Lumaki ako sa mundo ng hakot.
We’d climb aboard trucks and jeeps to join campaign rallies. The organizers would ask us to join regardless of age. “Dagdag tao.” We’d go because it was fun – a trip to somewhere other than our neighborhood or school. Besides, for us riding a car, van, or truck was a novelty. (This was the time before the “Tamara FX” became part of public transportation)
Rallies offered free entertainment for those who couldn’t afford it. We would sing, clap and “slam dance.” We’d listlessly wait for speeches to finish and then dutifully line up and claim our “allowance” from our group leader. Sometimes they’d give us food packs. In Manila, we’d get Chinese food from famous restaurants in Binondo, which was a treat since eating there was beyond our budget. In Quezon City, it was mostly fast food.
Yes, we got money. People might snort at P500 (back then it was P100 to P200). But to me, my classmates, and friends, it was more than enough to help the family out. When you count every centavo for rent, food and electricity each month, every little bit helps. Kasama na ang minsan pagiging “pala.”
There’s another kind of rally that I’ve memories of, however, such as the World Youth Day 1995. It’s when we – along with some five million others – camped at Luneta. We took baths in the most inventive of places (from a hose, behind a hippo statue, under a stone bridge).We familiarized ourselves with the toilets of nearby establishments. Unlike private school students who were billeted in these hotels, we’d have to gingerly ask guards for permission to go in.
We weren’t paid to attend World Youth Day. We went to see Pope John Paul II. We didn’t have drivers or cars, so we’d walk a few kilometers just to get to the entrance. Then we took turns watching over our small patch of grass, as we counted down the hours to the Pope’s arrival. My friends and I would sit and talk until nighttime, hoping that our vigil would pay off. We brought our own food, made our own placards, and found new friends. And when the Pope did arrive, it was electrifying. There were millions of us there but when he spoke, it felt like he was talking to us one-by-one. We left Luneta tired but hopeful. Fully believing that life can be better.
Two different kinds of rallies. Two different types of memories. Both were fun in their own ways. But the difference between them follows me until today.
In the political rally, we were “hired help.” Even to our young minds, our attendance was part of a contract. The entertainment, food, and fun formed part of the payment. We hardly listened to the speeches. We were there, but we weren’t present.
For World Youth Day, we willingly endured long lines, packed venues, and nights filled with insect bites. All just to listen to this man who had a special message for us. All just for a slider of a chance to see the “Pope mobile” pass by. Because to our young, and innocent eyes, this man “knew” each of us. To him, we weren’t pawns, property, or servants. We stayed because we believed that in his eyes, we mattered.
So what does this have to do with today?
Painful reminder for ‘trapos’
I look at the listless crowds that the son of the dictator gathers, and I remember my days as hakot. In their eyes I remember waiting for the speeches to end just so I can get what is due, because I needed it for our family. Even in their genuine fervor, I see how I was also once trapped by a system that made us beholden to crumbs left by dynasties and their favored oligarchs. And when a trapo Recently accused attendees of a rival rally of being paid, it struck me on a personal level. It was a painful reminder that in their eyes we are just “chattel” – to be used during elections, then discarded after.
But then, I look at the crowds that Vice President Leni Robredo consistently gathers, and I’m reminded of my time at World Youth Day. I look at the videos of the attendees and I see myself in back in Luneta. I read their homemade signs and recall how we did the same two decades ago.
In 1995, we went to Luneta on our own accord. Faith moved us to go there. Belief made us stay. Something I see in today’s attendees. They faced several obstacles: trapo-induced traffic jams, accusations of being paid, some even got red-tagged. None worked. And, by all indications, the people will continue to flock. Not by some grand design. Not by some clever “mass conversion” tactic. It’s all organic.
This is the quiet power of the rallies we are seeing. Something that goes beyond numbers or statistics. It’s not about charisma, packaging, or manufactured metrics. It’s just what a rally was meant to do: to be a venue for real leaders to connect with the electorate.
This surge is powered by no algorithm. It is simply the Vice President being at her best: someone who “sees” those who were left behind. And they flock to see her because she came “from” them, lived a life “serving” them, and will always be “with” them. This is hope you cannot fake. This is empathy you cannot manufacture.
This is winnable
That’s why beyond more than any sort of data, trend, or analysis, there’s cause for concern in the Marcos camp. Because the public instinctively senses any form of slowdown. And a fanatic base demands displays of strength. When trapos in their arrogance forget that their relationship with “hakot” is purely transactional, they are in for a painful surprise.
So what does this tell us? That this is winnable. That the early advantage the troll machinery is generated from pushback. That vigilance and fact-checking is slowly making a dent – and that’s why they stop top-level resources to try it. That these rallies can and will lead to something bigger. All that remains is to build a bigger tent.
It’s been 26 years. And I didn’t expect images of political rallies in Butuan, Bulacan, Cavite, or Iloilo to trigger memories of a time when hope felt tangible. And yet, they have. Maybe it’s because like that young boy who ran alongside the VP’s motorcade, I too once chased after convoys. And to see this widow slow down, take the boy’s hand, and make him feel loved, fills me with hope. Because Pope John Paul II did the same for us in 1995. Because for those who are invisible, to “be seen” is life changing. It is the stuff that moves farmers to march from Sumilao to Manila. It is the stuff that wins elections. Take it from someone who was once part of the hakot crowd. – Rappler.com
John Molo practices commercial litigation and arbitration. He studied in a public school and is the son of a soldier, and a public school teacher. He teaches Constitutional Law at UP and is a past president of the Harvard Law School Alumni Association.