By Pia Rodrigo

What started out as a dentist from Naga’s one-time order of pink parols (traditional star-shaped Christmas lanterns) for her own home has snowballed into an initiative with more than 5,000 pink parols sold to individual buyers or donated to urban poor communities, an energetic group of volunteers, and a good deal of funding for voters’ education sessions in marginalized communities.

Dr. Agnes Claros, who hails from Vice-President Leni Robredo’s province of Camarines Sur, initially ordered a few pink parols from a Naga supplier for her own home. When she posted a picture of the parols on her Facebook page, her friends and classmates expressed interest in them and demand started to grow.

She wasn’t expecting the pink parol initiative to turn into a fundraising effort, but buyers themselves suggested that she use the initiative to raise funds for voters’ education activities.

At this point, Dr. Claros’ group of Universidad de Sta. Isabel alumnae were planning to hold voters’ education sessions for VP Leni’s campaign in District 1 of Camariñes Sur. As they needed to raise funds for their collaterals, they decided that the proceeds from the pink parols would go to these sessions. The excess amount would be donated to the Alliance of Women for Action towards Reform (AWARE)’s Let Women Lead fundraising initiative for VP Leni’s campaign.

The volunteer team quickly started to grow as Dr. Claros invited her friends to help out. There was an overwhelming response to a friend’s Facebook post on the pink parol initiative, and 3,000 parols were delivered in a 32-foot truck from Naga to the official Leni headquarters along Katipunan in Quezon City.

Volunteerism started to grow even further. At the newly opened Leni-Kiko headquarters, people in the area took an interest in buying the parols on the spot. Some saw the truck full of parols from their condominium units and showed up to volunteer, offered to lend a truck to deliver parols to Bulacan for free, and bought food for the volunteers. People came all the way from La Union and Pampanga to purchase these parols, and were willing to wait for hours at the HQ to buy unclaimed parols.

The spirit of volunteerism was contagious, and the atmosphere was joyful and relaxed. VP Leni’s message of radical love was vibrant and alive in these volunteers.

Because of the overwhelming demand for parols after VP Leni mentioned them in one of her Facebook live streams, Dr. Claros’ team decided to open orders for a third batch. For this batch, the group acknowledged the need to expand beyond their own circle and gave buyers the option to donate parols to those in marginalized communities.

Dr. Claros’ hope is that this parol initiative goes beyond December and the Christmas season — for people to hang up their pink parols proudly until May, for all the things it and VP Leni’s candidacy symbolizes.

“There’s something magical about this pink parol,” she said.

When Dr. Claros’ team went to District 1 of Naga for voters’ education sessions, they felt that the pink parols unified them with those in the barangays.

The one-hour voters’ education sessions they conducted were particularly crucial in District 1 of Camariñes Sur because it was one of the three areas which Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. chose to pilot the recount of his votes during his 2016 electoral protest. Marcos, Jr. was confident that he would win in this area. True enough, when they went to the area, many people were Marcos supporters and did not accept their tarpaulins and collaterals.

Wala silang social media, so sa tingin nila hindi sila included. We went there to make sure they know that we remember them and value them. Kailangan alam nila na kasama sila sa programa ni VP Leni. We work with teachers and tell them about the state of our nation and salient information in a very simplified form,” she said. “Sila rin, kasama sila sa crusada, at sinusubukan namin na baguhin ang pag-iisip nila tungkol sa pulitika at eleksyon. There was an overwhelming feeling of belonging and hope.”

(“They don’t have social media, so in their view, they are not included. We went there to make sure they know that we remember them and value them. They have to know that they are included in the programs of VP Leni. We work with teachers and tell them about the state of our nation and salient information in a very simplified form,” she said. “They are included in the crusade and we are trying to change their minds about politics and elections. There was an overwhelming feeling of belonging and hope.”)

Dr. Claros believes that this pink parol has created a beautiful movement. The voters’ education sessions in barangays have expanded beyond Camariñes Sur and will now spread to different municipalities in Metro Manila. Dr. Claros also has plans to facilitate livelihood opportunities for the urban poor parol makers in Camariñes Sur.

“I will call it the pink movement, para magkatotoo na kasali kayo sa lipunan (to make it true that you belong to society),” said Dr. Claros of the marginalized communities they work with.

The volunteerism surrounding VP Leni and her supporters mirrors the spirit behind the work she and the Office of the Vice-President (OVP) have undertaken, especially during the pandemic. The OVP played a critical role in coordinating the private sector and civil society volunteer response to the pandemic — facilitating tasks such as the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontliners, mass vaccination, and COVID testing. This is the reason why there has been a call on social media to #HelpLikeLeni.

But a challenge for the campaign, which Dr. Claros and her team are very aware of, is going beyond our echo chambers and dismantling Leni’s association with “elitista” politics. Her detractors have been tirelessly working the angle that VP Leni is elitist (an irony, since she has uplifted the lives of those in the peripheries through her Angat Buhay program and worked as a human rights lawyer for years). And so, battles cannot only be fought in our pink caravans in nice cars. These initiatives are a great show of force, but there’s a need to focus on communities like District 1 in Camariñes Sur, who have been left behind and do not feel the government’s support.

How do we overcome this elitist mindset? Getting rid of this mindset involves unlearning the ideas we have surrounding the presidential candidates — one of them being the common notion that all Marcos supporters are paid trolls, and that they should be shamed. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt for us to accept that while there are paid trolls, a good number of people genuinely believe in the man. If we started to accept this, maybe we could recalibrate our strategy accordingly.

The pink parol is a symbol of how the smallest initiatives can explode into a beautiful and magical movement, as Dr. Claros mentioned. VP Leni’s campaign is made up of organic efforts from people of all walks of life. The challenge now is to sustain the energy of volunteers and expand our ranks. Although the ultimate goal is a victory for VP Leni, it isn’t just about Leni — it’s about helping people out in her name on the basis of her values, beyond the campaign.