From constitutionalist to cancer patient, volunteers are the ‘heart’ of Otso Diretso campaign

MANILA, Philippines – Marlon “Omar” Hernandez had just come out of a month-long bed rest. It's one of the effects of a disease he calls a traitor – leukemia, which he has been battling since 2015.

But on Monday, April 29, he stepped out of the house again to meet with groups from Muntinlupa, Parañaque, and Las Piñas to get his supply of campaign materials. Hernandez has been spending his days lately as a campaign volunteer for the opposition senatorial slate Otso Diretso.

He was jolly when Rappler talked to him on Monday. This is mostly his mood when campaigning for Otso Diretso, he said, whether it’s through group activities or what he fondly calls his “solo flights.”

Hernandez, turning 39 this June, said he shares the same stances as Otso Diretso candidates, “not necessarily against the government,” he said, but “against extrajudicial killings, China’s territorial claim in the West Philippine Sea, and the war on drugs.”

Sometimes his mood shifts, he said, a combination of his disease's effects on him, and the volatile response of those who do not like Otso Diretso.

"May time na nakikipag-debate, may time na kinakabit ko ang poster tapos sinigawan ako ng 'Duterte!' Sa loob-loob ko, sabi ko, kilala ko naman mga kandidato ko," Hernandez said. (READ: 'Keep the faith': Otso Diretso's final stretch)

(Sometimes I'm engaged in a debate. There was one time I was putting up a poster and someone shouted "Duterte!" I just thought to mysel, I know my candidates well.)

'Solo flights'

Hernandez said that out of the 8, he likes Florin Hilbay, Samira Gutoc, and Bam Aquino the most.

"Si Pilo kasi laki sa hirap, ganun din ako. 'Yung na experience niya nung bata siya na nag-ulam ng toyo, naransan ko rin. Si Samira, malapit siya sa babae, eh maka-ina ako, eh patay na mother ko," he said. 

(Pilo grew up poor, and I did too. His experience of having to eat only soy sauce for meals, I've eperienced that too. Samira is pro-women, I am very close to my mother, but she is gone.)

Hilbay is running on the platform of passing a law that would institutionalize the 4Ps or Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, and expanding its beneficiaries. It is currently known as the conditional cash transfer program for the poorest of the poor, but its continued implementation depends on the priorities – and maybe whims – of any administration. 

Gutoc is pushing for women's rights among other agenda, and she's proud to recall how she resigned from the Duterte administration as a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission because of the President's rape joke. 

Because of his physical limits, Hernandez cannot often go on group activities, so he goes on his "solo flights" most days.

“Namimigay ako ng mga sticker sa mga tricycle driver, tapos 'yung cellphone ko may dinownload ako na [campaign] music at may fliers ako. Kapag kakain ako fishball, tatanungin ko, 'Ma’am registered voter ka ba?'” Hernandez said.

(I give stickers to tricycle drivers, and then I downloaded [campaign] music on my cellphone, and I have fliers. Whenever I eat fishball, I will approach others in the stall and ask if they're registered to vote.)

Why does he do it?

“Anytime p'wedeng may mangyari sa 'kin, pero may ginawa ako, mamamatay ako na may dignidad. 'Yung sakit ko, traydor. Kesa ako 'yung traydor, 'yung sakit ko na lang, kesa ako 'yung sa traydor sa bayan,” he said.

(Something can happen to me any time, but at least I'm able to do something now. I will die with dignity. My disease is a traitor, and it should be the only traitor, not me. I don't want to be a traitor to the country.) 

Volunteers

Hernandez said his family has come to support him in his campaign activities.

“Nakikita nila na lumalakas ako. Minsan nade-depress ako, nung napansin nila na nag-iba 'yung perception ko na kahit may sakit parang lumalaban, ang bilin lang sa 'kin huwag ko sasagarin, kapag nakaramdam na ko hinto na,” he said.

(They saw how I gained strength, sometimes I get depressed, but they noticed that my perception changed, even though I'm ill, I am fighting. All they ask is for me to know my limits, to stop when I feel something.)

For a flailing campaign such as Otso Diretso’s, Hernandez said he finds the energy to volunteer from the younger members of his family.

“Para sa salinlahi na lang, gusto ko 'yung paninindigan ko mapakinabangan ng mga batang kamag-anak ko,” he said.

(I'm just doing this for the next generation. I want my younger relatives to benefit from the stand I have taken.)

Another volunteer is Ed Garcia, a human rights activist who’s also notable for his role in drafting of the 1987 Constitution.

Recently, the 76-year-old Garcia has been spotted frequenting bus terminals in Makati by himself to hand out Otso Diretso leaflets.

“The places where people congregate are the long line of passengers waiting for a ride home outside the mall areas, the lines at the MRT area, some of the restaurants, the gardens in the area, some drivers have allowed me to [give] leaflet to the passengers in the P2P bus,” Garcia said in an email sent to his network, as seen by Rappler columnist JC Punongbayan.

Garcia said that 20% of those he met identified themselves as “kalaban (enemy).”

“To which I would respond by saying, hindi naman, kabayan lang (not an enemy, but countryman),” Garcia said.

Heart of the campaign

Jeric Jucaban of the group Team Pilipinas said that even the bigger volunteer groups such as his is strapped for cash for their mobilization activities.

“Isang bagay lang ang nagmo-motivate sa 'kin na magsakrispisyo, at magbigay ng panahon sa kampanya, at 'yun ang sakripisyo ng mga volunteers,” Jucaban said in a press conference on Monday.

(Only one thing motivates me to sacrifice and give time for the campaign, and that is the sacrifice of volunteers.)

Jozy Nisperos of the group The Silent Majority said there is a shift of attitude among volunteers and supporters, from fear and doubt to excitement. (READ: This Cebu barangay is ‘not afraid to support Otso Diretso’)

“Now the energy, the enthusiasm, it keeps increasing. I have been walking in malls with some campaign t-shirts and people come up to say, ‘Tama yan’ (what you’re doing is right). At first people were saying, you’re so brave, but now it’s no longer bravery, it’s excitement that drives us to campaign at malls,” Nisperos said.

Nisperos said that by modest estimates, there are 100,000 volunteers for Otso Diretso.

She added: More than the quantity of volunteers, yung puso ng volunteers, grabe…. ’Yun yung hindi naka-capture ng surveys, yung puso. At yung ganyang volunteerism will see gains, it will yield success for Otso Diretso.”

(More than the quantity of volunteers, their hearts are just wow. That's what surveys are not capturing. That kind of volunteerism will see gains, it will yield success for Otso Diretso.) – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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