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CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines (UPDATED) - From the stands, a middle-aged couple waved frantically to a bet on stage, as they proudly held up a large tarpaulin. The candidate smiled and waved right back, at the couple that flaunted a banner of his face and his name: Koko Pimentel.
The re-electionist was right at home in his city, jovial and in a good mood, as he soaked in the attention. Pimentel has personally attended less than half of the sorties of Team PNoy so far, often sending a proxy -- usually his mother, sometimes his sister.
But here, he was the star.
Pimentel, 49, is a child of Cagayan de Oro and a son of Misamis Oriental. On Tuesday, February 25, on the sidelines of a Team PNoy rally, he expressed confidence that he could ensure votes for himself from the region. (Misamis Oriental has 784,485 votes while CDO has 289, 772.)
"In [a] senatorial [race], each person has 12 votes so it'll be easy to convince them. For instance here, in all of Mindanao, I can convince them because I'm the only candidate born in Mindanao and the only candidate from Team PNoy from Mindanao," he told Rappler in Filipino.
In principle, it makes sense. But in the 2007 senatorial contest, Pimentel's beloved CDO garnered more votes for Bukidnon's Miguel Zubiri than for him, with Zubiri placing a couple spots higher than him in the entire Northern Mindanao region.
Pimentel said this doesn't bother him, brushing off election results from 6 years ago. Today he is confident.
"That was the time of Gloria [Macapagal-Arroyo] but definitely the time now is different," he said. "It's not important who is higher in one place, what matters is in the national total, we end in the last 12 so we can win a senate seat."
With Pimentel ranking 5-6 in the latest Social Weather Stations survey, perhaps he can afford to be more sure this time around, especially over Zubiri who is currently clinging on to the precarious 11-12 spots.
The victim card
While Pimentel says he has moved on from the 2007 race that initially gave Zubiri a senate seat, Pimentel emphasized to his fellow Mindananaons that he was a victim of cheating.
Zubiri, who is from Bukidnon, was proclaimed the 12th winning senator narrowly defeating Pimentel, but later resigned after evidence of poll cheating in Maguindanao surfaced. Pimentel replaced him in the Senate in August 2011.
In CDO, Pimentel spoke in the local dialect. "I told my kababayans here in Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental and Northern Mindanao about the 4 elements in the my life story: I won, I was cheated, I fought and I triumphed," he said.
"I told them what happened. I won in 2007 and was elected for 6 years but was not allowed to sit. I was cheated, I fought, I won, and I got one year and 5 months. So I told them that even if it was only a short time, I was still able to do a lot as a senator -- the projects, the laws -- but I also asked them for a normal 6 years."
To drive home his point -- and to charm the crowd -- Pimentel sang, lamenting the cheating he experienced. To the tune of "Imagine" by John Lennon, he sang:
"Imagine there's no cheating,
Imagine there's no cheating,
It isn't hard to do.
No cheating in elections
And no swindlers too.
Imagine all the people,
You may say I'm a dreamer,
But I'm not the only one.
One election day please join us,
On this road called Tuwid na Daan."
Watch him sing part of it here:
The crowd lapped it up.
He explained to Rappler why he had little worry about come May, especially in Mindanao -- and what it is about Koko Pimentel that he said would attract the votes. He is the first to admit that playing the victim card will help him, and he uses it knowingly.
"First of all sympathy, because my story was very interesting and inspiring," he said.
"[Also], the story of triumph is the story I want for the Filipino especially the victims for cheating. I want them to be inspired."
Pimentel also pointed to his unique perspective as a Mindanaon as yet another reason why he believed he would attract the support of his region.
" I want to remind everyone from Mindanao and the country that the basic law on the Mindanao peace framework is in the agenda of next congress. So maybe there needs to be a voice frim Mindanao who will focus on that basic law on peace."
Finally, he cited the increase of trust in Aquino by his constituents -- yet another factor that he said would help him and his coalition in the polls.
In the 2010 presidential elections, Aquino lost Misamis Oriental, CDO and Bukidnon to rival and former president Joseph Estrada, who now heads the opposition United Nationalist Alliance. Aquino's vice presidential candidate and now Interior Secretary Mar Roxas also lost to Vice President Jejomar Binay in all 3 places. Binay is also a stalwart of UNA.
"Let's not compare 2010 to 2013," he said simply.
The same way there should be no comparison to the last senatorial race he participated in?
"In 2007, I was part of the opposition, [the other side] had illegal activities… but now that doesn't exist anymore. That plus the story of triumph of Koko Pimentel."
Team PNoy visited Bukidnon on Wednesday, February 27. Bukidnon has 743,737 registered voters.; the Zubiri clan has controlled Bukidnon for many years now.
But a confident Pimentel saw no need to make an appearance in Zubiri country. - Rappler.com
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