marcos Jr

Manila, Philippines – Armed with a stack of flyers, stickers and some pink wristbands, Hannah Barrantes, a corporate lawyer by day, hops from bus to bus in Metro Manila’s main thoroughfare to make a pitch to its passengers.
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“I’m like those missionaries who board buses to preach to passengers while they’re stuck in traffic,” Barrantes told Al Jazeera. “Only that I don’t preach the gospel, I spread the word about how we can improve as a nation through good governance that Vice President Leni Robredo promises.”

Barrantes is just one of millions of mostly young people who have become a part of a so-called “pink movement” moving Heaven and Earth to elect Vice President Leni Robredo as president and thwart the political resurgence of the Marcos family.

The leader of the opposition to President Rodrigo Duterte, Robredo is fighting an uphill battle against Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr, the son and namesake of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his beauty queen wife Imelda, in the Philippines’ most consequential elections in recent history.

Robredo, a human rights lawyer, social activist and mother of three daughters, went into politics after her husband – then a government minister – was killed in a plane crash. The 57-year-old won a congressional seat in 2013, overwhelmingly defeating a member of the political dynasty in her hometown, and has since continued her husband’s brand of participative and progressive politics.

Opinion polls suggest Marcos Jr is likely to emerge the winner in the May 9 poll in what analysts say would be a huge setback for democracy, at a time when many are struggling from the economic fallout brought on by Duterte’s poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

But Robredo is banking on her millions of passionate volunteers to pip Marcos at the post, as she did in 2016 when the two were running for vice president.

They have organised mammoth rallies across the nation and conducted what she calls a “people to people” campaign, including going house to house, organising food programmes and health clinics as well as legal counselling.

Cleve Arguelles, an academic at De La Salle University, says the kind of grassroots movement for Robredo offers a powerful alternative to the traditional ways of doing politics in the Philippines, where people are usually paid to attend rallies rather than the other way around.

“They are standing up against an alliance of some of the most insidious and powerful political families in the country, how they usually run elections, and the kind of politics they represent,” Arguelles told Al Jazeera.

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