MANILA, Philippines – Manila Mayor and presidential candidate Isko Moreno returned to Bataan and Pampanga to meet with members of its influential political families and drum up support for his 2022 bid in a region with 7.3 million registered voters.
Pampanga is the 10th most vote-rich province in the country with 1.6 million registered voters, according to 2022 data from the Commission on Elections. Bataan, meanwhile, is home to over 560,000 voters.
Moreno’s first stop on Wednesday, March 2, was Pilar town in Bataan where, from the ages of 11 to 14, he said, he used to work as a farmhand, toiling in rice fields to earn P75 a day. From there, he, with running mate Willie Ong, and senatorial candidates Samira Gutoc and Jopet Sison, went on a motorcade to Balanga City where they commemorated Ash Wednesday with Bishop Ruperto Cruz Santos. They then had breakfast with the Bishop and other church officials and staff.
Moreno and the rest of the Aksyon Demokratiko team proceeded to Dinalupihan town where they were hosted by Mayor Gila Garcia, sister of Bataan Governor Albert Garcia.
Before a room full of local government officials and staff, Garcia began her introductory remarks by saying Dinalupihan warmly welcomes “any visitor.” She then said that while she does not personally know Moreno, her brother and other provincial officials know him and worked with him particularly on COVID-19 response.
“Nakita po natin dito sa dalawang taon na dumaan na pandemya kung paano po nakaresponde si Yorme dito po sa laban po natin sa COVID-19. At alam ko po na sa tulong po ni Yorme, at tsaka po sa pakikipag-ugnayan po nila Gov. nila Cong., at tsaka po nila [Balanga City] Mayor Francis [Garcia], yung mga best practices, lalong-lalo na po sa pagbabakuna, ay talagang shinare po. Hindi po naging selfish at shinare po ni Yorme sa atin pong lalawigan,” said Mayor Garcia.
(We saw in the two years of pandemic that have passed how Yorme respondent to the fight against COVID-19. And I know that with Yorme’s help and the coordination with the Governor and congressmen, Mayor Francis Garcia, on best practices, especially in vaccinations, he really shared. Yorme was not selfish and he shared with our province.)
The Dinalupihan local chief told Rappler on the sidelines of the event that her brother, Governor Garcia, could not personally receive Moreno because he was in Manila to discuss the Bataan-Cavite Interlink Bridge project.
But last November, the Governor had received Moreno during his pre-campaign period “listening tour” where he thanked the presidential bet for helping Bataan set up its cold storage for COVID-19 vaccines and sharing much-needed COVID-19 medicines with the province’s residents.
The influential Garcia family, whose members occupy many elected posts in the province, have not yet formally endorsed a presidential candidate, Mayor Garcia told Rappler. She, however, said “discussions” were already taking place within the family as to who they would unite behind.
Governor Pineda quietly hosts Moreno
In Pampanga, Governor Dennis Pineda treated Moreno and his team to a buffet meal in his office at the Provincial Capitol. Towards the end of the meal, Pineda and Moreno conferred with one another. In a later press conference, Moreno said he was not at liberty to discuss what they talked about.
Moreno’s team had told media that a press conference involving Moreno and the governor would take place in the evening. But the press conference started and ended without a word from Pineda. Instead, the governor stood on the sidelines, quietly watching the press briefing beyond the view of media cameras.
This did not bother Moreno who used the press conference to thank Pineda for the meal.
“I’m grateful. No pressure kay Gov. The mere fact na tinanggap niya kami dito, masaya na ako… Alam natin si Gov. wala pang desisyon. Sabi ko nga, yung bulalo lumalambot, puso pa kaya?,” said the Manila Mayor.
(I’m grateful. No pressure on Governor. The mere fact he welcomed us here, I am happy… We know the Governor has no decision yet. As I said, if beef shank can get soft, what more the heart?)
Like the Garcias, the Pinedas have not declared support for any presidential candidate.
Presidential race frontrunner Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his running mate Sara Duterte were also not able to get a formal endorsement when they attended the birthday celebration of Pampanga Vice Governor Lilia Pineda last February 21.
As to policies he would espouse for the benefit of Bataan and Pampanga, Moreno said he would study how to provide more social services for workers in free ports. The two provinces host their own free port zones, a source of income for the local government and national government.
“We will study how to focus an X percent from the share of the national government for the benefit of workers inside Clark [Free Port Zone], for example. And if that thing will happen to Clark, it can happen to Batangas, Bataan, it can happen to Cavite, it can happen to Cagayan,” said Moreno during the press conference in Pampanga’s capitol.
In Pilar, Bataan, Moreno also said he was against the revival of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant due to safety and environmental concerns.
Moreno and his team attracted enthusiastic crowds in places he visited. Many tricycle drivers, women, workers, children, the elderly stepped out of their homes or shops to wave at him or shake his hand as he traversed their streets during his motorcade. Several people gestured with the “number one” hand sign, his personal hand sign meant to signify his motto of “God first!” and the “I” in “Isko.”
On the steps of Pampanga’s Provincial Capitol, he gave in to requests that he dance to the song “Dying Inside to Hold You,” eliciting squeals of delight from the crowd around him. – Rappler.com