Cagayan de Oro Mayor Oscar Moreno on Monday afternoon, October 18, called on Filipinos to take the elections seriously, saying it should be a battle of qualifications rather than who can outsmart whom.
"Now is the time for discernment, and for us to see where we are now as a nation," said Moreno.
He said this when reporters asked him about his October 16 meeting with Vice President Leni Robredo at the city hall and his declaration the following day that he was supporting her presidential bid.
Moreno, a mayor serving his last office term and running for Misamis Oriental governor, is the first local executive in Mindanao known to have come out and declared support for Robredo's presidential bid.
"She's qualified. There are others qualified like her, like Senator Ping Lacson," he said.
But Moreno said he saw in Robredo a unifying factor and admired Robredo for her commitment to serve and her patience vis-à-vis years of being attacked in a vicious and systematic smear and disinformation campaign.
"Let's be discerning and exercise our freedom to choose. It's a right and an obligation. We can't take the elections for granted because it is about leadership and who will lead our nation," he said.
Moreno also said he saw the outpouring of support for Robredo since the day she announced her bid for the presidency.
"Maklaro man. There is a clear groundswell toward Vice President Leni," he said.
Moreno however said he was aware that things could change by November 15, the deadline for substitution of candidates, something which the mayor opined "is a loophole in our election law."
In Marawi City on Monday, Robredo thanked Moreno and Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas for declaring their support for her candidacy.
"Alam ko na hindi iyon madali. Doon naman sa may pag-aalinlangan, naiintidihan natin. Pero iyong sa akin kasi, ang pinakamahalaga, iyong taumbayan e," she said.
(I know it wasn't easy. To those who are reluctant, we understand. But for me, the most important thing is the support of the masses.)
She said she felt the support of people in Iligan City and the Lanao area, where she and her group were warmly greeted on Sunday night, October 17.
"Ang daming mga tarps, ang daming mga kung anong ginawa na hindi iyon galing sa amin. Pero iyong mga supporters talaga iyong kumakayod para tulungan tayo and I think that is most important," Robredo said.
(The tarps were everywhere, and the people made all sorts of things that didn't come from us. But our supporters were the ones who were working hard to help us and I think that is most important.)
But the disinformation infrastructure in place on social media would be a major obstacle for Robredo's quest for the presidency in 2022.
In Bukidnon where she proceeded from Cagayan de Oro on Sunday, Robredo told a small group of supporters she was aware that her campaign would not be a walk in the park because of the social media factor.
She, however, said she was optimistic that as the systematic smear drive intensifies in the months leading to the 2022 elections, the obstacle would be overcome by the "strength of the people."
Robredo said she was encouraged by the outpouring of support since the day she announced her decision to run for president and filed her certificate of candidacy.
"What are the chances? It is difficult. If you look at the disinformation infrastructure on social media, it would take a lot from us to break it. But history has shown us that nothing beats the strength of the people, and if we could sustain this until May, we have a very good chance at making it," she told her supporters in a small gathering in Malaybalay City.
Robredo said she didn't expect to become the vice president in 2016 but "hope was there, and winning felt unattainable but I won."
She pointed out that she won in the 2016 elections in Bukidnon and a few other places in Mindanao where she and former senators Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Alan Peter Cayetano fought to win votes.
Robredo won in four of Mindanao's six administrative regions: Northern Mindanao, Zamboanga Peninsula, Caraga, and the now-defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Robredo said the support being shown for her presidential bid was spontaneous across the country.
"Ang tinitingnan ko, kaya lumalakas ang loob ko ay dahil this is going to be a people's campaign. 'Yung kabutihan nun ay malalim ang hugot. Hindi siya simpleng supportive sa akin. Hindi 'yun e. Ang dami nilang meron sila na walą ako. Pero sabi ko, meron din akong wala sila, and kayo 'yun," she said.
(The way I look at it, and why I feel encouraged, is because this is going to be a people's campaign. What's good about this is, it runs deep. It's not just a matter of who's supportive toward me. That's not the case. They have plenty of resources that I don't have. But I also say that I have something that they do not have: you.)
Former Bukidnon 1st District representative and presidential adviser for environmental protection Nereus Acosta, who met with Robredo, said the vice president's challenge would be on how to sustain the momentum through deeper grassroots engagements across sectors and demographic groups.
"Volunteerism, as we see now and in the last national elections, is key to edging out rivals. The vice president can grow her numbers as she did in her 2016 campaign for the vice presidency," said Acosta. – Rappler.com
Grace Cantal-Albasin is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.