EASTERN SAMAR, Philippines – Vice presidential candidate Senator Kiko Pangilinan is making the ultimate sacrifice on the campaign trail for his presidential bet, Vice President Leni Robredo, skipping rallies where local officials do not favor him to ensure that they would go all out for Robredo.
Pangilinan confirmed to Rappler on Wednesday, March 30, that he agreed not to attend the grand rally in Borongan City the night before, after learning that local leaders there were willing to endorse only Robredo.
“I was informed by our campaign HQ that the local officials in Eastern Samar wanted only to endorse VP Leni and not my candidacy and in order to ensure that the local political leaders came out in full force to show public support for her bid, I agreed not to attend. In certain localities, to borrow the term, for Leni to increase, I must decrease,” he said.
The president of the once-ruling Liberal Party was with Robredo in most of her campaign activities around the Samar and Leyte islands from Monday, March 28, to Wednesday.
But he was nowhere to be seen when thousands of “Kakampinks” trooped to the Baybay Boulevard in Borongan, when Eastern Samar Governor Ben Evardone, Representative Maria Fe Abunda, and at least 19 out of the 23 mayors in the province all came out to endorse Robredo.
When Robredo went up on stage, a loud group of young supporters were chanting “We want Kiko!” upon realizing her running mate was nowhere to be found. Other supporters would repeat the chant throughout the night.
Though none of the Eastern Samar officials who endorsed her vouched for Pangilinan, Robredo still asked her “supporters in Borongan to vote for her running mate.
“Bago po ako magpaalam, ang hinihingian ko po ng tulong, hindi lang sarili ko. Pero pati din po ang aking vice president, Senator Kiko Pangilinan,” said Robredo, eliciting loud cheers from the crowd estimated to number over 50,000, according to the Office of the Provincial Administrator.
(Before I go, I wish to ask for help, not only for myself, but also for my vice president, Senator Kiko Pangilinan.)
Pangilinan thanked them for their support, but acknowledged the political realities that he and Robredo need to face in this high-stakes elections.
“I wish to thank our supporters in Borongan for expressing their support for me and the Leni-Kiko tandem in Borongan despite my absence. Nakakataba ng puso na hinahanap nila ako. Humihingi ako ng pasensya na rin na hindi ako nakadalo kagabi (It’s heartwarming that they are looking for me. I apologize for not being there last night).” he said.
“Under a different set of political circumstances I would have loved to see our kababayans and supporters in Eastern Samar,” Pangilinan added.
Pangilinan was supposed to seek Senate reelection, in what would have been an easy fight for him, as he was well within the so-called “Magic 12” in pre-election surveys then.
Robredo: ‘Kiko Pangilinan is my VP’
This is the first grand rally organized for Robredo that Pangilinan was asked not to show up.
He was also not present during the rally in Pasig – the biggest one so far with over 130,000 attendees – but he was at the Commission on Election’s vice presidential debate which was happening at the same time.
This development also comes amid the recent push of several politicians for Robredo to tandem instead with the current vice presidential survey frontrunner, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.
The “RoSa” movement is already spreading like wildfire in Mindanao, one of three major islands in the Philippines where Robredo is at her weakest, according to most pre-election surveys.
Asked if Pangilinan’s absence during the rally they organized for Robredo in Borongan means they are supporting another vice presidential bet, Evardone told Rappler that Eastern Samar officials are still deciding.
“I will have to consult our mayors because they have different choices. We will come out soon with a common stand because they have different choices. Yung kay VP Leni was also done through a consensus,” said Evardone.
Robredo, however, has maintained she would not abandon Pangilinan. She thanked her allies for supporting her via their push for RoSa, but she described Pangilinan as her vice president “until the very end.”
“Klaro naman from the start – from the very start, until now, until the very end – ang vice president ko si Kiko Pangilinan,” Robredo told reporters in Tagum City on March 24.
(It has always been clear from the beginning – from the very start, until now, until the very end – my vice president is Kiko Pangilinan.)
“Hindi naiiwasan, hindi naman ngayon lang na eleksyon, pero kahit nung mga nakaraang eleksyon, may mga supporters na iba ‘yung choices, iba ‘yung pinupush na combinations. Pero as far as I am concerned, as far as the official campaign structure is concerned, ang aking vice president until the very end ay Kiko Pangilinan,” she added.
(Even in past elections, not just in this elections, we can’t avoid scenarios where supporters have different choices, where they are pushing for different combinations. But as far as I’m concerned, as far as the official campaign structure is concerned, my vice president until the very end is Kiko Pangilinan.)
Aside from RoSa, there are also groups pushing for an Isko Moreno-Sara Duterte tandem. Like Pangilinan, Moreno’s running made, Willie Ong, was not at his presidential candidate’s first campaign sortie in Mindanao as local officials supported the other vice presidential candidate.