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PAMPANGA, Philippines – It's an alliance that only a few years back would have seemed impossible.
On Tuesday, March 22, Liberal Party standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II, running mate Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo, and Pampanga Governor Lilia Pineda were all in the same venue for the LP tandem's second visit to the vote-rich province in 7 days.
The reelectionist governor had earlier announced support for Roxas and Robredo, President Benigno Aquino III's anointed candidates.
Pineda was a staunch ally of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the immediate predecessor of Aquino. In his speeches from the start of his presidency in 2010 to now, Aquino has not been shy in lambasting Arroyo, whose presidency was plagued by corruption allegations.
Not only that. Pineda's husband, Rodolfo "Bong" Pineda, is an alleged gambling lord and was investigated in the past for his known links to the illegal numbers game jueteng. (READ: Bong Pineda: From runner to kingmaker)
A 2001 Newsbreak report describes Bong Pineda as a "reported lord of jueteng" who "gained nationwide notoriety because his alleged operations had corrupted and harmed no less than the institution of the presidency."
"Almost legend, Rodolfo Quijano Pineda was implicated by Ilocos Sur Governor Luis 'Chavit' Singson in his testimony before the Senate last year about jueteng collections channeled to deposed President Joseph Estrada," wrote Chay Hofileña in a Newsbreak story.
"Through the years, Pineda has built a strong psychological dependence on him by helping the poor. One time, he even provided Lubao's barangay captains, all 45 of them, with brand-new handguns. It is said that he and his mayor-wife have chosen not to build hospitals because, once they do so, people will stop lining up to ask for their help. The Catholic hierarchy has also been the object of his generosity. Pineda gave priests who once concelebrated a Mass for his birthday envelopes that each contained P15,000. Not all accepted the envelopes, however." (READ: Gambling on politics)
Ironically, Robredo’s husband, the late Jesse Robredo, waged war against jueteng when he was Naga City mayor and later, as interior secretary.
Both Roxas and Robredo downplayed the issue.
"Siguro 'yung mga ganung pag iisip ay para lang sa mga may malisya sa kaisipan. Para sa amin, wala namang kapalit ang mga ito, serbisyo ito, siya naman ay nagsabi na gusto nila 'yung serbisyo na ipinakita sa Pampanga, sa lahat ng bayan ng Pampanga so tinatanggap natin ito," said Roxas when asked if accepting the support of Pineda meant a nod to jueteng.
(Maybe that's a thought for malicious minds. As far as we're concerned, they've not asking for anything in return. This is all about service, Governor Pineda herself has said she likes the service here in Pampanga, in all towns and cities in Pampanga so we accept her support.)
"Ilagay sa tamang konteksto (Let's put it in the right context)," said Robredo, when asked whether Pineda's supposed jueteng links are contrary to the Aquino government's "Daang Matuwid (Straight Path)" or its anti-corruption, good governance, and transparency platform.
The Camarines Sur representative added: "Hindi naman tayo nakipag-alyansa dahil sa links niya sa jueteng. Winelcome natin ang tulong ni Governor Pineda dail nirerecognize siya, hinahangaan siya, pati ng mga eksperto, dahil sa kabutihang ginawa niya sa Pampanga sa delivery of basic services, isa sa mga LGU official na ang performance ay dapat pamarisan."
(We're not allied with her because of links to jueteng. We welcome her support because she's been recognized even by experts because of the good she's done in Pampanga when it comes to delivering basic services. She is one of the LGU officials whose performance we admire.)
"Tanong, na-o-overshadow ba 'yun nung kwento ng jueteng? Hindi dapat maovershadow ang pagtulong kasi walang naman siyang hinihinging kapalit," said Robredo.
(Should her service be overshadowed by stories on jueteng? It shouldn't because she's not asking anything from us in return.)
Both Roxas and Robredo praised Pineda's performance as governor. The duo were in San Fernando City on Tuesday, during a gathering of provincial scholars at the Bren Guiao Gym.
Cheques were handed out to students during the gathering, but local officials were quick to point out that there was "nothing political" about the event
A provincial board remember reminded students to study the candidates diligently, listen to their parents and, he added, their current governor.
How about the Lapids?
There's also the tricky situation of the Pinedas' political relationship with the Lapids, another political family from Pampanga. Former governor Mark Lapid is part of the LP-led coalition's senate lineup but his family is estranged from the Pinedas.
Pineda and Lapid never shared the stage during the LP campaign in the province. Pineda appeared during a gathering in the Bren Guiao Gym, and Lapid during rallies in the San Fernando Heroes Hall and in Candaba.
Pineda isn't the first former Arroyo ally to declare their support for the ruling party.
Earlier, Roxas and Robredo also clinched the endorsement of former Batangas Representative Eduardo Ermita.
"Sila mismo siguro 'yung dapat niyong tanungin. Nakita nila 'yung uri ng serbisyo na ginampanan natin sa nakalipas na limang taon, yung serbisyo dumadating sa kanilang probinsya, sa kanilang bayan at lungsod, hindi tinatanong kung anong chaleko, hindi tinatanong kung anong politikal na partido nila, hindi tinatanong kung sinong sinusuportahan nila," said Roxas in a chance interview when asked about former Arroyo allies expressing support for the ruling party.
(Maybe you should ask them. They saw the kind of service that we've offered the past 5 years, the service that arrives in their provinces, their towns and cities. And we don't ask what party color one wears, we don’t ask their political affiliations, we don’t ask who they're supporting.)
This has been a common line from Roxas, who served as Aquino's transportation and later, interior secretary, although it's a claim his political rivals refute.
Added Roxas: "Siguro, naappreciate nila ito at ito naman po ang sinasabi nila sa atin, naappreciate nila 'yung pantay na pagtingin sa kanila dahil dumating ang serbisyo at imprastraktura sa lahat ng bahagi ng lalawigan ng Pampanga at sa buong Pilipinas."
(Maybe they appreciate that we're fair when it comes to service and infrastructure in all parts of Pampanga and the entire Philippines.)
The national government has poured in over P16.9 billion into the province since 2011, mostly for infrastructure and flood mitigation projects.
Local support crucial
The official campaign period for local bets begins next week.
With their far from impressive numbers, both Roxas and Robredo will need the support of allies in towns, cities, and provinces to boost their chances on May 9.
This much, Roxas highlighted in a chance interview with media.
"Ibig sabihin ay dikit na ito, nagdidikitan na ito at pagkatapos ng Holy Week ay magsisimula na 'yung lokal kung saan ay tingin natin, may lamang tayo, dahil marami tayong kaalyado na sumusuporta sa Daang Matuwid," he said, when asked to react to the most recent Pulse Asia opinion poll.
(It's good news. That means the race is getting tighter and after Holy Week, the local campaign begins and I think we have the upper hand there because a lot of our allies believe in Daang Matuwid.)
In the Central Luzon region, which Pampanga belongs to, Roxas ranked third among presidential bets, according to a recent Laylo survey.
Both Roxas and Robredo have suffered low numbers in vote-rich Metro Manila and nearby Luzon provinces.
Roxas won in the province when he ran for vice president in 2010, getting more than 413,016 votes compared to Binay's 220,357. Aquino also won here in 2010, but was trailed closely behind by Arroyo's anointed bet Gilberto Teodoro Jr. – Rappler.com