MANILA (UPDATE) - Aksyon Demokratiko standard bearer Isko Moreno Domagoso on Sunday challenged Vice President Leni Robredo to withdraw from the presidential race in May, instead of egging other contenders to do the same.
"I am calling for Leni to withdraw, kasi whatever you're doing is not effective against the Marcos. Withhdraw. Come and join us," Domagoso said in a press conference where fellow presidential candidates Sen. Panfilo Lacson and former Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales were also present.
The Manila City mayor alleged that Robredo's camp has been asking other candidates to step aside and support her fight against survey frontrunner former Sen. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., even as it is the Vice President who is supposedly fueling the late dictator's son's possible victory.
Marcos got the support of 56 percent of Pulse Asia's March presidential survey respondents, followed by Robredo, who is backed by 24 percent. Domagoso ranks 3rd with 8 percent; Sen. Manny Pacquiao, 6 percent; and Lacson, 2 percent.
Domagoso, however, is the top second-presidential choice.
"Ang isang tinitingnan namin, baka siya lang yung busal sa tubo," the Manila City mayor said of Robredo during Sunday's press conference.
(One of the things we are looking at is that she seems to be blocking the pipe.)
Gonzales, who has zero percent support from those surveyed by Pulse Asia last month, said the latest results may suggest that the people are not in favor the 2nd-ranked contender to battle it out with the first placer.
"Palagay ko, mas mabuti, kung ako masususunod dito, (kung) tatanungin n'yo ako, siguro dapat isantabi natin yung No. 2, at tingnan natin yung 3, 4, 5, 6, baka naandoon ang pwedeng lumaban sa No. 1 na hinahanap ng taumbayan natin," Gonzales said.
Domagoso alleged that voters are backing Marcos' presidential bid only to ensure that Robredo and her Liberal Party would not return to power after the 2022 national elections.
"Baka hindi sa gusto nila si former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Kaya lang nila gusto kasi they hate so much 'yung mga dilawan," he said.
(Maybe they do not really like former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr.. But they just pick him because they just hate the Yellow party so much.)
Domagoso cited the loss of opposition slate "Otso Diretso" in the 2019 midterm elections where none of the candidates bagged a Senate seat despite an endorsement from Robredo.
"Ang Otso, inidoro... baka sa sobrang galit lang sa dilaw o sa yellow-pink kaya sila napupunta kay former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr.," he said.
(The Otso Diretso was flushed down the toilet... Perhaps people are flocking towards former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. because of so much anger against the yellow-pink.)
Domagoso also slammed Robredo's camp and supporters for supposedly urging him to make the "supreme sacrifice" and pull out of the race.
"If they are calling for supreme sacrifice, now we are calling: Be a hero. Withdraw, Leni," he said.
Lacson backed Domagoso's claim, saying he also found it hard to believe that more than half of Filipino voters are solid supporters of Marcos.
Several issues rooted in the dictatorship of the late President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. remain unresolved decades since the family was ousted from Malacañang, he said.
"Nandiyan pa din 'yung sakit ng martial law that we hear from our people, especially 'yung mga hindi pa nako-compensate," he said.
(We still here from our people the pains of martial law, especially those who have yet to receive their compensation.)
Gonzales said he is also not in favor of having a Marcos back in Malacañang, noting that political bickering in the country would not end if either Marcos or any member of the Liberal Party would ascend to the presidency.
"Kahit na magtulong-tulong kami na banatan yung number 1, kung may nakaharang na number 2, yun ang makikinabang," he said.
(Even if we join forces in criticizing the number 1, only the number 2 will benefit if she remains there.)
Domagoso and Lacson accused Robredo of "lying to their faces" in 2021, when the Vice President told them that she would not vie for the presidency.
Robredo's camp has also been actively poaching supporters of other presidential aspirants, the three presidential aspirants said at their press conference.
Despite these accusations, Domagoso and Lacson denied that they were "angry" at the Vice President.
"This is not an anti-Leni press conference," Lacson said.
"Doon ninyo kasi dinadala yung mga tanong, parang may kargada na," he told reporters.
Domagoso backed the senator, and indirectly addressed Robredo's camp.
"Hindi ito para sa inyo mga kandidato sa kabilang parte ng ilog. It is about the people," he said.
"Hindi ito press con about them. This is about you (voters) para lumiwanag lang na may ibang kandidato at hindi teleserye ang buhay natin."
The three started their press conference with a declaration that they are not backing out of the May 9 elections.
ROBREDO CAMP'S REACTION
Robredo's spokesperson, Barry Gutierrez, said they "wish every candidate who decides to push through to the end, only the best."
"From the start, it has been the prerogative of every candidate to continue till the end, the same as it is the choice of a candidate to disregard surveys, rally attendance, endorsements, or any other conventional measure of support," he said.
"But in making these choices, should we not ask ourselves: Must this assertion be made through bluster and falsehood? Who benefits from such theatrics? What is best for the Filipino people?" he added.
Responding to the press conference of Robredo's three rivals, Gutierrez said, "Perhaps, silence would have had more depth; at the very least, it would exhibit less self-entitlement, fragility, and toxicity."
Nonetheless, the camp of the Vice President is "thankful that the alignments have been made even clearer."
"With three weeks to go before election day, we are at a time of great momentum for our People’s Campaign, and increasing clarity as regards which candidates can count on the people's support when they enter voting booths on May 9," said Gutierrez.
"And we remain focused on showing our people that a Robredo presidency will mean a victory for all Filipinos," he added.
"CALL BASED ON FLAWED ASSUMPTIONS"
In a statement, Agusan del Norte 1st District Rep. Lawrence Fortun said the call for Robredo's withdrawal is both "based on flawed assumptions" and "outright lacking in logic."
"She is the strongest opposition candidate whose numbers have continued to rise while those of others continue to dwindle," he said.
Fortun said only Robredo sparked "genuine rising grassroots and community support."
"VP Leni’s campaign is truly volunteerism-driven. People get out of their way, spend their own money, utilize their own resources, and make events happen," he said.
"Even without support from politicians, the people have sustained campaign activities and mustered rally crowds never ever seen in Philippine electoral campaigns," he added.
Robredo's running-mate, Sen. Francis Pangilinan, said they would not be distracted by accustations from competitors.
"Hindi tayo malilihis dahil sa paninira ng ilan sa ating mga katunggali. Nakatutok tayo sa pangangailangan ng taumbayan," he said in a statement.
Pangilinan said other candidates should "open their eyes" to see that Robredo's campaign is volunteer-driven.
"Kung bubuksan lamang nila ang kanilang mga mata at pagmasdan nila nang husto ang mga pangyayari, makikita nila na ang lakas ng kampanya namin ni VP Leni ay nanggagaling sa puspusang pagkilos ng taumbayan at hindi sa mga maneobra ng mga pulitiko," he said.
- with report from Jaehwa Bernardo, ABS-CBN News