Leni draws 220,000 supporters to the Bailiwick of Arroyo

Aerial view of Vice President Leni Robredos’ campaign rally held in Pampanga on April 9 — VP LENI ROBREDO FB PAGE

By Kyle Aristosphere T. Atienza, Journalist
and Emerald Jasper G. Tan

VICE PRESIDENT Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo on Saturday drew more than 200,000 supporters – the largest crowd of her presidential campaign to date – at a rally in the northern province of Pampanga in the Philippines.

The opposition candidate urged her supporters in the province – the bailiwick of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, which backed her rival Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. – to step up their door-to-door initiatives to convince more undecided voters to vote for her in the May 9 presidential election.

Ms. Robredo is a distant No. 2 in most presidential opinion polls, led by the late dictator’s son and namesake Ferdinand E. Marcos.

About 220,000 people joined the campaign rally on Saturday, his office said in a statement over the weekend, citing police data.

“It’s very timely for people to educate others and fight fake news,” said Dale Jewel Granados, 27, one of those who witnessed Ms Robredo’a’s political exit, in a Facebook Messenger chat.

He said he was using social media to campaign for his presidential bet and persuaded his family and loved ones to vote for the opposition tandem of Ms Robredo and her vice-presidential running mate, Senator Francis “Kiko” N. Pangilinan.

“The country has never seen anything like the Leni-Kiko campaign and the volunteerism associated with it,” said Jean Encinas-Franco, professor of political science at the University of the Philippines, in a Messenger chat.

“If Leni and Kiko win, it will certainly change the landscape of campaigns in the future,” she said, noting that Ms Robredo’s supporters were mostly young people.

The opposition tandem, which has criticized President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s stance on the South China Sea dispute, was also greeted by supporters in Baler in Aurora, another province in central Luzon.

Before heading to central Luzon, they joined a campaign rally in Dagupan City, Pangasinan province, which drew more than 60,000 supporters.

Pampanga, Aurora and Pangisinan are part of the so-called Solid North, a regional bloc in the northern Philippines known for its support of the Marcos.

“There is momentum on the side of the Robredo-Pangilinan team with their combination of large rallies and small public discussions and house-to-house campaigns,” said Maria Ela L. Atienza, who also teaches political science at the UP, in a Viber. message.

“Their lack of centralized campaign resources is offset by the immense volunteer spirit of many supporters,” she added. “In a way, the campaign is not run like a traditional party campaign but like a social movement.”

Ms Atienza said Ms Robredo is expected to keep the momentum going until Election Day ‘due to the frontrunners’ formidable resources based on public polls’. She should continue to persuade undecided voters and monitor campaign activities, the actual election and the tally thereafter, the analyst said.

“All areas and sectors, whether large or small in terms of number of votes, matter.”

Ms Atienza said mainstream politicians could harness their resources, sow disinformation in local campaigns and bribe voters. “Some of these tactics are already being employed by some local politicians. It is important to counter these negative campaign styles.

Last week, Ms. Arroyo called on allies and influential clans in voice-rich Pampanga to back Mr. Marcos and his running mate, Davao Mayor and presidential daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio.

While local politicians typically focus on surviving, their endorsements energize the campaign of the national candidates they support, Ms. Franco said. “That’s the impact of synchronized elections.”

Ms. Franco and Ms. Atienza said younger voters are likely to be more critical of local endorsements.

“More and more voters, and not just young people, are increasingly paying attention to the performance and reliability of local and national politicians,” Ms Atienza said. “They don’t just vote based on regionalism or local loyalties.”

Mr Granados, the Kapampangan voter, said he was not bothered by Ms Arroyo’s endorsement of the pro-administration tandem.

“I was not surprised, knowing that most politicians who have a history of corruption are against the Robredo-Pangilinan tandem,” he said. “Everything is black and white for me and my decision is clear.”

Mr. Marcos maintained his lead in the Pulse Asia Research, Inc. presidential opinion poll last month, with 56% of Filipinos likely to vote for him. His rating dropped by 4 percentage points.

Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo still sits in second place, whose rating rose nine points to 24%.

Pulse Asia conducted the poll from March 17-21, after the first official presidential debate in which Mr. Marcos did not participate.

Ms. Atienza, in a separate Viber post, said the presidential race was shaping up to be a two-way race based on the results of the Pulse Asia poll, where Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” M. Domagoso was a distant third. He is unlikely to catch up given his few endorsements, she added.

She said Mr. Domagoso’s supporters would not automatically vote for Mr. Marcos or Ms. Robredo in the event that he pulls out of the race.

“Most of Isko’s platforms are somewhat similar to the current administration and he seems to be running as a candidate for continuity rather than opposition,” she said.

“Those who seem likely to vote for him may not vote for Vice President Robredo if he steps down, but they may also dislike Bongbong Marcos,” she added, noting that the mayor of Manila had attacked Mr. Marcos more than Mrs. Robredo.

“It’s in Marcos and Robredo’s interest to have him here, because any vote going to Domagoso is at least not their enemy,” said Hansley A. Juliano, a former student political science professor at the Graduate School of International Development at Nagoya University in Japan. “Domagoso is best seen as the buffer candidate,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

It would be an insult to voters if Mr Domagoso left the presidential race, said Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, senior researcher at the Ateneo de Manila University Policy Center. “Candidates must finish the race because it is their commitment to voters,” he said in an email.

He said the election was “not a done deal”, with half of voters still undecided who to vote for.

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