MALAYBALAY, Bukidnon – A grand pyrotechnic display and verbal fireworks against the Aquino leadership marked the opposition’s first campaign sortie in Mindanao.
Senatorial candidates of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) held a rally at the provincial capitol grounds here on Saturday, March 2, in what became a visual and verbal show of force.
While highlighting their platforms during the sortie, UNA bets took a jab at the Aquino administration’s handling of the Sabah standoff in interviews on the sidelines.
The sortie coincided with the celebration of Bukidnon’s annual Kaamulan ethnic thanksgiving feast and was complete with bands, booths, celebrities and a 10-minute fireworks display to cap off the night.
UNA’s host, senatorial bet former Bukidnon Rep Juan Miguel Zubiri estimated the crowd to reach 50,000. The event was UNA’s grandest rally yet, rivaling even the alliance’s proclamation in Cebu City last February 12.
Zubiri’s father, Vice Gov Jose Maria “Joe” Zubiri Jr, said 20 municipal mayors and two city mayors came to support UNA and “they are all under our control.” The elder Zubiri is again running for Bukidnon governor.
When it was his turn to speak, the younger Zubiri used the local dialect to ask his home province to deliver votes for his slate.
The resigned senator highlighted his projects in the province, saying he used his pork barrel to help maintain health centers, daycare centers, and the extension hall of the Bukidnon provincial hospital.
He said his platform is to replicate Bukidnon’s health program that offers 100% free services in public hospitals. Zubiri said other provinces want to copy the program.
“We were the first in Philippine history to make a provincial-wide Philhealth program, with 165,000 families covered under Philhealth. We built 3 new provincial hospitals, and our plan is to make the national government spend to help provincial and district hospitals. The project should also reach Ilocos to Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan.”
Zubiri made a pitch for the UNA candidates. All were present except for Cagayan Rep Juan Ponce “Jack” Enrile Jr.
‘Wrong statement to Kirams’
Yet when asked by reporters, many of them criticized President Benigno Aquino III’s statement Saturday that followers of the Sultanate of Sulu must come home without conditions.
Zambales Rep Milagros “Mitos” Magsaysay said Malacañang should first study the culture of the Muslims.
“The more you threaten the Kiram group, the more they will insist on their stand because they’re fighting for what they believe in and we really have a claim on Sabah.”
Magsaysay said the Palace’s reaction is knee-jerk and it should have not disregarded the Sultanate of Sulu’s claim in the past. She urged Malacañang to look for an effective negotiator instead of issuing public statements.
“These arrogant statements of [Presidential Spokesperson Edwin] Lacierda and all the others who are speaking on behalf of the President are not doing anything good to help resolve the conflict in Sabah. They’re even inciting and exacerbating it. The more you agitate the Kirams, the more you strengthen their resolve to fight for their claim,” she said.
Magsaysay added that Muslims and the people of Mindanao are closely watching how the government will handle the issue, and may be a factor for them to choose UNA over the administration Team PNoy.
Zubiri agreed, reiterating his statement that the government should have addressed the Kirams’ concerns early on so the group would not have felt left out.
Aquino’s aunt-in-law, former Tarlac Gov Tingting Cojuangco had the same assessment.
“I think that [statement] is wrong because historically, Malacañang should study the steps, the procedures of the court and the history. A Tausug will never back down. He’s gonna fight to death. There are many ways to approach it. Ask the sultan what he wants: higher rent, to be part of the Sultanate of Malaysia? There are many avenues that can be explored but you don’t say to come back unconditionally,” Cojuangco told Rappler.
Photo by Ayee Macaraig
'LP is Losing Philippines'
Former Sen Richard Gordon also took a swipe at the administration while he addressed the Bukidnon residents.
“Kailangan in this May 13 elections hindi straight vote ng LP, that is the Losing Philippines, LP, Losing Philippines. You need UNA, una sa trabaho, una ang kalusugan niyo, una tayo laban sa korapsyon.” (In this May 13 elections, you should not vote straight LP, that is the Losing Philippines, LP. You need UNA, first in jobs, first in health, and first in the fight against corruption.)
The sortie was not all barbs, with showbiz and comedic elements also part of the show.
Comedian Tiya Pusit made a comeback in the UNA event, dancing with Vice Gov Zubiri, and singing the hit song “Pusong Bato” to Sen Gregorio Honasan II.
Actress Alma Concepcion was also able to convince Magsaysay to dance the Internet meme Harlem Shake, drawing laughter from the candidates and the crowd.
Asked about the expenses for the fireworks and the event, Zubiri told reporters he was not aware of the cost.
“We announced this last week in the radio so people can go. This was prepared both for the rally and the Kaamulan festival. It’s the provincial government in charge that knows. It’s part of the cultural celebration.” – Rappler.com
Photo by Ayee Macaraig