Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo told Asian liberals and democrats that forging deep, genuine connections with ordinary people is key in their struggle against populist authoritarians.
Facing members of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats who were gathered in a virtual general assembly on Friday, November 27, Robredo made this call for humility in what appears to be a response to the Messianic complex criticism often thrown against liberals.
Robredo said democrats across Asia must strive to listen and understand the stories of people on the ground, and not just treat them as mere data samples for policy-making.
"This process requires shedding the idea that, armed with our position papers and PhDs, we always know what is best. This gap in humility is in fact what demagogues are so skilled at weaponizing: They make their crass pronouncements and sleep in mosquito nets to signal a sameness with the frustrated," Robredo said.
"But while populism dresses itself up in cosmetic affinity, the liberal response must be to pursue authentic human engagement. To lean towards the ground and share in the struggle of the people," she added.
Robredo is the leader of the opposition movement against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. His term has seen the weakening of institutions, rampant disinformation, and relentless attacks on the media, yet Duterte remains very popular among Filipinos. (READ: 'Guns, drug lists, trolls…but Duterte's biggest weapon is the law')
For Robredo, liberals and democrats fighting authoritarian regimes should now be "resisting the impulse to promise salvation tomorrow, and to instead offer solidarity in real time."
She said they must make an effort to involve the people and give them a sense of ownership over the reforms being introduced.
"Without listening to their stories, being there as they tell it, looping them in, and getting their buy-in, our projects, smart as they often are, will never get off the ground," said Robredo.
"Conversely: The more that the people are looped in – the more they recognize that we are all in this together – then the more galvanized they become. This is, perhaps, the entire point of participative democracy, and it can only happen when we build the necessary affinity with the people," the Vice President added.
Last year, the Liberal Party led by Robredo started a listening campaign called Project Makinig. It was an effort to reach out to a wider spectrum of Filipino voters whom several party stalwarts admit they were not able to connect with during the 2016 presidential polls. – Rappler.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @maracepeda.