NUEVA ECIJA, Philippines – Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr and Sara Duterte returned as a team to Nueva Ecija on Tuesday, March 15, stopping by three towns. But they did not get a public endorsement from its governor, Aurelio “Oyie” Umali.
Umali, once a Liberal Party member but whose local party Unang Sigaw coalesced with Sara Duterte’s Hugpong ng Pagbabago in the 2019 mid-term elections, hosted the Uniteam in his residential compound in Sta. Rosa town, but he chose not to make a speech and neither did he raise the hands of the candidates as is expected in a sortie.
Umali was on stage when Marcos and Duterte arrived, but he left even before the presidential candidate could finish his speech.
Accompanying the Uniteam indoors while local pastors prayed over them, Umali simply said: “If they will be elected, they would always remember that in Nueva Ecija, everything comes, everything goes, but the grace of God will be with them.”
Nueva Ecija is the 11th most vote-rich province with 1.5 million voters. In the 2016 vice presidential race, Marcos won here, getting 541,980 votes over Vice President Leni Robredo’s 216,204.
Umali of the longtime Nueva Ecija dynasty of Matias-Umali was among the governors who signed a manifesto of support for the foiled national bid of Senator Bong Go. With Go out of the picture, Umali has not made any explicit endorsement. We are trying to get a statement from Umali.
What’s complicating the local landscape vis-a-vis national is that Umali’s chief rival for governor, Palayan City Mayor Rianne Joson Cuevas, has just been endorsed by President Rodrigo Duterte. Cuevas is national treasurer of Duterte’s PDP-Laban Cusi faction.
Cuevas earlier announced she was backing Sara Duterte’s vice presidential bid when she visited in December.
Marcos was also previously in the province, in San Jose town, on December 5, and met Umali.
Mayor Sara Duterte calls Gov Umali her friend, but does not answer directly if she’s trying to seek the Umalis’ endorsement, especially in light of Pres Duterte endorsing Gov Umali’s opponent for governor, Mayor Rianne Joson Cuevas pic.twitter.com/028lwhv0QE— Lian Buan (@lianbuan) March 15, 2022
Asked in an ambush interview if she sought Umali’s endorsement for Uniteam, Sara Duterte told Rappler: “Governor Umali and former governor Cherry Umali are my friends.” Asked about his father’s endorsement of Cuevas, Duterte said “the other side, especially the Vergara family are my friends as well, so [all of them] are friends.”
Marcos was not available for any chance interview.
After Uniteam and local candidates left the rally site at the Umali compound, attendees lined up and were given small white envelopes. Rappler inspected at least two envelopes and saw they contained P500 bills.
Marcos’ campaign manager Benhur Abalos said: “We have no knowledge of the incident. It would be hard to comment on something we are not aware of.” Thomson Lantion, secretary-general of Marcos’ Partido Federal, said they also do not have knowledge of the distribution of envelopes. “Negative po! Our PFP is a disciplined political party! We abhor such action! It is not within our Core values & principles!” Lantion told Rappler in a message.
WATCH: Envelopes given to attendees of Uniteam rally in Sta Rosa, Nueva Ecija where Umali local slate also campaigned inside gov’s compound. I saw two envelopes containing P500 each, but they did not consent to take photos of money. Marcos camp, Partido Federal deny knowledge. pic.twitter.com/PhKhGSp0HU— Lian Buan (@lianbuan) March 15, 2022
Neither Umali nor Cuevas joined Uniteam in their main rally in Talavera town, which was held in a huge open field; the front of the stage was packed with people.
Farmers from Quezon town who attended the Talavera rally said they are supporting Marcos because of what the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos had done for Nueva Ecija, crediting the dictator for their land titles.
“Yung patubig, nagbigay po ng patubig at nagbigay ng titulo ang tatay nya (His father gave us irrigation and land titles),” said one farmer.
In his campaign speech in Talavera, Marcos made this promise: “Aayusin po natin ang agrikultura para sapat ang ating pagkain at magka-trabaho muli (We will address agriculture so we have enough food, and people get jobs again).”
In other parts of the Philippines, such as in Negros, sugar farmers remember the Marcos regime as having plunged them into famine. Coconut farmers in Quezon province are still trying to recover taxes stolen from them by Marcos to give to cronies.
“Hindi naman namin naranasan ‘yung mga ganung pinaparatang sa kanya (We did not experience those accusations against him),” said another farmer.
Nueva Ecija is known as the rice granary of the Philippines, and some farmers have complained of rising cost of fertilizers and dropping profits, and are calling for a review of rice tariffication law.
We met 27-year-old Jarel Hernal, who is running for councilor in Sta Rosa under the Umali slate – his first election – but who is a vocal supporter of Robredo. He said he has crafted a campaign message that allows him to support Robredo without – hopefully – losing votes among the Marcos base.
“[I tell the voters] it doesn’t matter if you voted for me or not, if you voted for Leni or Marcos, it doesn’t matter. If I win I will still serve all of you,” Hernal said.
Shot of the crowd from the back of the stage after Marcos arrived pic.twitter.com/SAZjRWkHIN— Lian Buan (@lianbuan) March 15, 2022
Robredo and her slate are scheduled to campaign in Nueva Ecija on March 22.
– With reports from Paul Soriano/Rappler.com
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