Roxas tells Leyteños: Don't believe lies about Yolanda

COURTING VOTERS. Mar Roxas in Palo, Leyte, on April 20, 2016. Photo by Bea Cupin/Rappler

COURTING VOTERS. Mar Roxas in Palo, Leyte, on April 20, 2016.

Photo by Bea Cupin/Rappler

LEYTE, Philippines – Almost 3 years ago, Liberal Party standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II was in this province, to lead government's response to what would be the strongest storm to make landfall in recorded history. 

In the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda, more than 6,000 lives were lost, thousands went missing and towns were washed away.

Roxas, then interior secretary, was hit for his perceived incompetence. National government was criticized both here and overseas for its slow response. 

Campaigning here on Wednesday, April 20, the administration candidate called on Leyte locals not to believe the "mudslinging" and "lies" from his opponents. 

"Ang inyong pamahalaan, si Mar Roxas... andito bago dumating ang unos, habang dumating ang unos, at matapos ang unos... Hindi kayo pinabayaan," said Roxas during a campaign rally in Palo. "Kaya nakikiusap po ako sa inyo. Huwag po natin paniwalaan ang paninira, mga kasinungalingan na laganap ngayon dahil sa halalan," added Roxas. (Your government, as well as Mar Roxas, were here before the typhoon came and when it battered the region. We never abandoned you. So I beg you not to believe the lies about me that are now being peddled this election season.)

Skipping Tacloban

Roxas and his running mate Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo barnstorm the province on Wednesday, with at least 4 scheduled stops in different towns and cities. 

They will be skipping Tacloban City, ground zero of Yolanda which registered the highest death toll in the region. At least 2,000 people died in the city.

Roxas continues to lead in the Visayas, based on the latest ABS-CBN survey published on Tuesday, April 19. But he's behind 3 rivals – Rodrigo Duterte, Grace Poe and Jejomar Binay – in NCR and Balance Luzon. And he's a far second to Duterte in Mindanao.

Communities in Leyte are among the key beneficiaries of the government's conditional cash transfer program (or the 4Ps) for the poor, and the administration is hoping this would materialize into votes for Roxas on May 9. (READ: Roxas, Binay and the political machine)

But even if he tops Visayas, the smallest of the country's 3 subdivisions, it would not be enough to make him become president. (READ: Visayas voters keeping Roxas' campaign afloat)

And the ghosts of Yolanda continue to haunt him there.

Roxas was one of the Cabinet officials who flew to Leyte ahead of Yolanda's landfall. He led relief efforts along with defense chief Voltaire Gazmin and social welfare secretary Dinky Soliman. 

Roxas was – and is still – being accused of not doing enough. He was also hit for allowing politics to get in the way of much-needed aide. 

Petillas' support

Speaking before a crowd of roughly 3,000, Roxas said this was far from the truth. 

"Matitignan ko po kayo mata sa mata, face to face. At sasabihing: nagawa ko ang lahat para malutas ang problema," said Roxas. 

During his speech, the LP candidate narrated his own Yolanda experience, emphasizing that he, too, felt what locals here felt. 

Leyte Governor Dominic Petilla, a member of the ruling party, said Roxas was practically a "Leyteño" himself, because of his experience during Yolanda. 

The mayor of Palo is Petilla's mother, Matin. Another Petilla, former Leyte governor and energy chief Jericho Petilla, is seeking a Senate seat under the ruling party. – Rappler.com