ANGELES CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – Two senators charged with plunder or graft for allegedly misusing their pork barrel are seeking a return to the Senate, and are counting on the support of President Rodrigo Duterte and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.
Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr joined the younger Duterte on Tuesday, February 12, to kick off their senatorial campaign with Hugpong ng Pagbabago, the presidential daughter's regional party.
They shared the stage with HNP's other senatorial bets: Imee Marcos, Cynthia Villar, Sonny Angara, Ronald dela Rosa, Francis Tolentino, Bong Go, Jiggy Manicad, JV Ejercito, Pia Cayetano, Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, and Zajid Mangudadatu.
On Tuesday, HNP held campaign rallies in San Fernando City and Angeles City, where they were hosted by the Pinedas and Angeles City Mayor Ed Pamintuan, respectively.
The two ex-senators were in top form, cracking jokes and teasing their fellow candidates. They even wore shirts of the same bright orange shade, paired with shiny aviator sunglasses.
But there was no avoiding allusions to the pork barrel scam and their alleged role in it.
"Mga kaibigan, alam 'nyo naman pinagbakasyon kami ng nakaraang administrasyon dahil sa walang basehang kasong ipinaratang nila sa amin," was how Estrada put it. (Friends, you know that the previous administration made us go on vacation because of a baseless case made against us.)
Saying he, Revilla, and co-accused Juan Ponce Enrile were "victims of selective justice," Estrada said he could look anyone in the eye and say he did no wrong.
"Kaya masasabi ko sa inyong lahat, p'wede kami humarap ni Bong Revilla taas-noo, tumingin mata sa mata, at sabihin sa inyo, wala po kaming kasalanan sa taongbayan," he said. (That's why I can tell you all, Bong Revilla and I can face you with heads held high, look you in the eye, and tell you, we committed no sins against the people.)
Estrada's other gimmicks on Tuesday included mimicking his father, former president and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada. He also declared that if he had his way, Sara Duterte would become president in 2022.
Estrada's plunder case remains pending after the Supreme Court (SC) recently affirmed the charges against him. (READ: DOCUMENTS: SC decision, dissent in upholding Estrada plunder)
Bong Revilla plays it up
But it was Revilla who undoubtedly made audiences in the two sorties cheer the loudest. Such was his impact on the crowd that even his fellow senatorial bets, from Sonny Angara to Bong Go, mentioned him in hopes of titillating the crowd.
Revilla knew how to play it up.
"Akala ko hindi 'nyo na ako mahal. Akala ko hindi 'nyo na ako titilian. Pero damang-dama ko pa rin po ang pagmamahal ninyo," he said, to high-pitched screaming. (I thought you no longer loved me. I thought you would no longer scream for me. But I still feel your love.)
Revilla spoke of his belief in God and gratitude that he was acquitted of plunder last December 7. He, however, still faces graft charges in relation to the pork barrel scam.
"Alam 'nyo po, sa tagal po ng aking pagkakakulong, ang dasal ko na lang po sa ating Panginoon, 'Lord, ituro 'nyo po sa akin ang tamang daan at kayo na po ang bahala.' Hanggang sa dumating ang December 7. Ang aking pasasalamat una sa Panginoon sa Kanyang pagmamahal sa akin at pinalabas Niya ang katotohanan," said Revilla.
(You know, for the with long time that I was incarcerated, my prayer was, "Lord, lead me to the right path and please take charge. Then December 7 came. My gratitude first to God for his love for me and for letting the truth come out.)
He then promised the people of Pampanga that he would "fight" for them. Revilla said he would never forget that, in 2010, he was Pampanga's top pick for senator.
"Umasa kayo na tuloy ang laban ni Bong Revilla para sa inyo! Kahit buhay ko itataya ko!" he shouted. (Expect Bong Revilla's fight for you will continue! Even if I have to put my life at stake!)
In Angeles City, he ended his speech with a duet with his wife, Bacoor, Cavite, Mayor Lani Mercado Revilla.
Sara defends pork-linked senators
Mayor Sara defended the decision of HNP to include Estrada and Revilla in their Senate line-up.
"Senator Bong was acquitted and Senator Jinggoy is under bail so there is no finauty in their cases. Only once a court says they are guilty should you judge a person," she said on Tuesday.
How to explain Revilla's popularity among the audiences in Pampanga that day? Mara, one of the women who attended the Angeles City campaign rally, explained why she would vote for Revilla.
"Kasi guwapo siya at mabait," she told Rappler. (Because he is handsome and kind.)
Asked what she thought about the graft charges against him and his alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam, she said, "Hindi po kami naniniwala doon kasi mayaman na 'yung mga Revilla. Basta guwapo lang siya, 'yun lang po." (We don't believe in those accusations because the Revillas were already rich. He's handsome, that's it.)
Another participant in Angeles City, Edel, said this about her decision to vote for Revilla: "Sa palagay namin, karapat-dapat siya." (In our view, he is the right choice.)
Meanwhile Arnold said he likes Revilla because he is his "idol" and an actor, but said he isn't sure if he'll vote him for senator.
Will the pork barrel scam haunt Estrada's and Revilla's 2019 campaign? Or will they manage a Senate comeback? – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.