SAMAR, Philippines – When eight mayors of Eastern Samar declared their support for presidential candidate Vice President Leni Robredo, it came as a shock since most of them are from President Rodrigo Duterte’s party, PDP-Laban.
Senator Bong Go, the President’s longtime aide, and Governor Ben Evardone regard each other as close friends, but the latter’s kin were among those who networked for Robredo’s support base in the province.
Arteche Mayor Roland Boie “Bowad” Evardone was the first Eastern Samar local executive to express support for Robredo.
“I told them (political colleagues) that we are not being anti-government. We are just anti in terms of the wrongdoings of the government and we can see that in the Pharmally and PhilHealth issues,” Bowad told Rappler.
“At this point in time, I cannot be neutral. My conscience could not sit and watch the revisionism of history happening around us, the defamation. I needed to make a stand. So I asked Governor Ben Evardone,” he added.
The governor told him to follow his heart and conscience. Bowad then started to convene volunteers across the province to gather support down to the barangay level. They created the Robredo People’s Council for Eastern Samar or TRoPang Este.
Reaching out to Rappler after publication of this story, the governor explained he had decided to back Robredo long before the conversation with Bowad.
Even the vice president knew about it, he said in a Messenger exchange on Saturday, April 2.
The governor said he told Robredo he would first personally inform President Rodrigo Duterte “out of respect.”
Rappler had tried to interview Ben for its political dynasty series but he did not grant the request nor answer questions sent through text and various messaging apps.
“Ayaw ko kasi ako ma-highlight. Gusto ko si VP ang story, hindi ako,” he explained as the clan helped plan Robredo’s Eastern Visayas campaign swing. (I didn’t want to hog the limelight. I wanted the VP to be the story, not me.)
“When it was clear to me that our party and PRRD (President Duterte) had no candidate for president after the last day of the substitution process, I immediately scrutinized all those who filed for president,” the governor said.
“Based on my own assessment of who is best suited for our country, I concluded to support VP Leni. I believe she is pro-poor, sincere, and has no personal agenda to enrich herself and no business interests to protect, not to mention she is an economist/lawyer with a consistent track record of genuine service to the people.”
Bowad also launched the MariLen or the Marites for Leni, alluding to the Filipino slang for gossip mongers, but giving it a positive spin by focusing conversations on the Vice President’s achievements. Women’s groups, sectoral organizations, and youth groups soon joined their network.
As the only politician in the group, Bowad became the political officer. He began talking to mayors, one by one.
It took him some time as most local politicians were waiting for Go’s signal on who Duterte would endorse.
Bowad, however, told Rappler that Robredo had always been his first choice.
He has long been part of the Kaya Natin! Movement for good governance, which was founded by Robredo’s late husband, former interior secretary Jesse Robredo.
Bowad consulted his spiritual adviser to come up with a decision.
“History will judge you with whatever you decide to do at this point in time,” he recalled the advice. “While the chances of winning are still unknown, what’s important is we fought for what is right.”
The Arteche mayor said supporting Robredo means fighting for “our principles” and not going after anything in return.
“This is not about us. This is not about money. The thing is, it is us who are actually spending our own money for this people’s campaign. What we are fighting for is our principles,” he said.
He approached his uncle, the governor, weeks before the February 9 caravan that drew thousands.
After the caravan roused shock and awe, the governor went to the President and asked permission to campaign for Robredo.
Ben Evardone got Duterte’s blessing. By March 10, he was at Robredo’s sortie in Butuan, followed by the March 11 Bacolod People’s Grand Rally, though he kept a low profile in both cities.
It was an educational tour of sorts, used to great effect in Borongan on March 29. The Evardones gathered more than 50,000 to attend the grand rally after convincing 19 of the province’s 23 mayors to endorse Robredo.
Bowad has spent the last two months engaging supporters of the rival presidential camps to convince them to switch to Robredo, but he knows the bigger fight lies ahead.
In his March 31 Facebook post, the Arteche mayor shared some lessons from the ground. The fight isn’t on social media, he said. “The reality is there are more people without access to social media and they are not that susceptible to the fake news from TitTok and YouTube,” Bowad wrote in Waray.
“It is easier to convince them. So in the 40 days before the election, let’s not waste time debating on social media. Stand up, get out, and help with the house-to-house campaign. That’s how we’ll reach more people.” – with Inday Espina-Varona/Rappler.com