, presidential aspirant and Vice President Leni Robredo’s supporters pulled out all the stops for her on her 57th birthday on Saturday, aiming to boost the momentum of her campaign with a mammoth rally in Pasay City.
Her main rival and survey front-runner former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was with thousands of his supporters 9 kilometres away in Manila and close to Malacañang, which was his home for 20 years and where he hopes to return after the May 9 polls.
Many first-time voters and their elders, however, are determined to frustrate the plan of the son of the ousted dictator, remembering the atrocities and abuses during his late father’s one-man rule before the Marcos family fell from power.
“We came here because we want to see our fellow Filipinos make a stand with us,” said a 44-year-old Robredo supporter who identified himself only as Allan. “This is a crucial election because she is up against Marcos’ son.”
Allan, a government employee who joined tens of thousands of others occupying one of the main roads on land reclaimed from Manila Bay, said he could not be neutral because “now is the time to stand up against ‘trapos’ (traditional politicians).”
“We cannot allow Marcos to win,” he said.
Fourth-year engineering student Chester Tuliao, 22, who will vote for the first time, shared Allan’s sentiments.
“We need to choose wisely because this will determine the direction of our government for the next six years,” he said.
Across the metropolis at Plaza Bustillos in Manila’s Sampaloc district, his mostly red-clad supporters greeted Marcos with cheers, chanting “BBM! BBM! BBM!”
In his speech, Marcos did not go into his plans for the country. Instead, he repeated President Duterte’s warning that some groups may disrupt the polls.
“Let us not allow those who want to create chaos because of the elections. The President is on our side, he has warned all those who think of creating chaos in the next election,” he said.
“That is why you should think first before doing it,” Marcos warned the unnamed groups.
It was the first time that the two candidates held simultaneous rallies in Metro Manila where Marcos won more votes than Robredo in the vice presidential race in 2016.
Manila is the second most vote-rich city in the Philippines with 1.133 million voters.
Marcos’ running mate, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, joined him at the rally.
Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, who is running for reelection in the Marcos-Duterte slate, defended Marcos from his critics. “They say that he will be a dictator if he wins. How can he be a dictator if he is very kind?” Zubiri told the crowd, which included Carmi Ramirez, a high school classmate of Marcos’ wife, Liza Araneta-Marcos.
Ramirez, 61, said Marcos had integrity despite the allegations hurled against him.
“He does not have to prove anything and we can rely on him as a leader of our country,” she said.
Ramirez said she returned to Manila from San Diego, California, to vote for Marcos.
Ramirez also dismissed calls on the former senator to apologize for the atrocities during his father’s martial rule from 1972 to 1986.
“Why will he apologize for something he has not done? Why will he say sorry for something that he has not done?” she said. After the Marcoses were driven out of Malacañang in 1986, succeeding administrations recovered huge amounts of cash and assets illegally amassed by the family, including more than $600 million in secret Swiss bank accounts.
The Manila police estimated that the Marcos crowd in Sampaloc numbered around 14,000 by early evening.
The authorities gave no estimate for the Robredo rally, but photos showed that the crowd that occupied a long stretch of Macapagal Boulevard close to SM Mall of Asia dwarfed the Sampaloc rally. Organizers said the Pasay rally attracted 412,000 people.
Speaking to the massive crowd, which was energized by the appearance of the latest Robredo endorser, superstar and television host Vice Ganda, the Vice President said fake news should not be allowed to spread and must be immediately nipped in the bud.
“Let us not get tired of fighting fake news,” she said. “That was my biggest mistake. Since 2016 I have been the victim of fake news, but I ignored that because I thought I needed to rise above it. I was wrong. When dealing with fake news, it has to be immediately replaced with the truth.”
Robredo said there were stories that she cheated on Marcos in 2016 and she had “many boyfriends.”
“If I was affected by this, you might not even be here to support me,” she said. “I told you before, this is not just a congregation of those in pink, but Filipinos of all colours.”
Vice Ganda said choosing Robredo was the right move.
“Why don’t we take this opportunity to decide on the right thing?” he said. “In this election, we should be the winner.”
On her birthday, Robredo received what may have been the biggest political gifts for her—endorsements from former Muslim rebels who had signed a peace deal with the government, from 1,000 members of the Catholic clergy and the militant Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU).
It was the first time that members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had announced support for a presidential candidate since they launched a secessionist movement in the 1970s. It was also the first time for the KMU to support a presidential aspirant and running mate since it was formed in the 1980s.
Marcos, on the other hand, won the support of Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan, the fourth governor of the five provinces that comprise the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Tawi-Tawi Gov. Yshmael Sali, Maguindanao Gov. Mariam Mangudadatu, and Lanao del Sur Gov. Mamintal Alonto Adiong earlier announced their support for Marcos.
Basilan Gov. Hadjiman Hataman-Salliman is not supporting Marcos.
Tan said the former senator would be “a majority president.’’
During a mass meeting of the MILF earlier in the day in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, MILF chief and Bangsamoro interim Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim announced the support for the Vice President by the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP).
‘She was there for us’ “At certain periods when we needed allies in Congress, and as Vice President of the Philippines, Leni Robredo was there for us. She was there for Marawi. She makes time for the Bangsamoro,” Ebrahim told a gathering at Camp Darapanan.
Robredo was among the main authors of the original Bangsamoro Basic Law when she was Camarines Sur representative in the House.
Ebrahim said she and Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso “courageously” approached them to offer their commitment to continue the gains of the peace process.
But it was Robredo who stood out as “overwhelmingly compatible” with UBJP’s values, principles and goals, he said.
Ebrahim described Robredo as a “compassionate leader” who “sees eye to eye with the UBJP (and is) considerably familiar with the history, context, struggles and issues of the Bangsamoro.”
The MILF, which broke away from the former mainstream Muslim rebel group, Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), fought the Marcos regime in the 1970s.
The Muslim insurgency turned Mindanao into a major battlefront where the dictator’s troops became notorious for committing atrocities, including massacres, torture, murder and abductions.
The human rights abuses and the underdevelopment of Muslim communities rooted in the Marcos administration fueled extremism and parts of Mindanao became breeding grounds for Islamic State-related terror groups.
Ebrahim said that the Vice President understood that “peace cannot be availed without serving justice.”
In response, Robredo vowed to hasten the implementation of the remaining commitments in the 2014 peace deal, such as funding for decommissioning and transformation of MILF camps.
She also promised to pursue transitional justice measures, amnesty for MILF combatants, and the completion of Marawi rebuilding.
The UBJP’s endorsement is expected to bring huge vote blocks for Robredo given the MILF’s influence among Bangsamoro communities, especially in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur provinces.
On Saturday, Maguindanao Rep. Esmael Mangudadatu, who is running for governor against his estranged cousin-in-law, incumbent Gov. Bai Mariam Mangudadatu, raised Robredo’s hand together with Ebrahim.
Mangudadatu used to support Domagoso.
The Robredo campaign has largely relied on volunteers, who help organize her rallies and raise funds.
“Birthday rallies” for the Vice President were also held in Iloilo and Cebu while other volunteers, collectively called Kakampinks, continued their house-to-house campaign for her and her running mate Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan.
Among those who are leading the grassroots effort are her three daughters, Aika, Tricia, and Jillian in Manila, actress Janine Gutierrez in Caloocan City, and her niece Gail Vitas in Makati City.
Published : Jul 06, 2022
Published : April 24, 2022
By : Philippine Daily Inquirer