Emilio Aguindaldo is the first president of the Philippines. For several decades he has been recognized as one of the country’s national heroes. Of late he has been vilified as heretofore unknown stories from history have come to light. But it is Emilio Aguinaldo’s profile stamped on the Philippines five-peso coin.
Five pesos is the minimum amount of money a typical Filipino on the street will spend to pay for anything these days; food, toiletries, a short tricycle ride, a few pieces of candy. A cup of cooked rice in the cheaper sidewalk places, but not the dish to eat it with.
When Mayor Rodrigo Duterte embarked on his campaign for the presidency he made it clear that he had neither the money nor the machinery to do it with, and that the people, those who clamored for him to run, will be his machinery.
There was an attempt at fund-raising through the sale of souvenir donation cards that even the manang selling ice candy at the corner can afford, but the Comelec put a stop to that even before it came out, saying each buyer would have to fill out a donation form that the mayor’s camp would have to submit to the Comelec as evidence of donation acceptance, an undertaking that would have been ridiculously daunting to say the least.
But the typical Filipino on the street, in the entresuelos, and along the highways was not to be deterred. Their candidate had finally heeded their call, now they had a president to campaign for, and vote for come election day.
They opened up sacks that used to hold rice or corn, and with small cans of paint paid for with a few peso coins, they wrote “Duterte for President.” “DU30.” “CHANGE IS COMING.” They found old plastic sheets, cement sack linings, and wrote on them by hand with indelible markers. They strung these out between trees and posts along their barangays, right up there with the shiny tarpaulin and plastic banners of the other candidates, defiant and unashamed.
What everyone else could not give in cash, they gave in effort and conviction. People attending the mayor’s rallies would wait for hours, under the heat of the sun, for their candidate to arrive. This with no promise of compensation for their travel or food as there usually is at other candidates’ rallies. Their only purpose was to see Duterte in person, hear him speak in his inimitable, down-to-earth fashion, and maybe catch a baller bracelet or shirt that he would toss from the caravan.
In Cebu, an 11-year-old schoolgirl named Kathleen dela Fuente brought a jar full of coins, her savings for the past few months, and with her parents climbed up the stage in Naga, south of Cebu City, to hand the jar over to Duterte saying, “This is for you and the future of the children.”
Soon after, even those who had some coins to spare started making posters, and stickers, and holding free t-shirt printing sessions within their own neighborhoods. Organizations started pooling their own resources for mass production of tarpaulin banners, for distribution to supporters who asked for them.
Along a highway in Tarlac, a white car announces on its rear windshield “Beep beep free Duterte Stickers” and stops to hand out a few stickers when a trusting motorist beeps.
Now everywhere there is that trust and camaraderie between people wearing Duterte shirts and baller bracelets, and not just in Davao City. People everywhere have started smiling at each other in association, raising fists in alliance with a common hope. This is the Philippines that Rodrigo Duterte inspires by his leadership, something that no other candidate in recent years has engendered.
When Karen Davila asked Duterte who his top campaign contributor was he replied “Emilio Aguinaldo.” He may have meant the least of his supporters, the ones who have chosen to invest their five pesos in a banner that will show the rest of the country that the least will no longer be silent, that the least will step up and claim their rightful share as citizens of the Philippines with Duterte as President.
But all of those who believe in absolute equality, that the voice of the poor should be heard as loudly as anyone else, that the sweat of the working class is as precious as the scent of the elite, that every individual who makes their way through the day in pursuit of their family’s and their own betterment, they are all who Duterte wishes to inspire.
We are all Emilio.