Many of us are still recovering from Leni Robredo’s defeat in May 2021, and, although we have somehow moved on, that is, back to whatever we were doing before the election, it’s not easy to forget the euphoria from those rallies, and we wonder when we will feel that way again.
That itself felt like something from the past, and that was Edsa, where the best of Filipino values came forth in a spontaneous mass expression of volunteerism, generosity, consideration for one another, deference and respect for the elderly. It defined, I’d like to think, not only what we could be but who we really are.
Leni was our rallying figure in 2021, as was Cory in 1986, both taking up the supreme challenge of leadership, both doing so against a Marcos and in a David and Goliath struggle. Unlike in Cory’s case, Leni’s did not end in victory at the polls; still, it was to me a battle won toward final victory, which is only waiting to happen, with the right confluence of events and cast of characters.
Cory was swept into a fateful breach created by growing divisions inside the dictatorial regime. She also had the assassination of her husband, Ninoy, rekindled into a great, inspiring fire in the nation’s memory; furthermore, she had, arrayed behind her in the fight, Cardinal Sin, his nuns and priests, organizations like the August Twenty-One Movement, elder statesmen like Lorenzo Tañada and Senator Jose W. Diokno and publisher-patriot Chino Roces.
All Leni had was a self-formed mass army of like-minded and like-hearted citizens of all ages brought together by some sort of contagion.
Deciding for ourselves, my husband and I didn’t know whom we would find at her rallies, but once there, seeing friends and neighbors, old and new, and others who made us feel like we’ve known one another all our lives, we knew we were in the right place at the right time.
There was an abundance of camaraderie, expressed in a very Filipino way—in an abundance of provisions, more than enough provisions in fact, for everyone. People went around distributing food and water. But it was the sight of young men and women cleaning up after the rally that really moved me, a simple, basic, beautiful side of humanity toward its environment.
After the election, when usually voters on the losing side prefer to either hide or privately lick their wounds, more and more of them were coming forward to redeclare their commitment, making us all wonder how we could have lost. But, as I’ve said, we have somehow moved on. But then again something happens, someone appears and we’re only too glad to reminisce and become reemboldened. And recently such an occasion, the most unlikely one, arose.
At a recent intimate lunch given on short notice by an old friend, Dr. Vermen Verallo, the eminent dermatologist, whose office is a mere two doors away from us, Vergel and I were only too pleased to attend. Every time and anytime we get an invitation from Vermen we accept, lest we miss out on something meaningful, relevant and inspiring. It was Maria Ressa before, speaking at the Makati Medical Center. This time, it’s Tony Meloto, as happens, like Maria, someone Vergel has long known.
Tony was a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, a social entrepreneur best known for his Gawad Kalinga referred to as the pin up girl of poverty-alleviation programs. He battles psoriasis and consequent changes in his behavior and attitude, which connects him to Vermen. He was there, in fact with other members of the psoriasis sufferers’ mutual support group. I had read Meloto’s “The Poverty of Old Age,” in which he shares his struggles. The article had gone viral, with Lila Quirino, another guest and patient among his admiring spreaders. She is herself a recovered psoriatic, again under Vermen’s care. I myself had known Lila fairly closely.
At table, the sufferers shared the effects of certain drugs and their prohibitive costs, apart from those of the disease itself, on the mental health of sufferers, especially old people. It seems depression and fatigue are side effects of most ailments—COVID included and the resulting lockdowns due to it. Patients like Tony himself valiantly had to find ways out of their depression if they had no access to any psychiatrist or psychologist.
I was personally interested in Paraiso, Meloto’s home for the aged poor and lonely, and the engaging farm life he could offer them so they might feel useful again. It comes at a good time, too.
The Hospicio de San Jose in Manila is getting crowded, and, with funding becoming scarce, it will be hard to sustain even those they have already accommodated. Hospicio is close to my heart, an element of an advocacy I have supported for years as a member of Winner Foundation, an environmental group.
We were about 10 at the lunch, and all feeling immediately at ease with one another. And what did we find out—we were all Leni supporters. I looked around at the quality of people at the table and felt proud to be among them, and wondered why we were there. But my husband, always the journalist, is bound to find some providential political significance to every humanitarian effort, and he was rewarded for his own advocacy for the moment.
Vergel wants to see the critical mass for Leni, represented by the 19 million votes she got, organized as “a political constituency, a watchdog force for civic and humanitarian and other righteous causes,” with boycott, civil disobedience and all manner of active and open protests for weapons, to keep the ruling class in check and democracy alive.