MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - From celebrity-filled rallies to unfurling a giant flag, all the pomp and posturing of the Philippine elections went on display on Tuesday as presidential candidates kicked off their campaigns 90 days before the May 10 elections.
Some of the candidates turned to prayer at the start of the campaign by attending Mass or leading their own prayer/campaign rally on Tuesday. Others, however, turned to celebrity power by hiring famous personalities to sing, dance or perform in their campaign rallies.
In all the rallies, supporters waved banners and wore the "campaign" colors of their chosen bets, whether orange, yellow, green, blue or pink.
Bangon Pilipinas standard-bearer Bro. Eddie Villanueva had the most unique "gimmick" for the campaign by unfurling the world's biggest Philippine flag at a rally in Rizal Park.
Chanting the slogan "Diyos at Bayan!", hundreds of Villanueva's supporters converged at the Quirino Grandstand to help in the unfurling of the 2-hectare flag.
The flag, which measures 180 meters by 92 meters and reportedly cost P10 million, was commissioned by businesswoman and Villanueva supporter Grace Galindez Gupana. Gupana, CEO of ABS Gen Herbs International Corp, also holds the Guinness world record holder for the world's largest draped flag -- a flag of Jerusalem that measures 287.45 meters (943 ft) long and 151 meters (495 ft) wide.
During his speech, Villanueva said the unfurling of the flag is meant to stir up nationalistic pride among Filipinos. He said that if he is elected president, it would be the start of a 6-year "jubilee" in the Philippines since there would be no corruption in the government.
The Bangon Pilipinas candidate and his running mate, Perfecto "Jun" Yasay, also washed the feet of several supporters to symbolize their desire to serve the Filipino people.
On the other hand, Sen. Madrigal started her campaign with an act of charity. After hearing Mass at the Church of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila, the lady senator distributed food to fire victims in Caloocan City while admonishing them to put God and country first.
"I cannot give you everything now but if I win, you will be the first barangay that I will visit," she told the people.
Madrigal said she had no plans to back out of the elections despite her low ratings in the presidential surveys. "Those surveys are paid. Those who can pay much are the ones whose numbers are improving," she said.
She added: "I am not backing out. Maybe the only one saying that is Sen. [Manny] Villar."
Celebrities brighten up rallies
Various celebrities showed up during motorcades and campaign rallies of the various candidates on Tuesday. Some of the celebrities were paid, others not.
Drama actor Coco Martin caused a commotion after appearing outside the Concepcion Church in Tarlac where Sen. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III was hearing Mass.
Rock band Rivermaya, on the other hand, entertained supporters of Lakas-Kampi CMD presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.
Local celebrities Lorna Tolentino, Tirso Cruz III, Aiko Melendez, Bobby Andrews and basketball player Philip Cezar, meanwhile, joined senatorial candidates of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) of former President Joseph Estrada in a motorcade in Quezon City's 1st District.
In an interview, Tolentino said that she did not receive a fee for participating in the PMP motorcade. "We've known [Estrada's] family for many years. Hindi lang namin sila kaibigan, kapamilya na. Ang kapamilya is kapamilya kaya walang fee ito," she said.
Popular celebrities also attended the campaign rally of Nacionalista Party standard bearer Manny Villar in Calamba, Laguna.
ABS-CBN TV host Willie Revillame and several of his co-hosts on the popular noontime show "Wowowee" made an appearance at the rally to endorse Villar while comedian Blakdyak and singer Bugoy Drilon entertained the crowd.
Other celebrities who have endorsed Villar are comedian Michael V, Comedy King Dolphy and Pop Princess Sarah Geronimo.
As expected, some of the candidates used the rallies to launch their fiercest attacks against their opponents
In the Liberal Party's campaign rally, Aquino's running mate, Sen. Manuel "Mar" Roxas II, dubbed the Nacionalista candidate "Villarroyo" after accusing Villar of forging an alliance with President Arroyo.
Aquino said Villar's packaging for the presidential campaign was impressive but "rotten at the core." He also said the presidential campaign was now turning into a battle of "cash vs character", referring to the billions of pesos allegedly spent by Villar on his campaign ads.
LP campaign manager Butch Abad earlier said the political party will take a different tack in Aquino's campaign by doing away with the usual freebies given out during rallies.
Party spokesman Erin Tañada added that Aquino hopes to increase his lead over other presidential aspirants now that the Commission on Elections has imposed limits on campaign spending.
Nacionalista Party spokesman Gilbert Remulla, however, said he expects no change in Villar's popularity since the NP bet had already built up momentum even before the start of the official campaign period. Aquino and Villar are statistically tied in the presidential race, according to the results of the latest Pulse Asia survey.
"We don't think we're going to slow down. We will be injecting more of our vision and more of our platform, but the core still has to remain the same. We have to remain on message...that he knows how it is to be poor, he knows how it is to help the poor, and that he is the most qualified leader of the whole pack," he said in an ANC interview.
What about the surveys?
Some of the candidates downplayed the results of recent presidential surveys, which showed them lagging behind frontrunners Aquino and Villar.
In an ANC interview, UNO campaign manager Ernesto Maceda downplayed surveys that showed former president Joseph Estrada ranking a distant third in the presidential race.
Maceda said that in the more than 100 trips taken by Estrada in the past 2 years, thousands of people have turned up to air their support for the former president. He said Estrada continues to enjoy popular support from the poor, which comprise the majority of Philippine voters.
"The thing for us to do is continue what we are doing and maintain our mass base. We have accepted the fact that so-called A-B class votes, very few of them will go to us, so we are depending on the D-E class votes to come to us," he said.
He added: "We are better off with Erap because he has already done what the others are trying to do."
Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard bearer Gilbert Teodoro, meanwhile, expects his ratings in the surveys to improve as the party activates its campaign machinery nationwide.
Francis Manglapus, Lakas-Kampi-CMD secretary general, told ANC the party's first salvo in the campaign is a string of whistlestops in 30 towns and cities including Cebu, Tagbilaran, San Fernando, Cabanatuan, Angeles and Davao.
Manglapus said many local officials are happy with Teodoro since he is turning out to be a favorite among youth voters and people who are normally anti-administration.
"What we are seeing on the ground is that he is being accepted, surprisingly. He is attracting a new breed of young people, which is unusual in an administration candidate...The passion that we see on the ground and from the youth is so strong that we feel it's going to cascade down," he said.
He added: "We have a very attractive candidate...in marketing, he's an easy sell."
Some of the candidates, meanwhile, did away with the usual fanfare during presidential campaigns and simply had fun reaching out to voters.
Ang Kapatiran standard-bearer John Carlos “JC” de los Reyes on Tuesday heard Mass before going house-to-house in Olongapo City to distribute flyers and pins to voters.
De los Reyes said winning the Olongapo vote is critical for him since he is running against another Olongapo native, Sen. Richard Gordon, in the presidential election.
Gordon and his running mate, former Metro Manila Development Authority chair Bayani Fernando, meanwhile, lived up to their moniker as "transformers" by riding a pink and blue truck that they dubbed "Optimus Prime" after the lead character in the popular 80s cartoon and toy line.
Promising transformation of the country if they are elected, Gordon and Fernando admitted that they are running their campaign on a shoestring budget.
The two also bared they have a "secret weapon" before launching into a rendition of the John Lennon song "Imagine."
Gordon said he chose Imus, Cavite to kickoff his campaign because it is the hometown of his grandfather, Jose Tagle, who is one of the heroes of the Philippine Revolutinon. "It is the sacrifices of yesterday's heroes that make us the heroes of tomorrow, of today. The challenge is that we must all be heroes now," he said.
For his part, environmentalist and presidential candidate Nicanor Perlas kicked off his campaign by talking to students at a fair at the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City.
In an interview, Ateneo Student Council Gio Tiongson said the council organized the fair so that students could get to know the candidates better.
Perlas, meanwhile, cited one simple reason why he started his campaign in the Jesuit-run university. "Makabuluhan sa akin ang Ateneo dahil dito ako nagtapos," he said. With a report from ANC