MANILA — Vice President Leni Robredo on Tuesday launched her campaign for the presidency with a promise of participative governance, as she sought to consolidate support in her vote-rich home turf, Bicol region.
Pink-clad supporters waved streamers from the roadside, danced, and offered lugaw as Robredo, her running-mate Sen. Francis Pangilinan, and their Senate slate barnstormed across Bicol in a motorcade.
"Sana hindi n’yo ako tutulungan dahil lang ako’y Bicolana. Merong mas malalim at mas mahalagang dahilan… Ito ‘yong pagkakataon natin na baguhin ang takbo ng pulitika dito sa ating bansa," Robredo told supporters at a stop in Iriga City.
(I hope you'll help me not just because I am Bicolano. There is a deeper and more important reason. This is our chance to change how politics runs in our country.)
"Ang pagbabago magmumula ‘yan sa ating lahat... May tiwala po ako sa inyo na ‘pag ako binigyan n’yo ng pagkakataon, magiging katuwang ko kayo," said the presidential contender.
(Change starts with all of us. I have trust in all of you, that if you give me a chance, you will be my partner.)
Robredo earlier promised to set up people's councils that will allow public participation in "all levels of governance."
"Ang commitment ko sa inyong lahat, kung ano po ‘yong klase ng pamamahala na inumpisahan ng aking asawa... 'pag ako po naging Pangulo, ganoon pa rin kalinis, kahusay," said the Vice President, a former lawyer for the disadvantaged, who was propelled into politics after the 2012 plane crash that killed her husband Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo.
(My commitment to all of you is, the kind of politics that my husband started, if I am elected President, it will be just as clean, just as excellent.)
"Ang pinakakailangan para umangat ang buhay ng lahat, ang gobyernong tapat," she continued.
(An honest government is what's most needed for a better life for all.)
SOLID BICOL VOTE
One in 5 respondents in a December survey by Pulse Asia said they would vote for Robredo. She trails behind the son and namesake of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who got the backing of 53 percent of respondents.
"What we do see in our survey is that the support [for Marcos] is quite significant across the areas in the country, with the exception largely of the Bicol region, where the Vice President comes from," Pulse Asia president Ronald Holmes told ANC.
Bicol in the 2019 elections was the 6th most vote-rich region, home to about 3.6 million voters.
In the 2016 vice presidential race, Robredo secured the highest number of votes in 5 out of 6 provinces in Bicol, with the exception of Sorsogon, the hometown of her rival, then senator Francis Escudero.
Asked if she was counting on a "solid Bicol" vote in May's presidential race, Robredo said on Monday, "Oo naman (of course)."
She noted she was the lone presidential aspirant from the region, unlike in the 2016 race, where several of her rivals claimed Bicolano roots. She said various local politicians also agreed "to set aside their affiliations and differences" to help her presidential bid.
"I think ‘yung pinakamahalaga dito, hindi lang na nagsusuporta sila sa akin as a candidate pero naniniwala sila na pag ako binigyan ng pagkakataon, isang malaking opportunity din ito for the Bicol Region. For many, many years, marami kaming mga pangangailangan na hindi, hindi nami-meet," Robredo said.
(I think what's most important here is they support me not just as a candidate, but they believe that I can give a chance, that this is also a big opportunity for the Bicol Region. For many, many years, we had many needs that were not met.)
Pulse Asia's Holmes in July said Robredo might be trailing in opinion polls because she lacked a Cabinet post.
He said "scant information about what she has done [and] the attacks coming from the administration over the past 5 years have also taken its toll on the level of reelection support for the vice president."
The May presidential race sets a rematch between Robredo and Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., who lost the vice presidency to her by some 200,000 votes. He had claimed the 2016 race was rigged, but the Supreme Court last year junked his petition, cementing Robredo's victory.
Robredo belongs to a political clique that helped oust the Marcos patriarch in a 1986 "people power" uprising.
She has rejected unification talks with Marcos Jr. without justice for the abuses under his father's 1972-1981 martial law rule, during which thousands were arrested, tortured or killed. The dictator's family is also accused of plundering billions of dollars from public coffers, which it refutes.
While Marcos Jr.'s candidacy has angered victims of abuses during martial law, political observers credit his sophisticated social media machine for his strong showing in surveys.
Robredo on the eve of the campaign period said she considered online disinformation as the biggest threat to her bid for Malacañang.
"Sa social media kahit ano puwede ilabas na walang accountability kasi puwede mo nga ilabas kahit fake account ‘yung ginagamit mo. Ito ‘yung mahirap ngayon, na while nire-recognize natin ‘yung power ng social media, nagamit talaga siya sa pag-aabuso," said Robredo.
(On social media, anything can be put out without accountability because you can post even with a fake account. This is what's difficult, that while we recognize the power of social media, these were really abused.)
"Kaya para sa akin, hindi lang ito pagtulong sa akin pero dapat tayong lahat magtulong-tulong para i-fight ‘yung fake news. Kasi kung ang eleksyon maipapanalo base sa kasinungalingan, kawawa tayo," she said.
(So for me, this is not just a help to me, but we should unite to fight fake news. If the elections are won based on lies, we will all suffer.)
In Ilocos Norte, a Marcos stronghold, some Robredo supporters on Monday held a "kalesa" caravan.
Supporters in Cebu meanwhile held a fluvial parade, while one backer shaved his head to spell the phrase "Leni Kiko"
Several celebrities also threw their support behind the tandem. They include Pangilinan's wife actress Sharon Cuneta, OPM icon Gary Valenciano, vocal group The Company, and actors Rita Avila, Red Ollero, Pinky Amador, and Cherry Pie Picache, among others.
"Walang talent fee, walang nag-udyok (no talent fee, no prompt)," actress Agot Isidro said of Robredo's celebrity endorsers.
— With reports from Adrian Ayalin, Jamaine Punzalan, Jervis Manahan, and Wena Cos, ABS-CBN News; Reuters