The Million People March in 2013 was an outstanding example of how netizens succeeded in mobilizing hundreds of thousands of citizens through the creative use of the social media platform. The anti-corruption rally was announced only through Facebook but it sparked a movement that culminated in the massive gathering in Luneta where concerned citizens and groups representing various political colors called for the abolition of the pork barrel system. In response to the spontaneous and organized display of people power, Malacañang announced the scrapping of pork barrel allocations in the national budget. The anti-corruption campaign continued in 2014 through the launching of a nationwide people’s initiative to once and for all prohibit lump sum congressional insertions in the budget system.
The Million People March was a unique political event that provided a template on how online and offline organizing can be combined to create a positive social impact. There were localized protests which resembled the tactics of the Million People March (Occupy, Lakbayan, Kalyeserye) but their reach was deliberately smaller. It would take several years and only during the presidential candidacy of Vice President Leni Robredo for us to witness once again the gathering of massive crowds through virtual and traditional political mobilization.
Election rallies are common but the Pink Rallies have been more than just proclamation events for candidates. They served as de facto protest assemblies for citizens who are already exasperated over the Duterte presidency and committed to blocking the shameful bid of the Marcoses to reclaim power. The space to express and affirm the political message of resisting tyranny is to log in and show up in the Pink Rallies where people from all walks of life encounter the strangeness of one another while sharing a united stand in support of Robredo’s candidacy. In the context of Philippine politics, what could be more political than to align oneself with an event denouncing the murderous legacies of Marcos and Duterte? The incumbent president is known for his petty vindictiveness and violent mentality, yet people still showed up at the rallies to reject the candidacy of his daughter.
Despite the pandemic, the Pink Rallies assembled a record number of people in major towns and cities across the country. This was done by tapping the machinery of local government units, political parties in the Pink coalition, churches, sectoral formations, volunteer groups, and ordinary individuals who believe not just in Robredo but also in the potential of this movement to defeat the evil tandem of Marcos-Duterte. Participants went to these rallies to make visible their political stance even if they are aware that they will probably meet people from different backgrounds including those who cling to creepy beliefs in life.
The success of Pink Rallies is to demonstrate the amazing power of solidarity and collective action. They also reminded many that building a citizen movement that seeks to mobilize the local community is not easy and at times it could be messy, chaotic, and even a demoralizing experience. To borrow a few words from Mao, a rally is not a picnic or dinner party. There are conflicts, squabbles, intrigues, real and imagined conspiracies that could derail the fragile unity but this should not become a major hindrance if the resolve to win the struggle is stronger.
This struggle is also unfolding in realtime where a provincial Pink Rally is at once a national and global spectacle through live social media reporting. This is a refreshing change from the Manila-centric coverage of protests since netizens can amplify parochial sentiments and put a spotlight on underreported local concerns. The strength of Pink Rallies relies on the practical wisdom of its participants who maximize various internet platforms to build anticipation, exhibit the broad character of the event, and sustain the message of the political action for several days. Other presidential candidates have also managed to organize big rallies but they fell short in capturing the attention of internet users and converting them into an influential army of woke voters. A volunteer army conscious of its online presence and determined to expand its contribution by merging its virtual activities with initiatives at the grassroots.
The emergence of Pink Rallies on the political scene was sudden and its momentum was largely driven by Robredo’s candidacy. What are their prospects after the election? In just two months, Pink Rallies have mobilized hundreds of thousands of people across the country and this number already constitutes a significant force that can effectively challenge the vicious machinations of those aiming to subvert the people’s will. More importantly, we have seen a glimpse of the future of resistance. The coming together of fellow crusaders and strangers, citizens collaborating and congregating on the ground, documenting the struggle in realtime, coordinating the campaign through online networks, and linking the political fight in various towns and cities until the disparate local actions become a strong people’s movement. Is this not People Power in the digital century?