2022 PH presidential race

‘VP Leni pa rin’: 2 Camarines Sur town mayors deny backing Marcos

Mara Cepeda

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‘VP Leni pa rin’: 2 Camarines Sur town mayors deny backing Marcos

KAKAMPINKS. Pictured here are presidential bet and VP Leni Robredo, Pamplona Mayor Boy Franco, and Milaor Mayor Anthony Reyes

Pamplona Mayor Boy Franco and Milaor Mayor Anthony Reyes debunk a press release of the Marcos camp
‘VP Leni pa rin’: 2 Camarines Sur town mayors deny backing Marcos

MANILA, Philippines – Two Camarines Sur town mayors debunked the claim of the camp of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. that they are supporting the presidential aspirant.

In separate phone interviews with Rappler on Thursday, January 20, Pamplona Mayor Ronaldo “Boy” Franco and Milaor Mayor Anthony Reyes said they remain supporters of their fellow Bicolano, Vice President Leni Robredo.

The two made the clarification after the Marcos camp issued a press statement quoting League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) president Luis “Chavit” Singson, claiming that 11 mayors from Robredo’s home province met with Marcos on Monday, January 17, and expressed their support for his presidential bid. 

Franco and Reyes admitted they were at the meeting, but this did not necessarily mean that they favored the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Apart from Reyes and Franco, the Marcos PR listed the following mayors:

  • Fermin Mabulo, San Fernando
  • Migay Ibasco, Bula
  • Tom Bocago, Sipocot
  • Melanie Abarientos, Del Gallego
  • Weny Sabalbero, Cabusao
  • Nelson Legaspi, Canaman
  • Ed Severo, Calabanga
  • Chris Lizardo, Minalabac
  • Leonardo Agos,Gainza

Franco and Reyes said they agreed to attend Monday’s meeting out of respect for Singson, who had invited them to the gathering. They said San Fernando Mayor Fermin Mabulo, the LMP Camarines Sur chapter president, had also asked them to join the meeting. 

According to Franco and Reyes, they were told the gathering in Makati was part of LMP’s agenda, meaning it was unclear that Marcos would later show up there. 

Singson, however, insisted that the mayors knew that the presidential race frontrunner would be there, since the local officials led by Mabulo were supposedly the ones who requested the meeting with Marcos. 

The nine other local chief executives were later pictured in a group photo with Marcos, his cousin House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, and Singson.

Franco, in particular, said he no longer participated in the group picture-taking at the end of the gathering, knowing how this could be misconstrued as him supporting Marcos.

“Nung mag-picturan na, alam ko na naman na ganoon ang mangyayari. Siyempre nag-iisip din naman tayo. ‘Di ako sumama sa picture with BBM…. Oo, VP Leni pa rin ako,” Franco told Rappler.

(During the picture taking, I already knew what was going to happen. Of course we’re using our heads. I didn’t join the picture with BBM…. Yes, I’m still for VP Leni.)

Reyes, meanwhile, posted a Facebook photo saying, “Leni is my president” hours after the Marcos PR was released.

His caption? “My President BBM, Babaeng Bikolana Magana 2022” – a play on the acronym for Marcos’ nickname.

“For respeto kay Chavit Singson, nagkaroon kami ng LMP meeting noong Monday…. Wala kaming usapan kung anong commitment doon. Basta ako, kami, alam ng mayors na kung sino governor ko, Nonoy Andaya. Sino presidente ko? Leni Robredo,” said Reyes. 

(Out of respect for Chavit Singson, we had an LMP meeting last Monday…. We didn’t talk about commitments there. For me, the mayors know who my governor is, it’s Nonoy Andaya. Who’s my president? Leni Robredo.)

The Milaor mayor said he stayed at the meeting venue for only a few minutes, as his cough was already worsening. He said he did not even get to see Marcos himself. 

Singson insisted, however, that the meeting was arranged for the Camarines Sur mayors to show support for Marcos. He said the mayors led by San Fernando’s Mabulo requested an audience with Marcos, and not the other way around. 

“Nobody forced them. Sila mismo nagboluntaryo na pupunta. Alam nila na pupunta kami doon. At maski bumalikad sila, we respect them, kung ganoon ang pagkatao nila,” Singson told Rappler.

(Nobody forced them. They voluntarily went there. They knew we were arriving there. And even if they changed their minds, if that’s how they really are, we respect them.) 

9 vs 19 mayors

The implications of the Camarines Sur town mayors’ meeting with Marcos runs deep, as it could mean Robredo may be losing key allies even in her home turf.

Among Robredo’s known allies in Camarines Sur is former congressman and now gubernatorial aspirant Rolando “Nonoy” Andaya, who counts Franco and Reyes as among the 19 mayors campaigning for Robredo in 2022.

They 19 mayors backing Robredo, according to Andaya, are as follows:

  • Thaddy Ramos, Ragay
  • Lilian Matamorosa, Lupi
  • Bernard Brioso, Libmanan
  • Boy Franco, Pamplona
  • Anthony Reyes, Milaor
  • Yipyip Señar, Magarao
  • Embot Angeles, Bombon
  • Allan Go, Ocampo
  • Tom Bonggalonta, Pili
  • Chiqui Fuentebella, Tigaon
  • Jovy Fuentebella, Sagnay
  • Marcel Pan, Goa
  • JB Pilapil, Lagonoy
  • Karen Polinga, Siruma
  • Mangjay Deleña, Presentation
  • Nelson Buesa, Garchitorena
  • Marilyn Co, Caramoan
  • Margie Aguinillo, Buhi
  • Madel Alfelor, Iriga City

Andaya is facing off in the gubernatorial race against Luigi Villafuerte, the son of his bitter rival, Camarines Sur 2nd District Representative Luis Raymond “LRay” Villafuerte. 

Robredo has also made herself an enemy of the well-entrenched Villafuerte clan when she slayed the political dynasty in 2013 by defeating family matriarch Nelly Villafuerte in the 3rd District congressional race. This was Robredo’s first foray into politics following the death of her husband, longtime Naga City mayor and then-interior secretary Jesse Robredo, in a plane crash.

Andaya told Rappler he would not be surprised if all nine other mayors cited in the Marcos PR were indeed supporting the dictator’s son.

“Not at all. The nine are all aligned with LRay. The 19 are aligned with me. Leni kami (We’re for Leni),” said Andaya. 

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Robredo, the unbothered underdog

Robredo remained unfazed. In an ANC Rundown interview with journalist Mike Navallo on Thursday, she recalled how very few Bicolano politicians initially supported her when she ran in the 2016 vice presidential contest. 

She was not the lone VP candidate from Bicol either, as then-senators Antonio Trillanes IV, Francis Escudero, and Gregorio Honasan were all natives of the region as well

In the end, Robredo still won in the entire Bicol region. She is hoping the same would happen again in 2022. 

“Ngayon sa laban na ‘to, ako lang ‘yung Bicolano and pati ‘yung suporta ng mga Bicolano now is unlike 2016. Noong 2016 mas ano pa, mas mahiyain pa ‘yung mga tao to go out pero now, ‘yung galaw talaga, Mike, nanggagaling sa ordinaryong mamamayan and they have been doing so much,” said Robredo.

(In this fight, I am the only Bicolano and even the Bicolanos’ support now is unlike in 2016. They were still quite shy in 2016, but now, Mike, ordinary citizens are taking action, and they have been doing so much.)

The Vice President has much work to do in order to catch up against her rival Marcos. 

She is still a far second placer in the December 2021 Pulse Asia survey. Her 20% voter preference rating was outstripped by poll frontrunner Marcos’ 53%.

The same survey showed that Marcos was still ahead of Robredo even in the Visayas, where she is supposed to be strong. – with reports from Lian Buan/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.