2022 Philippine Elections

Baguio mayor praises Robredo but won’t endorse anyone yet

Mara Cepeda
Baguio mayor praises Robredo but won’t endorse anyone yet

BAGUIO TRIP. Vice President Leni Robredo visits chilly Baguio City on December 6, 2021, as the election fever heats up.

Mau Victa/Rappler

'I admire her,' says Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong, leader of a city where Ferdinand Marcos Jr. won by a landslide in 2016

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong praised Vice President Leni Robredo on Monday, December 6, in her first trip to the Marcos-dominated “Solid North” since she filed her presidential bid. 

Magalong, a retired general who entered politics in 2019, said he admires and is “completely aligned” with Robredo in pushing for good governance. The mayor said he will wait until February 2022, however, before endorsing any presidential candidate. 

Magalong hosted Robredo at the start of her two-day visit to the City of Pines on Monday, inviting her to join the flag-raising ceremony – making Robredo the highest ranking elected official to visit city hall grounds during President Rodrigo Duterte’s term.

Other local officials who joined Robredo during the program include Vice Mayor Faustino Olowan, Baguio City Representative Mark Go, and members of the city council.

This was the first time since she filed her candidacy that Robredo was stepping into the “Solid North” territory, whose vote is traditionally commanded by the Marcoses. In the 2016 vice presidential race, Marcos won by a landslide in Baguio City with 76,009 votes – and Robredo was a far second with 21,341 votes. 

In their private meeting, Magalong said he and Robredo talked about their “frustrations” in Philippine politics – where personalities often trump principles and former political enemies become allies for the sake of winning the next elections. 

“So those are the things na mga frustration namin. And there’s no substitute for good governance, kaya nga ang battle cry namin dito is good governance beyond politics,” said the police general turned Baguio mayor. (So those are things that are included in our frustrations. And there’s no substitute for good governance, so that’s why our battle cry here is good governance beyond politics.)

Asked by a reporter if he sees Robredo reflecting his push for good governance beyond traditional politics, Magalong said yes.

“Yeah, we’re aligned, we’re aligned. We’re completely aligned sa aming pananaw (in our views) and you know, I admire her,” said Magalong.

He then recalled his working relationship with Robredo, who was a member of the advisory team for the Bicol region of the Philippine National Police’s transformation program when Magalong was chairman. 

Magalong also said he was “close” to Robredo’s late husband, longtime Naga City mayor turned interior and local government chief Jesse Robredo

So we worked closely together kaya nga magkakilala talaga kami. And talagang nakita ko ‘yung kanyang sincerity, kanyang humility. Besides, malapit ako kay Secretary Robredo,” said Magalong.  (So we worked closely together that’s why we really know each other. And I have seen her sincerity, her humility. Besides, I am quite close to secretary Robredo.)

This is echoed by Robredo herself, saying in a separate press conference that she and Magalong are both willing to work with each other even if they are not necessarily political allies. 

“Pareho kami considerably bagong-sampa sa pulitika and totoo na very much aligned ‘yung tinitignan namin, na ‘di sa amin importante kung sino ‘yung, kung ano ‘yung partido na pinanggalingan, as long as willing to work together, doon kami,” said Robredo. (Both of us were considerably new in politics and it’s true that we are very much aligned that it’s not important for us what party you came from, as long as you’re willing to work together.)

“Pareho yung paniniwala namin na ang pinakamabuting kampanya ay mabuting pamamahala,” she added. (We both believe that the best way to campaign is good goverance.)

Magalong, who was an independent candidate when he first ran and won for mayor in 2019, is seeking reelection under the Nationalist People’s Coalition. The NPC has yet to official endorse a presidential bet in 2022, though its chairman Senate President Vicente Sotto III is running for vice president with Senator Panfilo Lacson as his standard-bearer.

Lacson was Magalong’s upperclassman in the Philippine Military Academy and both had served under the Philippine National Police before entering the political fray.

Banking on volunteers

But it would be an uphill battle for Robredo to secure a victory in Baguio City.

In the 2016 vice presidential race, the late dictator’s son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., Robredo’s rival, had beaten her by a landslide in all provinces in the Cordillera Administration Region.

It’s the same story for the rest of Benguet province, as Marcos got 95,927 votes in 2016 compared to Robredo’s 33,413 votes. 

Very much aware of the daunting task ahead, Robredo said she is banking on the energy and dedication of her supporters in Baguio City to help convince more residents to consider her in 2022. 

“Pakiramdam ko (I feel that) in the next six months, that is the kind of energy that we will expect. It’s not the top-to-bottom kind of campaigning. Talagang (It’s really a) grassroots campaigning being fueled by volunteers,” said the Vice President. 

“If the volunteers will be able to sustain this kind of movement, malaki yung pagkakataon, malaki yung pagkakataon na makaabot ‘yung mensahe sa mga kababayan natin (there’s a good chance that our message would be heard by our countrymen)” she added. 

On Monday, Robredo also met with various volunteer groups at the University of the Cordilleras early Monday afternoon. She visited the Good Shepherd Convent, then she will be attending the blessing the Leni-Kiko Headquarters in Baguio City at the Hotel Villa Mia Apartelle.

Robredo will cap off her official events in Baguio City on Monday by attending the feeding program at Barangay Quezon Hill Road organized by her supporters. – Rappler.com

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.