TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – Thousands of Warays here roared in the rain as comedian Bayani Agbayani chanted “Tao kami, hindi kami sibuyas (We’re humans, not onions)!” and “Hindi kami bayad (We’re not paid)!“ seconds before presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and his entourage emerged onstage at the jampacked Leyte Sports Development Center on Saturday night, April 9.
“I’ve never heard so many people sing the national anthem,” an emotional Marcos later said in Filipino.
Agbayani’s first chant referred to a mocking joke about supposedly photoshopped images of the Marcos rally crowds. The second chant was a response to criticism that the Uniteam has to pay for its audience.
But the crowd’s passion was genuine in this city, hometown of the doe-eyed beauty who would become a dictator’s “Iron Butterfly.”
Rains had dampened Marcos’ Samar rallies on Friday, April 8, and forced him to cancel a rally appearance in Maasin City, Southern Leyte, on Saturday morning.
The mammoth crowd – “more than 150,000,” according to organizers – was a much-needed boost for the candidate in his clan’s Visayas bailiwick. The Tacloban police office estimated a crowd of around 120,000.
Moved by the crowd, Marcos gave a shoutout to his mother, Imelda, saying she watched the livestream footages of all his sorties.
The only missing element was his running mate, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, who spent the day campaigning in the 3rd district of Pangasinan with congressional aspirant Rachel Arenas.
Organizers of the Uniteam grand rally here handed out disposable rain ponchos to Marcos loyalists who started trooping to the venue at 10 am – nine hours before the presidential candidate was scheduled to step onstage.
Rally organizers had to let in the audience just after noon as streets around the venue were filled with crowds.
As soon as the gates opened, people in blue, green, or yellow plastic protectors stormed into the center, racing each other across muddy, slippery ground to find the best positions before the stage.
Worried organizers appealed over the loudspeakers for people to slow down, warning of possible accidents.
By 4 pm, organizers told Rappler the crowd was 40,000 strong and expected to grow by nightfall.
The rally host said the audience took up the venue’s total 200,000 capacity. Earlier in the day, organizers said it could accommodate only between 70,000 to 100,000 persons.
The crowd’s staying power was clear despite an orange rainfall warning for Leyte, Southern Leyte, and Biliran that flashed just past 5 pm.
The hosts and guest artists could be heard calling for medics several times. Marcos, at one point in his speech, stopped to address someone who said, “Matagal na kami dito (We’ve been here for a long time).” He joked that his first cousin, House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, would take care of everyone’s food.
Skipping Maasin City
Marcos’ two-day swing of Eastern Visayas coincided with a low pressure developing into a tropical depression in the early hours of April 9. With the local name Agaton, it is the country’s first tropical cyclone for 2022.
Heavy rain prevented Marcos from attending a rally at the city terminal of Southern Leyte capital Maasin City, the birthplace of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Marcos’ presidential race rival, Vice President Leni Robredo, defeated the son of the dictator in Southern Leyte in 2016. But Governor Damian Mercado on April 9 pledged to deliver 200,000 of his province’s 293,000 voters for the Uniteam bets on election day.
Marcos apologized to the waiting crowd in a video message.
“I’m here in Tacloban and it’s raining hard. Our pilot said it is very risky to continue our trip to Southern Leyte,” Marcos said.
“We will find a way to visit Southern Leyte on some other day,” he promised.
The Uniteam pushed through with their rally in Baybay City, Leyte.
Former Leyte governor and the late president Benigno Simeon Aquino III’s energy secretary Jericho Petilla endorsed the Marcos-Duterte tandem, promising they would get from 70% to 80% of the votes.
Marcos and his team also made it to the Ormoc City Superdome, which Mayor Richard Gomez and his wife Leyte 4th District Representative Lucy Torres-Gomez filled to the rafters on Saturday afternoon.
This city’s dominant Romualdez clan was expected to give Imelda’s son the crowd he needed.
Marcos scored big in Leyte in 2016, winning 20% of total votes, which allowed him to top Eastern Visayas, though Robredo won in most other provinces.
Governor Leopoldo Dominico Petilla said he expects Marcos to dominate again in Leyte, which has 1.3 million voters in this year’s elections – the 14th biggest provincial share in the country.
He noted that all Leyte mayors in 40 towns and three cities are their allies.
Marcos expressed confidence in the outcome of the elections, speaking of Sara Duterte as the best, bravest running mate.
The President’s daughter is at the center of a move by politicians throwing the national campaigns into whack with RoSa, which means voting for presidential candidate Vice President Leni Robredo and Sara.
Marcos said he wants to bring back a climate where Filipinos help each other – bayanihan – and said he is one with the movement for unity, “kilusan ng pagkakaisa.”
He said Filipinos will overcome crises with unity. He asked citizens not to give up working for it until every person has a job and the country fully recovers from the hardships of the last two years.
“‘Wag nating isipin na tayo napapagod; isipin lang natin ginagawa natin ito para sa mahal nating Pilipinas (Let’s not think about how tired we all are. Let’s just remember that we’re doing this for our beloved Philippines),” Marcos said. – Rappler.com
Brynch Bonachita is a Visayas-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.