“Pinkwashing” and hijacking cancer awareness month for political gain



Philippine politics has ebbed and flowed in the past but have never sunk so low as Vice President Leni Robredo’s launching of her presidential campaign. As the incumbent vice president and the titular head of the Liberal Party of the Philippines she was predestined to be the presidential bet of the opposition party for the 2022 presidential election. Which meant that a coronation convention was just a formality.


Despite being the opposition leader for the last seven years, Robredo wavered and gave the impression that she was not interested in running for president and was entertaining instead a run for other political seats or none at all. Consequently, opposition personalities harboring their own ambitions were concerned that it was late in the game for Robredo to still be vacillating.


Predictably, the likes of Senators Ping Lacson and Manny Pacquiao, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno jumped the fray rather than wait for Robredo to make up her mind. Robredo then tried to get these candidates to back out and support her candidacy under a “unifying” party, 1Sambayan. But it backfired because each of them balked at the idea of giving up their own ambition for a “weak” candidate. The fact that Robredo waited for the ultimate hour to try to unify the opposition speaks loudly of her lack of vision and leadership.


The launching of her campaign the day before the filing deadline in October spoke of an insidious strategy to shed her yellow brand but hijack Cancer Awareness Month to add color to her ambitions. The moment was made for television dramatics with her wearing a blue dress that resembled a hospital gown and a pink ribbon on her chest for props. Hardly any skin shown below her neck or statements promoting Cancer Awareness Month were uttered but the symbolism was enough to begin her campaign’s pinkwashing of people’s good intentions and political donations.


Pinkwashing, according to the Breast Cancer Consortium, “is the act of supporting the breast cancer cause or promoting a pink ribbon product while producing, manufacturing, or selling products linked to the disease.” The definition has expanded to include companies or organizations that exploit breast cancer for profit or public relations.


Besides, pink in Octoberhas been an international symbol for breast cancer awareness and prevention for some 30 years already. Her use of the pink ribbon prominently on a blue top during the launching of her candidacy perfectly fits this expanded definition.


It was truly despicable because the stunt raised breast awareness for political reasons. Soon thereafter, all kinds of pinkish creations blossomed on the internet and television channels. Supporters of the vice president pinkwashed prayer and breast cancer memes, branded masks and clothing and other marketing materials, in an effort to prop her candidacy and raise support (financial, volunteer work) and awareness to her campaign. Albeit none of the funds collected will go towards cancer research.


Robredo could not feign ignorance although she has not been known to be a strong supporter of the cause to defeat breast cancer. The fact that she has since ditched the blue hospital-gown alike for a blue top with a little more skin below the neck; and the pink ribbon replaced with a pink lapel that resembles a ribbon, nevertheless, belies such intention.


Some of her supporters will say, to get over it because nobody has a monopoly over the color pink. And that theirs is not about breast cancer, whatever, thus, “no harm, no foul.” Well, it does matter. Number one, the Breast Cancer Consortium has cultivated their pink ribbon logo to ensure that companies participating in cause marketing supporting breast cancer, produce products that do not contain chemicals capable of causing cancer.


More importantly, it is an open secret that the Catholic Church hierarchy is going gaga over her candidacy because she fits perfectly to their idea of a president – a choir boy or girl who can sing hosanas off their songbooks. Her candidacy is being hailed as the second coming after Cory Aquino for its uprightness. So, to use breast cancer symbolism for her campaign appears unethical and anathema to the Church’s idea of an upright and moral person.


Robredo’s use of pink instead of the discredited yellow earned her some blowbacks and called her the Philippine version of a salted egg – deep pink on the outside but yellow deep inside. Her choice of Sen. Francisco “Kiko” Pangilinan, Liberal Party’s president as running mate along with other party stalwarts running for senators reeks of dilawans (Yellows). One senatorial candidate from the Left complained of being excluded from Robredo’s line-up due to the strong opposition from a Magdalo senator.


Actually, Robredo’s ditching of the colors yellow and red seems like a good political move given that Team Leni’s senatorial line up in the 2019 elections were wiped out by Duterte’s lowly candidates. The likes of former PNP Director Bato de la Rosa and presidential gopher Bong Go who were derided for their lack of IQ bested her well educated and bright candidates. But her changing hue is transparently flawed given the several Aquinos and Aquino supporters in her campaign.


Perhaps, she was being honest that she really didn’t have the resources to mount a national campaign despite her current status as an incumbent. Too, some of the big time oligarchs who previously supported her were no longer interested in her campaign and throwing their money instead on Lacson and Moreno who they believe has the gumption to play rough. The inability to get ABS-CBN’s franchise renewed and the power that Duterte wielded to ensure its closure exposed Robredo’s lack of clout and leadership.


While she is the titular head of the Liberal Party, she has not really embraced liberal ideas that are contrary to Church’s teachings. While President Noynoy Aquino faced Church officials frontally on the Reproductive Health issue, Robredo meekly stayed silent, perhaps afraid of offending the bishops. While Duterte embraced ideas such as universal health care, extension of paid maternal leave, land reform, environmental protections, and defending the poor from predatory business contracts (i.e. water, electricity) as espoused by opposition lawmakers; Robredo watched from the sidelines or busied herself with her favorite advocacies.


The oligarchs want the return of liberal democracy in the country that Duterte turned upside down, but to allow them to recapture their lost economic power and political clout they once enjoyed, they will need a stronger candidate. It doesn’t have to be an upper cut but lethal to Duterte’s anointed. Some of the oligarchs want the South China Seas defended badly for their own financial gains in having their oil and natural platforms there.


These oligarchs, however, are lending their media empire to resurrect the ghost of the old dictator to demonize a rapidly becoming presidential frontrunner from reaching the steps of the palace by the Pasig River. They’re not tickled pink by such a prospect. Thus, the hunt for Red October has begun.