ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Presidential candidate Vice President Leni Robredo and her running mate Senator Francis Pangilinan continued barnstorming Mindanao, with rallies that drew large crowds in the Zamboanga Peninsula region on Thursday, March 17.
The weather was unpredictable, but thousands flocked to the Cesar C. Climaco Freedom Park on Abong-Abong Hill in Pasonanca, waited, and stayed to listen to Robredo and members of her ticket speak.
As many as 35,000 came for the Freedom Park rally – the biggest so far in the Zamboanga Peninsula since the start of the campaign period, according to organizers and Task Force Zamboanga.
The Robredo-Pangilinan ticket was in Zamboanga del Norte hours earlier where a rally organized for them drew a crowd of at least 15,000 in Sindangan, a town between Dipolog City and Ipil, the capital town of Zamboanga Sibugay province.
Rain or shine, people came, waited for hours, and stayed at the Freedom Park in Zamboanga City where the rally was staged near the grave of the late city mayor Cesar Climaco, one of fiercest anti-Marcos dictatorship voices in Mindanao who was assassinated in November 1984.
It was in the same park where Climaco erected a Freedom Wall in honor of his friend, slain senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, whose 1983 assassination sparked a series of events that culminated with the ouster of dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos in the bloodless Edsa People Power Revolution in 1986.
Soaked in the rain, Climaco’s niece Maria Isabelle or Beng, now Zamboanga City mayor, raised Robredo’s hand on stage before the cheering crowd of thousands and officially endorsed her presidential bid.
Beng is the late mayor’s niece whom he considered as his unica hija (only daughter) – he had no biological daughter. Her late father, Jose or Jolly, was Cesar’s younger brother who once served as vice mayor.
It rained and then the temparatures rose as soon as the skies cleared, and then it rained again later in the day in time for the rally.
Robredo acknowledged the cheering crowd in Zamboanga for waiting and staying for hours.
“Inulan, nainitan, inulang muli (it rained, the sun was up, and then it rained again),” she noted.
“Ramdam ko ang pagmamahal ‘nyo. Muchisimas gracias con ustedes todo (I feel your love. Thank you very much),” Robredo told the cheering crowd.
“Layag, Leni; Layag Kiko (Sail on, Leni, sail on, Kiko)!” the audience chanted.
During the rally, 2021 Ramon Magsaysay awardee Roberto “Ka Dodoy” Ballon of Zamboanga Sibugay presented Robredo a symbolic wooden paddle in appreciation for her support for the livelihood of farmers and fisherfolk in the region for the past six years.
Joining Robredo and Pangilinan on stage were reelectionist senators Riza Hontiveros, Dick Gordon, and senatorial candidates Chel Diokno, Teddy Baguilat, Alex Lacson, and Sonny Matula.
The rally was organized by volunteers who passed the hat, sent donations, provided fuel and food, and worked pro bono just to build a stage.
‘Everyone is important’
It was a long walk through a challenging uphill terrain from the Butterfly Garden to the actual rally site at the right side of Climaco Freedom Park.
A thousand meters away was a place regarded by Zamboangueños as sacred – a black shrine with the metal “CCC” initials of the late mayor Climaco on top that serves as his tombstone.
As Robredo delivered her speech, a butterfly hovered around the stage, a sight that did not escape the presidential candidate. Following the Filipino belief, she said she associated the presence of the butterfly to her late husband, Jesse Robredo who, she added, was apparently also with them that night.
Robredo spoke about her plans for the city and the region, specifically about how she would address their energy problem if she succeeds in her presidential campaign. Zamboangueños have been suffering frequent and long hours of power outages due to a crippling problem on energy generation and supply.
She also bared her peace and order plan for Zamboanga, and recalled the traumatic experience of the city following the 2013 Zamboanga siege.
“Dito po sa Zamboanga, alam kong pangunahing concern ang peace and order. Matindi pong trauma ang dinaanan ninyo noong Zamboanga siege. Whole of nation approach tayo sa terorismo, violent extremism, at insurgency. Hindi lang po tutugisin ang lawless elements, tututukan natin ang kalusugan, edukasyon, kabuhayan, at katarungan.”
(Here in Zamboanga, I know the primary concern is peace and order. You went through severe trauma during the Zamboanga siege. We will have a whole of nation approach to terrorism and insurgency. We will not only go after lawless elements, we will also focus on health, education, livelihood, and justice.)
She promised more livelihood projects for the region’s farmers, fishermen, and put in place programs that would make it more business-friendly to spur the local economic growth, a pledge that was greeted by more cheers.
“Posible ito sa gobyernong isinusulong natin: Walang palakasan, walang maliit o malaking lungsod, walang malapit o malayo sa Maynila. Lahat mahalaga,” she said.
(This is possible in the kind of government that we will pursue: There will no nepotism, no small or big city, no one is near or far from Manila. Everyone is important.)
The rally was the most star-studded campaign rally of the Robredo-Pangilinan ticket in Mindanao, so far.
Celebrity endorsers and performers included Jolina Magdangal, Rica Paralejo, Nikki Valdez, Moira dela Torre, Yeng Constantino, Bayang Barrios, Erik Santos, Lei Ramos, Rivermaya, Mayonnaise, Moonstar 88, and Gab Valenciano. At times, they performed for the energetic crowd despite the heavy downpour.
Before the rally, Robredo’s group was in a town hall meeting at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Zambonga University (ADZU) where the presidential aspirant also spoke to a crowd that packed a covered court. – Rappler.com
Frencie Carreon is a Mindanao journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.
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