2022 Philippine Elections

Can Marcos break Robredo’s ‘Bicol vote’?

Lian Buan

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Can Marcos break Robredo’s ‘Bicol vote’?

MARCOS IN BICOL. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr visits the Robredo bailiwick Bicol, specifically Sorsogon on March 4, 2022 and Masbate on March 5, 2022. Photo by Lian Buan/Rappler

Sorsogon Governor Chiz Escudero says Robredo is still ahead in the Bicol region, adding that local politicians' support for Marcos is not unusual
Can Marcos break Robredo’s ‘Bicol vote’?

MASBATE CITY, Philippines – In one stretch of the city center in Masbate on Friday, March 4, several buildings are adorned with pink ribbons and Leni Robredo posters, but then there goes the song Bagong Lipunan, there go the drums, and there goes her motorcading arch rival Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr painting the pink town red.

With the backing of at least two governors, Marcos stepped into enemy territory early in the campaign period.

His two-day campaign sortie in Bicol on Friday and Saturday, March 5, had something to prove: that he is not only a survey frontrunner nationwide but is supposedly polling better in Bicol, bailiwick of Robredo, a native of Camarines Sur.

If posters  and crowds were any indication, though, it didn’t seem that Masbate, Albay and Sorsogon – the three provinces that the candidate visited – are for Marcos.

Pink posters filled the streets. In Sorsogon and Masbate, Robredo supporters made sure to show their presence in the Marcos motorcades, with some giving water to Marcos supporters while others in Masbate chanting to the son of the dictator, “convicted! Marcos was convicted of failure to file tax returns from 1982-1985, but was not meted a prison sentence.

Sorsogon Governor Francis “Chiz” Escudero, who hosted Marcos on Friday, said Robredo is still expected to win Bicol like her fellow Nagueño, the late Raul Roco, who won Bicol during the 2004 presidential race despite the absence of any endorsement from a single Bicol governor.

“Sa Bicol palaging lamang at liyamado si VP leni dahil na rin sa Bicol vote,” said Escudero in an interview held at his residence on March 4, after Marcos had flown back to Manila. The region has 3.9 million registered voters.

Can Marcos break Robredo’s ‘Bicol vote’?

The crowd that Marcos gathered at the Sorsogon provincial capitol on Friday, and at the Masbate Social Center on Saturday, was underwhelming, filling only the front part of the stage. The motorcade reception in Masbate was a little louder, but they were nothing compared to Marcos’ usual turnouts even outside Ilocandia, like Metro Manila, for example.

Marcos was supposed to motorcade from the Bicol International Airport in Daraga to the Uniteam headquarters in nearby Legazpi, according to the callout of supporters on Facebook, but no motorcade happened.

To the Marcos camp, however, it didn’t matter that the three provinces carried the color pink. What mattered was there were many Marcos posters, too. Hundreds still came, prompting them to write in their press release that Marcos “was humbled by the show of support from the province, which is said to be among the bailiwicks of his closest opponent.”

Marcos told the crowd in Sorsogon: “Nakakatuwang makita na itong init ng salubong na inyong binigay, galing din po ako sa Legazpi [Albay] bago ako nagpunta dito at tulad ng sabi ko, hindi natin balwarte ang Sorsogon kaya’t tingnan natin kung ano ang magiging audience. Noong narinig ko ang mga sigaw ninyo, naku, tuwang tuwa ako.” (I am happy to see your warm welcome. I had just come from Legazpi before I came here and as I said, Sorsogon is not my baliwick so let’s see what the audience will be. But when I heard you shout, this made me very happy.)

Masbate and Camarines Norte

Of the six Bicol provinces, Marcos has secured the endorsement of governors of two: Masbate Governor Antonio Kho and Camarines Norte Governor Edgar Tallado.

Albay Governor Al Francis Bichara supports Robredo. Catanduanes Governor Joseph Cua was photographed raising Marcos’ hands with Kho, but he later clarified he made no commitment to the son of the dictator and that his constituents want him to continue supporting Robredo.

Escudero is not endorsing anybody, while Camarines Sur Governor Miguel Villafuerte is endorsing only Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte for vice president.

Robredo won Bicol in 2016, getting 1.5 million votes while Marcos came in only third in the region with 190,265. Escudero, who ran for vice president against Robredo that year, was second in Bicol with 503,188 votes

For the May 9 elections, the Marcos camp is citing a survey from polling firm Laylo held in January that showed he was rating 51% in Bicol compared to Robredo’s 33% in her own region.

According to Masbate’s Kho, 17 of the 21 mayors in Masbate are all endorsing Marcos. “With the political machineries that we have, we are now in full battle gear and ready to work to give our full support,” said Kho.

Masbate has 590,735 votes up for grabs in May. In 2016, Robredo won Masbate with 169,297 votes. Marcos came in second with 47,220 votes and Escudero got 45,505 votes.

Camarines Norte has fewer registered voters, only 384,871. Robredo won Camarines Norte in 2016, with 132,757 votes and Marcos was third behind Escudero with only 25,899 votes.

The Bicol vote

“Bagaman hindi siguro buong Bicol dahil ang ibang parte ng Bicol ay mas malapit na o ang salita ngang ginagamit ay Cebuano na, lalo na sa mga isla…Pero yung prominently, largely Bicol-speaking, lamang si VP Robredo base sa mga nagdaang eleksyon at ilang mga survey na rin na nakita ko na ginawa locally ng iba’t-ibang mga kandidato,” said Escudero.

(In Bicol, Robredo is always ahead because of the Bicol vote. Maybe it won’t be the entire Bicol because some parts are nearer Cebu and actually speak Cebuano, especially the islands. But in the Bicol-speaking areas, Robredo is ahead, based on past elections and surveys done locally that I have seen.)

Escudero pointed out that Bicolano politicians’ support for a non-Bicolano candidate in a presidential race is nothing new, citing the 2004 presidential run of Roco, who lost to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Walang kumampi sa kanyang nakaupong gobernador, pero napanalunan niya ang buong Bicol region sa malayong lamang at dun nagsimula ang tinatawag nilang Bicol vote,” Escudero said. (No sitting governor backed him, but he won the entire Bicol region by a big margin. And that’s how the so-called Bicol vote began.)

Former Camarines Sur Representative Rolando “Nonoy” Andaya Jr, a Robredo ally, cited the same case, claiming that he was the only Bicol congressman who supported Roco then, along with the late Naga Mayor Jesse Robredo, Robredo’s husband who died in a plane crash in 2012.

“It was a lonely world for the both of us [him and Jesse Robredo]. This time around, similar but mas marami but ibang-iba yung impact sa tao. Hundred times better, stronger yung support ng mga tao sa candidacy ni Leni Robredo,” said Andaya. (This time around, it’s similar but there are far more, and far bigger impact on people. The support for Leni Robredo is hundred times better and stronger.)

Can Marcos break Robredo’s ‘Bicol vote’?

In 2004, although Roco won the Bicol region, Arroyo won in Masbate. Kho is citing that, too.

“Sinabi ko kay BBM [Marcos] kung wala ng oras ‘wag nang pumunta ng Masbate dahil tatlong presidentiable na ang naipanalo natin dito na hindi na pumunta: Ramos, Estrada and GMA. We made history when GMA won because his rival is Roco na taga Region 5,” Kho said in an interview with the Marcos campaign team.

(I told BBM if he doesn’t have time, he does not have to go to Masbate because we have carried three “presidentiables” here even if they did not come here: Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph Estrada and GMA. We made history when GMA won because his rival Roco was from Region V.)

We tried to interview Kho on March 5 but after saying yes, he eventually did not grant us one.

Can Marcos break Robredo’s ‘Bicol vote’?
Politicians’ support

It created quite a ruckus when 11 mayors in Camarines Sur were named in a Marcos press release as supporting him. Later, two mayors, Pamplona Mayor Ronaldo “Boy” Franco and Milaor Mayor Anthony Reyes, denied the press release and said they were made to come to a meeting with Marcos but were not told it would be for endorsement. Franco and Reyes said they are still supporting Robredo.

“I’m sure that news article about those nine mayors were not meant for local consumption. It was meant for national consumption… It’s propaganda, trying to show that there is dissent,” Andaya told Rappler in a Zoom interview on March 3. “[Here in Camarines Sur] it’s getting stronger every day and as I joined the launching of her candidacy, the support is overwhelming, [the endorsements of nine mayors] did not make a dent here,” said Andaya.

Escudero, meanwhile, is hosting all presidential candidates who visit his province, including Marcos whom he accompanied on stage at the Sorsogon Provincial Capitol. Escudero’s father, the late Sorsogon representative Salvador Escudero, was a close ally of the late dictator, serving as agriculture minister during his time.

Escudero is part of the Senate slates of Robredo, Panfilo Lacson and Manny Pacquiao. He is among the “seven friends” that Marcos’ running mate Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte is endorsing outside of the Uniteam slate of 11.

The governor doesn’t seem set on endorsing anyone, even if he is criticized for being a political butterfly. Escudero as senator pushed for the strengthened mechanism to recover Marcos ill-gotten wealth, and authored the law that awarded compensation to martial law human rights victims. These were during the presidency of the late Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

Karapatan nila isipin yun tulad ng karapatan ko rin gawin kung ano ang tingin ko ay tama. Kaniya-kaniya naman siguro kami. Naniniwala ako na hindi mo pwedeng ipilit anumang pananaw mo o anumang pananaw ko kanino man,” said Escudero. (It is their right to think that like it is also my right to do whatever I think is right. We are entitled to our own decisions. I believe you cannot force your view on anyone as I cannot force mine on them.)

Albay and CamSur

The vote-rich provinces of Bicol are Camarines Sur with 1.3 million voters and Albay with 890,148 voters.

Albay is backing Robredo. Governor Al Francis Bichara and his challenger, Legazpi Mayor Noel Rosal, are both supporting Robredo. Albay’s former governor Joey Salceda, an influential member of the House and key ally of Marcos-backer Arroyo, is endorsing a Leni-Sara tandem. Salceda declined to give an interview.

Camarines Sur Governor Miguel Villafuerte is endorsing only Sara Duterte. His father, Camarines Sur Second District Representative Luis Raymund or L-Ray Villafuerte said he would not endorse any presidential bet.

In 2016, Robredo handily won Albay (380,745 vs Marcos’ 42,324) and Camarines Sur (664,190 vs Marcos’ 41,219).

Andaya said Robredo “can relax in Camarines Sur,” and counts on the province to remember that they were a bastion of opposition during Martial Law. Nonetheless, Andaya advised the Robredo team to work more closely with local politicians here.

“We appreciate volunteers, but this is our craft. You need us in the last 10 meters of the race. You know, being a businessman, volunteer, don’t tell me you are not subjected to political pressures also. So, if somebody pressures you and pushes the right button, you will back out. So those who will stay are the ones who are used to this. Advisers of Leni [need to] learn to trust politicians,” said Andaya.

With or without Bicol, if Marcos maintains his survey lead in the coming months, Escudero said that he might just win the presidency. But, he hastened to add, “election day is a long way from now.” – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.