The use of Radical Love as an election strategy is well-documented. Will it bear victory for Robredo?
By Luis Lagman
Leni Robredo is a challenge to her opponents. Not only is she confronting a male-dominated race head-on, but also because of her approach to her political run. She has made an about-face from the elections’ distinctively polarizing character and has instead tapped into a fundamental yet overshadowed component of the Filipino identity.
The motto underpinning it all: “madaling makipagtalo, mas radikal ang magmahal.” (It’s easy to argue; more radical to love). This candidate harnesses “love” both as a political tool and an antidote against disinformation and hate speech.
Love as a political strategy isn’t a breakthrough discovery, however. Taking notes from the historic 2019 elections in Turkey, Vice President Leni Robredo wishes to create a domestic counterpart of one of the most shocking electoral triumphs — one built on philanthropy, social involvement, and kindness.
Radical Love as Manifesto
Ahead of the 2019 Turkish local elections, the Book of Radical Love, produced by the campaigning head of the Turkish Republican Party (CHP) Ateş İlyas Başsoy, was released nationwide. It also served as the CHP’s campaign manual.
In an interview, Bassoy states that humans as a species have become predisposed to denouncing — as opposed to embracing — one another’s differences.
“We must organize love against evil,” he said.
Conducive to the Book of Radical Love’s reception in Turkey was the country’s precariously authoritarian backdrop. Incumbent president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had infamously built his political machinery on anti-free speech legislation, invective-lined addresses, hardline religious conservatism, and a populace sharply dichotomized between “the people” and “the elite.”
This status quo seemed to warn against a return to an idealistic form of government, but the country’s center-left was still able to take the spotlight using Radical Love. The CHP’s bid in the 2019 mayoral elections, in fact, has set precedent for other countries that are likewise bogged down by populist rule. In the end, Ekrem İmamoğlu, the opposition candidate, bagged the Istanbul mayoralty by harnessing the power of Radical Love. İmamoğlu and his effort to unseat populist control, which was rooted in the Book of Radical Love, made waves in social media circles worldwide.
Radical Love as a Glass Cannon
Similarities between the Turkish narrative and the Philippines’ political climate present themselves almost allegorically. Yet, the survivability of a “Radical Love” maneuver will depend largely on Robredo’s ability to navigate the complications that may appear during its implementation.
In fact, a potentially damning hole in the VP’s push has already materialized. Leni Robredo is a beacon of hope within “Kakampink” and anti-administration bubbles. Beyond that, however, fake news has already tilled the land with salt.
Marcos echo chambers do not only thrive off of pro-Marcos propaganda — they circulate a lethal and growing arsenal of insults trained on his opponents. “Bobo,” (stupid) “mahina,” (weak), “lutang” (scatter-brain) and more variations of the notorious “Leni Lugaw” quip than imaginable give us only a peek at what that the Veep has been forced to weather.
Right now Marcos’ devotees still identify Robredo with the hypocrisy and “pakitang tao” that they have learned to conflate with the Liberal Party (though she is running as an independent candidate). She has been lambasted, called a puppet of the Liberal Party and of the Aquino family.
But the principle of Radical Love as a political strategy has one key tenet: ignore the opponent. Its pacifist rules, then, bar Robredo from repudiating these claims. She has to boldly absorb these criticisms like a stoic punching bag. This raises the question of whether a radical love strategy is a practical choice in a country beset by political polarization and a misinformation crisis.
Indian opposition candidate Rahul Gandhi’s defeat in his 2019 run against incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi also raises alarm against Robredo’s choice of strategy. As Modi’s support base assaulted underdog Gandhi with organized disinformation efforts, the latter chose to stay quiet. Note that Gandhi projected a forthcoming attitude to serve as his political image — very similar to that of Robredo’s. However, coupled with his unpromising speeches in parliament and allegations of his being a “part-time politician,” Gandhi was deemed a bleeding-heart idealist and forever associated with the contemptuous term “pappu” (small boy).
For a local example, one must only remember Mar Roxas, who fell off the polls because his backers refused to air out Duterte’s untenable decriminalization plans. This was all in pursuit of the “disenteng Pilipino” (decent Filipino) vision that Roxas himself had idealized — a failed precursor to Radical Love. It was a step in the right direction but proved inadequate against Duterte’s enigmatic appeal to the people.
The above points make a solid case against the use of Radical Love. But, say, hypothetically, that radical love is in fact the key to securing a landslide win. Ironically, the Robredo camp’s personal brand of Radical Love may have stripped it of its original meaning.
The Vice President herself has said that her candidacy revolves around two motivations: to immobilize a return to power by the Marcoses and to terminate the strongman marque of leadership that Duterte started. That in itself already violates the Book of Radical Love’s crux of “ignoring the populist.”
Robredo’s headstrong anti-Marcos attitude is also seen in her response in the “fast talk” segment of Boy Abunda’s Presidential One-on-One interviews, wherein she calls Marcos “sinungaling,” (liar) as well as in other prior statements. Fellow candidate and Manila mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno’’ Domagoso has capitalized on these, saying that Robredo must instead center her campaign around economic issues. So is Robredo’s approach to Radical Love a mistake or a necessary modification?
Beyond the official Robredo campaign, ears have also perked up at the so-called Kakampinks’ behavior, which has culminated in one of the majority bloc’s biggest critiques of Leni’s support base: the “matapobre” (elitist) tag.
Some credence can be given to this claim, as three months ago Pulse Asia showed that only 21 percent and 19 percent of the E and D class brackets respectively hold Robredo to be their presidential choice. Marcos leads with 49 and 54 percent on both income brackets respectively.
Public vouches from prestigious institutions like Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, and San Beda University have spoiled the optics surrounding Leni’s run and lent weight to the anti-oligarchy narrative of Marcos Jr. The most fatal byproduct of this, however, are recorded accounts of Robredo supporters harassing and alienating entities aligned with Bongbong Marcos.
In the middle of December 2021, some Kakampinks took to Twitter to rain condemnations on the vehicle-for-hire company Angkas after thousands of its riders attended a UniTeam-led caravan in Quezon City.
Defamatory memes produced by Robredo supporters have further enforced their antagonistic rep — one notable instance of which was the crack at Marcos’ appearance in the magazine show Rated Korina where Kakampinks likened his outfit to that of a “service crew” member.
Radical Love as a Movement
The recently published Laylo polls showed Marcos leading by a staggering 64 percent of the voter preference rating.
However, an electoral comeback still lies in Robredo’s reach; this lies in first recognizing that Robredo’s presidential bid is both a campaign and a movement. This distinction is important to note because of the contrast between a candidate’s image as opposed to the attitude their support base exudes. A social media user illustrates this dichotomy with their take on the Marcos-Robredo showdown: “a spoiled brat presidential candidate with relatable PR versus [a] humble leader with elitist PR.”
With respect to Robredo and her campaign team, they have adopted hot pink as a campaign color and played into potent variations of the former’s “last man standing will be a woman” tagline. These are excellent moves, as it associates Robredo’s political identity with a Filipino archetype as powerful as that of the strongman — the mother.
This imagery subverts the misogyny that has badgered many women of politics. It ruins patriarchal thought and harnesses femininity not as a disadvantage but as a pivot. Moreover, the VP obtains a viable narrative — that of a gentle mother who welcomes all into her arms — to joust with Marcos Jr.’s image as a unifier of the nation. She also remains true to the premium that the Radical Love Book places on sincerity and gentility.
However, this is trivial in comparison to the real solution. Leni Robredo’s ascension to the seat lies in the driving force of her political machinery itself: her loyal supporters. At the end of the day, the Kakampinks must look to Robredo’s push not as a hill to die on, nor as a flag to raise, but as something to keep them grounded in reality.
It is time that they discard the prejudices borne by Marcos Jr. and Duterte’s divide-and-rule techniques: the color-coding between the yellows, pinks, and reds, the economic rifts between income brackets, the intellectual gaps between the educated and the illiterate, and so on and so forth. Using division and alienation is the antithesis of Radical Love, and it’s time her supporters realize that much.
They must see that where voters stand relative to the elections, even the BBMs and the DDSs, is not indicative of their character but is instead their attempt to love their own country — radically. To borrow from the Turkish CHP: “many within the CHP just assumed people vote for Erdoğan because they are uneducated and religious. In reality, these voters’ motivations were often very pragmatic and rational.” The same could be true in our country’s case.
I am biting a bullet in saying this, but for all these points and more, the Kakampink must learn to revitalize the true spirit of Robredo’s electoral run by refusing to hone in on the Marcoses’ wickedness.
To reiterate: the memory of Martial Law must not be isolated from discussions, much less from our history books. Some values are not up for debate, as Twitter user @EmilHofilena puts it.
Yet, as the Book of Radical Love says: “if we start the conversation by insulting the party that others vote for or their leader, nothing we say later will have any effect.”
Yes, to “exclude” Marcos is, in fact, possible: in İmamoğlu’s successful bid for Istanbul mayor, he did not mention Erdoğan’s name even once on Twitter, while in his public appearances he only used his name twice — and all in a respectful air.
The moment a Kakampink claims ascendancy over their fellow voter, they not only legitimize Marcos’ political image but also sabotage Robredo’s campaign. Thus, the vilification of the apolitical, the myth of the “bobotante” and the “woke” voter, and the unfounded theory of a “Solid North” must meet an abrupt halt. Educational and civilized discussions among voters from all sides of the fence will strip Marcos and Duterte of the “us v.s. them” delusion on which their campaigns are founded. It will neutralize Marcos’ “bagong lipunan” and cripple his political identity.
“Educating” in a roughly 2-month race to close a 45% gap, however, would be trying to move a mountain. The ”pink-lusivity” touted by Robredo and her campaign team is a husk without on-the-ground support from their followers. Robredo’s recent rally in Ortigas saw a disarmingly large attendee turnout — yet, as CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said in an interview: “only our own party’s supporters come to such rallies … everyone’s happy, but we have not reached out to those who don’t vote for us.”
Ridiculous as it may sound, Radical Love entails ridding Robredo’s run of its obvious political component and simply stepping outside to love your countryman. Robredo supporters have to embrace not only their candidate and fellow supporters but open their lines too to those on the other side of the fence.
The Kakampink-led LugawOne movement must set precedent for all future outreach done in the VP’s name: it is unpretentious, rational, and sends a message that easily overpowers the will of any populist. Ara Eugenio suggests the following in an October article:
“Professionals and businesspersons who are forming groups must extend assistance to those in need. ‘Health care workers for Leni’ must extend medical help, ‘businesspersons for Leni’ must reach out with relief assistance, and so forth. This is the kind of campaign that will be effective for Leni, and it will counter the black propaganda that Leni is the candidate of the uncaring elite.”
With no lesser candidates from which to siphon votes and a 45% gap to close, VP Leni’s electoral run seems to have been outdone. Yet, if this article should teach you anything, it’s to look beyond such speculation, to read in between the lines, and to instead set your eyes on the reality of love: the same thing that moves us to safeguard not only our nation but the values we honor, for the past 500 years and for the 500 more to come.