2022 PH presidential race

In Negros Occidental, a land that never forgets, stars of hope beam for Robredo

Mara Cepeda
In Negros Occidental, a land that never forgets, stars of hope beam for Robredo

Presidential candidate Vice President Leni Robredo shines as the star of hope in Negros Occidental, which gathered the biggest crowd yet among all her people's rallies nationwide. Robredo's daughters, Aika and Tricia, joined her onstage as the people’s rally ended on a high note with Rivermaya's Liwanag sa Dilim. The rally was held at the Paglaum Sports Complex in Bacolod City on Friday, March 11. It was attended by an estimated 70,000 supporters. Photo courtesy of VP Leni Media Bureau

Photo courtesy of VP Leni Media Bureau

(1st UPDATE) For presidential candidate Leni Robredo, the stars aligned when the name of the place where she staged her biggest political rally yet is named 'paglaum' or hope, her rallying cry in 2022

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – In Negros Occidental, the province that remembers the time when a dictator slowly murdered their children and turned their lush sugar lands red, tens of thousands of people clad in pink marched for the woman resisting the return of the late despot’s family to Malacañang. 

On Friday, March 11, the sprawling grounds of the Paglaum Sports Complex in the capital city of Bacolod burst with shining stars of hope for Vice President Leni Robredo. 

In Negros Occidental, a land that never forgets, stars of hope beam for Robredo

Though there is a huge margin in numbers, major polling firms still say she is the most viable candidate who can defeat the late dictator’s son and namesake Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., who dominates the 2022 presidential race, based on surveys.

Most of the mayors in Negros Occidental have pledged to support Marcos, but over 70,000 Negrenses pulled out all the stops to tell their local leaders: No, we from the masses hold the true power in this elections. 

The father of the province, Governor Eugenio Jose “Bong” Lacson, knew critics may have mocked him for standing up in a sea of Marcos-allied politicians in Negros Occidental. 

But seeing the crowd that night – the biggest to gather since the entire 2022 presidential campaign kicked off in February – Lacson knew he picked the right side

“They said, ‘Governor Lacson is the only one for Leni.’ Here’s my answer, 70,000!” Lacson said in Hiligaynon, driving Robredo supporters into a frenzy.

SHOW OF FORCE. Pink-clad supporters of Robredo troop to the Paglaum Sport Complex on March 11, 2022. Photo by VP Leni Media Bureau

Negrenses’ resistance to the Marcoses and their strong support for Robredo – a critic of Martial Law – is rooted in history. 

In the early 1980s, under the dictatorship of Bongbong’s father Ferdinand Marcos, one million people in Negros Occidental suffered through a famine, all thanks to the sugar monopoly imposed by the strongman to benefit his cronies. 

It was no wonder then that Robredo had defeated Marcos by a wide margin of 571,000 votes in the 2016 vice-presidential race. 

The political landscape has since changed, however, with disinformation networks of the Marcoses and incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte saturating social media feeds with lies and black propaganda against Robredo

Negros Occidental Vice Governor Jeffrey Ferrer and 28 out of the 31 mayors in the province are now backing Marcos for president in 2022. 

But the Kakampinks’ show of force in Bacolod City may have showed them the true bosses in Negros Occidental

MASSKARA FESTIVAL VIBES. Robredo and her running mate Senator Kiko Pangilinan ride a Masskara Festival-themed float during their motorcade around Paglaum Sports Complex on March 11, 2022. Photo by VP Leni Media Bureau

Rousing the crowd further at the Paglaum Sports Complex, Robredo took a jab at the so-called “unity” that her rival Marcos has been harping on in the absence of a detailed platform. She told Negrenses to turn to history to know what real unity means. 

“Huwag po natin kalimutan ang kasaysayan; sa halip, balikan natin ang mga aral na nagdala sa atin dito. Dito nagbubukal ang totoong unity; ito ang totoong pagkakaisa – pagkakaisang babaklas sa luma at bulok na sistema, at magsusulong ng gobyernong tapat, na mag-aangat sa buhay ng lahat,” said Robredo.

(Let us not forget history; instead, let us remember the lessons that brought us here today. This is where true unity springs from; this is true unity – a unity that breaks the old and rotten system and pushes for an honest government that would improve the lives of all.)

The pink stars of hope now symbolizing the Robredo campaign is also a homage to a similar project done by Negrenses after the dictator Marcos was ousted in 1986, to help raise funds to alleviate hunger in the province.

For Negrenses, it signals both new threats to democracy and a pledge to fight against the darkness.

Farmer Larwin Bascar, who is vice president of their association in Barangay Celestino Villacin in Cadiz, told Rappler many farmers in Negros are supporting Robredo for president. Over the years, since Robredo became vice president, they have received assistance from her Angat Buhay program like farm machinery and fertilizers for their crops. They want her to win again in 2022, hoping to receive more help if she become president. 

“Marami po kaming natatangap na galing sa kanila…. Kakayanin po, Ma’am! Daming suporta nanggaling sa asosyasyon,” he said.

(We have been receiving a lot of help from them…. I believe she can win here, Ma’am! She has so much support from our association.)

Jesus Jimenez, a 64-year-old farmer from Bacolod, even donated a portion of his income to campaign for Robredo and her running mate Senator Kiko Pangilinan. 

“Kahit maliit lang kita ko at binigay ko sa kampanya ni VP [Leni] at ni Sen. [Kiko], sana makatulong ito dahil ayaw na ayaw ko talaga kay BBM. Magnanakaw ‘yun at mas hihirap pa ang mga magsasaka kung siya ay manalo,” said Jimenez, who heads the Negros Occidental Accredited Seed Producers Cooperative. 

(Even if I don’t earn much, I gave my money to the campaign of VP Leni and Senator Kiko, and I hope it can help them because I really don’t like BBM. He is a thief and the lives of farmers would just worsen if he wins.)

In Negros Occidental, a land that never forgets, stars of hope beam for Robredo
Lights of hope

Negrense “Kakampinks” came bearing their pink parols that swayed from left to right amid a sea of pink flags and balloons that whipped in the air. 

Excitement was palpable, with the Kakampinks’ cheers and chants drowning out the microphones of the star-studded emcees who were hyping them up ahead of Robredo’s arrival.

When hosts alluded to claims they were paid to attend Robredo allies, her supporters’ chants of Hindi kami bayad (We’re not paid)!” spilling over the surrounding streets filled with people aching to get a glimpse of Robredo. 

The crowd in Bacolod waited over seven hours just to see Robredo, who hopped from 10 events across three cities and three towns in Negros Occidental before finally stepping into the sports stadium at past 8 pm. 

The heat of the sun bore down on the crowd midday, before drizzles in the afternoon and early evening forced the people to bring out their umbrellas. Despite the changing weather, the Kakampinks stayed put. A rainbow suddenly framed the venue, further energizing the crowd and fueling their collective hope.

HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL. A rainbow appears just near the Paglaum Sports Complex after the light afternoon rain in Bacolod City ahead of the Leni-Kiko rally on March 11, 2022. Photo by Joey Gaston

When their stomachs grumbled, their fellow supporters handed out pink pastries and sandwiches they made at home. There was free water and coffee for everyone. When several people felt faint, Kakampinks shouted “Medic!” to ensure help would come at the soonest possible time.  

Even Robredo herself was at a loss at her Negrense supporters’ immense display of dedication that day. The Bacolod rally was marred by transportation woes, but her Kakampinks pulled through to help their fellow supporters travel to the city to join the event.

“At sa bawat po rally natin, kusang loob ang pagpunta ng mga tao. Hindi lang sa hindi kayo bayad, abonado pa kayo. Pasensya na po. Hindi lang po ‘yun, nagko-contest pa para ipakita ang malaking ambag ng bawat isa sa People’s Campaign natin,” said Robredo. 

(And in all our rallies, people go on their own accord. It’s not only that you’re not paid to go; you even spend your money just to attend. I’m sorry. And not only that, you even hold friendly competitions to show what each and everyone of you are contributing to our People’s Campaign.)

Her security escorts were on their guard more than usual throughout the day, after a pro-Marcos supporter threatened to physically harm Robredo in an online post. But it did not stop the lone female presidential bet from pressing flesh with the masses, from her first rally in San Carlos City to the motorcade she did outside the stadium after the main event.

LADIES IN PINK. Robredo and her daughters Aika and Tricia pose for a photo together with their supporters at the Paglaum Sports Complex on March 11, 2022. Photo by VP Leni Media Bureau

For Robredo, the stars aligned for her People’s Campaign when her biggest political rally yet was staged at the Paglaum Sports Complex. 

In Hiligaynon, the word “paglaum” means hope – and hope is Robredo’s promise as she aims to get rid of the old and dirty politics in the Philippines. 

“Sa patuloy na pagsama-sama ng ating mga liwanag, dadami pa ang masisinagan ng pag-asang ito. Ang mga matagal nang napag-iiwanan, susunduin po natin sila. Ang mga nakayuko, isasabay po natin sila sa paghakbang,” said Robredo. “Ganyan po ang ibig sabihin kapag sinabi nating laylayan ang magiging bagong sentro ng pamahalaan.”

(As our lights of hope continue to merge together, more and more people would be enlightened. We will come and fetch the least and lost among us. Those who have been defeated, we are going to include them in our journey. This is what I mean when I say that the margins of society will be the new center of government.) – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.