TAGUM CITY, Philippines – In Davao del Norte’s capital city of Tagum, what was once deemed impossible became reality: Pantaleon Alvarez, the man who once sought to impeach Leni Robredo as vice president, led tens of thousands of Davaoeños in chanting her name.
“Leni! Leni! Leni!” cheered the Davao del Norte 1st representative onstage on Thursday night, April 7, his left hand raised in a fist as he hyped up his province mates in supporting Robredo’s uphill battle for the presidency.
The Tagum City government said over 35,000 “Kakampinks” trooped to the New City Hall grounds that day despite the odds Robredo is facing in the land of Duterte.
Compared to Robredo’s past mammoth rallies in other provinces, the crowd build-up in Tagum was a slow burn, owing to the rain that drenched the supporters in the afternoon.
But when night fell, as Robredo took the stage, she was met with the familiar sight of a sea of pink waving their flags and handmade placards to cheer her on.
“Morning has come. Time to wake up, Mindanao. Let’s go all the way for Leni!” said Alvarez in Bisaya, further driving the crowd into a frenzy.
He said what the Philippines needs now is a strong mother figure like Robredo.
“The Philippines is faced with a big problem, that’s why we need a mother who is hardworking and diligent, and who has genuine compassion for the people,” the former House speaker added.
Robredo’s running mate Senator Kiko Pangilinan, however, was not invited to attend the rally in Tagum. Alvarez and Partido Reporma will continue to support the vice presidential bid of Senate President Vicente Sotto III, the running mate of former party standard-bearer Senator Panfilo Lacson.
Six years ago, it would have been unthinkable for Alvarez and Davaoeños to openly support Robredo this way.
Robredo has been the opposition leader during the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, whose daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, is running for vice president. Sara Duterte’s standard-bearer is dictator’s son Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Robredo’s bitter rival.
Alvarez was once Duterte’s fierce attack dog, targeting Robredo in the past whenever she criticized the President’s abusive policies. He has since become an opposition figure to the Dutertes when Sara Duterte help plot his ouster as House speaker in 2018.
Alvarez’s complicated political past with Robredo is water under the bridge now that that the two unlikely but strategic allies have found themselves on the same side, pushing to resist the return of the Marcoses to Malacañang.
Robredo and Alvarez said in separate Rappler interviews that their new alliance is not transactional, with the latter not asking for anything in exchange for the political machinery he is now tapping for the Vice President. (READ: Robredo on alliance with Alvarez in Davao: ‘Wala talagang hiningi na kahit ano’)
If she wins, Robredo told the crowd in Tagum City she would support Davao the same way as her own bailiwick, Bicol.
“Ang ipapangako ko po sa inyo, na ‘pag ako binigyan ‘nyo ng pagkakataon, ‘yung pagmamahal ko sa pinanggalingan kong probinsya, pareho din ng pagmamahal ko sa inyo,” said Robredo.
(My promise to you, if you give me the chance to serve you, the love I have been giving to the province where I came from will be the same love I will be giving to you.)
The fight Davaoeños must fight in 2022
Alvarez had promised Robredo tens of thousands of supporters would attend her rally in Tagum, and he delivered.
Alvarez’s pledge of allegiance to Robredo also helped her secure the support of Davao del Norte Governor Edwin Jubahib, and nine of the 11 mayors in the province, including Tagum City Mayor Allan Rellon. The local leaders raised Robredo’s hands twice during the grand rally.
Their decision to come out for Robredo gave a boost to her supporters in Davao del Norte like the Apolinares family, who admitted they had fears of openly backing Robredo in a region ruled by the Dutertes.
But for Rennel Apolinares, this gives them all the more reason to take their chances on the lone female presidential candidate.
“Definitely there’s a part of me that is really afraid, but because of that fear, that fuels my courage to really to fight… Even for a Davaoeno living in this place, we shouldn’t have fear in our hearts. And ito ang dapat nating ipaglaban dito sa Davao (And this is what we must fight for here in Davao),” Rennel told Rappler.
Rennel and his sister Ailen came to the rally with their mother, their pink umbrella matching the color of their shirts.
Asked why they are backing Robredo, the siblings spoke of her corruption-free track record and her “resibo” or proof of running effective anti-poverty and pandemic programs despite the small budget given to the Office of the Vice President.
Ailen, in particular, also liked that Robredo has been able to give concrete plans for overseas Filipino (OFWs) workers like her.
“Ako kasi isang OFW, tapos siya lang ‘yung nakitaan ko na may konkretong plano para sa mga OFW. Naiintindihan ‘nya kami kung ano ‘yung mga kailangan namin, kung bakit kami umaalis sa Pilipnas,” said Ailen.
(I am an OFW and she’s the only candidate in whom I saw concrete plans for OFWs. She understands us and our needs, why we had to leave the Philippines.)
Robredo had vowed to forge bilateral agreements with foreign governments to ensure that the social benefits they enjoy abroad will continue even if they retire in the Philippines, and also to set up provincial migrant workers’ offices to assist OFW families as well.
Robredo’s vow: ‘I will be a president of all colors’
In her speech, Robredo heaped praises on Alvarez, Jubahib, and Rellon, before thanking them for setting aside their political differences in the name of good governance.
She then seemed to take a jab at the so-called “unity” that the Marcos Jr.-Duterte tandem keeps on harping on in the absence of a detailed platform.
“Ang tunay pong pagkakaisa, nagmumula sa pagmamahal sa ating bayan. Ang pagkakaisa po hindi lang ito pagkakaisa ng mga politiko, pero pagkakaisa ng lahat na naniniwala na kailangan tayo nagtulung-tulungan dahil ito lang ‘yung pagkakataon na para ‘yung ninanais natin na pagbabago ating makamtan,” said Robredo.
(True unity stems from love of country. This is unity not just of politicians, but of everyone who believes that we must work together to bring about the change we all want to happen.)
Robredo finished only third in Davao region in the 2016 vice presidential race. Davaoeños wanted Alan Peter Cayetano, Duterte’s running mate then, as their vice president, followed by Marcos Jr.
But Robredo reminded her supporters in Tagum that she did not allow her electoral loss in Davao to stop her from helping the region over the past six years.
She cited the relief operations she helped lead in times of calamities, and the aid she provided residents her during the coronavirus crisis.
Facing her pink-clad supporters in Tagum City, Robredo made a vow: Her presidency would not favor any political colors.
“Kahit po ‘yung mga supporters natin, kadalasan nagsusuot ng pink. ‘Pag tayo po naging pangulo na, pangulo tayo ng lahat na kulay, dahil kung tinitingnan pa po natin ang politika, kawawa ang taumbayan,” said Robredo.
(Our supporters usually wear pink. But when I become president, I would be the president of all colors, because if we only consider politics, our countrymen would suffer.)
In turn Davaoeño “Kakampinks” made their own promise to Robredo: “Babawi kami (We will make it up to you).” – Rappler.com