Aquino joins Otso Diretso campaign to ‘project strength’ in vote-rich Cebu

Mara Cepeda
Aquino joins Otso Diretso campaign to ‘project strength’ in vote-rich Cebu
Otso Diretso candidates return to Cebu province

CEBU, Philippines – A month after visiting the country’s most vote-rich province of Cebu for the first time, the Otso Diretso candidates are returning to woo the more than 3 million voters here from Monday, March 25, to Tuesday, March 26.

The difference from their visit in February? Former president Benigno Aquino III is going to share the stage with them on Tuesday.

This was confirmed to Rappler by Otso Diretso campaign manager and Senator Francis Pangilinan on Monday.

“Yes, he will be having a speaking engagement and key meetings with supporters,” said Pangilinan.

Aquino will be joining Otso Diretso in the Manindigan Forum to be held on Tuesday afternoon at Southwest University in Cebu City. He will also be with the slate as they meet with their opposition partners and other allies at the IEC Covention Center in the evening. 

Otso Diretso candidate Florin Hilbay said the former president’s endorsement is crucial for the opposition ticket, where most of the candidates are still lagging behind in pre-election surveys.

“We believe the former president is still a powerful political force especially in Cebu. I think he won here when he ran for the presidency. So we’re trying to collate all the forces of the opposition to be able to project strength here in Cebu,” said the former solicitor general on the sidelines of their dialogue with residents of Barangay Labogon in Mandaue City. 

Hilbay was solicitor general during the Aquino administration.

Senatorial candidate and Marawi civic leader Samira Gutoc also believes Aquino’s endorsement will help compensate for Otso Diretso’s lack of machinery and campaign funds.

“‘Yong incumbents, the administration have the advantage of government machinery. We have former presidents behind us like PNoy. And that is the strength of Otso Diretso – ‘yong tao at ‘yong mga naunang mga leaders who believe in the country’s greatness,” said Gutoc.

 (The incumbents and the administration candidates have the advantage of government machinery. We have former presidents behind us like PNoy. And that is the strength of Otso Diretso – the people and the former leaders who believe in the country’s greatness.)

 In the 2010 elections, Aquino and his then-running mate Mar Roxas, who is now running for senator under Otso Diretso, won in Cebu with 980,000 and 1 million votes, respectively.

 Aquino went on to win the presidency, while Roxas bowed to then-longtime Makati mayor Jejomar Binay.

While Cebu was known as a bailiwick of Aquino’s Liberal Party (LP), the same cannot be said after the 2016 presidential elections.

Then-Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the victor of the 2016 polls, was number one in vote-rich Cebu and got 1.133 million votes. Roxas, who was LP standard-bearer, was just second to Duterte with 586,091 votes. 

Since Duterte’s rise to power, several LP politicians joined the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban). Among them is former LP member and Mandaue City Mayor Luigi Quisumbing, who endorsed the administration-allied Hugpong ng Pagbabago senatorial lineup last week.

Tough-talking Cebu City Mayor Tommy Osmeña, meanwhile, never joined PDP-Laban. He chose to stick with a local party allied with LP, but he did not openly endorse Otso Diretso when the ticket visited his city in February.

As for Governor Hilario Davide III, the LP member is also not expected to be present during Otso Diretso’s second visit to the province. He did not join them in February either.

Davide is seeking to run for vice governor in May, giving way to his ally and incumbent Vice Governor Agnes Magpale, who will go head-to-head with Cebu 3rd District Representative Gwen Garcia in the gubernatorial race.

Aquino’s controversies not a burden?

Aquino’s endorsement of Otso Diretso, however, also comes with the baggage of the multiple controversies he is facing post-presidency – from the botched Mamasapano operation to the Dengvaxia scandal.

With Aquino already facing his first warrant of arrest over the Mamasapano case and the multiple complaints filed against him over the Dengvaxia controversy, does Otso Diretso plan to address these issues?

Pangilinan said the slate will just focus on their respective track records.

“[We plan to address these] by going straight to the voters with our TV ads and social media efforts, even if minimal, by articulating our positions on issues that we hope mainstream media will report and by presenting our candidates and their sterling track record directly to the voters door-to-door,” said Pangilinan. 

“To borrow the line, we say let them do their worst, we will do our best,” he added.

The proceedings of Aquino’s Mamasapano case are on hold as the Supreme Court decides whether he should really just be charged with graft, or with 44 counts of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide which could put him in jail for the rest of his life.

Otso Diretso bet Erin Tañada also said Aquino must be presumed as innocent since the courts have yet to decide with finality on his cases. 

Pero para sa amin, hangga’t wala pang matibay na ebidensiya, walang desisyon pa, eh yan ay magpapatunay na wala namang ginagawa ang ating pangulo na masama,” said Tañada, a longtime LP member.

(For us, as long as there is no strong evidenc yet and there is no final decision, then it proves our president did not do anything wrong.)

Ang hangarin po ng ating dating pangulo ay para sa interes ng ating mga mamamayan, at napatunayan naman po ‘yan sa kanyang track record no’ng siya po ay naging pangulo,” he added.

(What our former president wants is for the interest of our countrymen, and this has been proven through his track record when he became president.)

On Monday, Otso Diretso candidates Gutoc, Hilbay, Tañada, Chel Diokno, and Romy Macalintal will be campaigning around Cebu province on their own.

They will be joined by representatives of Otso Diretso bets who cannot make it to Cebu: Caloocan City 2nd District Representative Edgar Erice for former interior chief Mar Roxas, Timi Aquino for her husband and reelectionist Senator Bam Aquino, and Magdalo party’s 3rd nominee Elmer Cruz for Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano.

Otso Diretso will first hold dialogues with sectoral groups and residents of Barangay Labogon in Mandaue City Barangay Pulpogan in Consolacion, then they will be attending the Mega Cebu Candidates Forum at the University of San Carlos in Cebu City.

On Tuesday, the slate will visit several markets and speak with sectoral representatives in Carcar City and Cebu City before joining Aquino at Southwestern University and the IEC Convention Center. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.