MANILA — One Saturday night in Cebu City, Pia Cayetano was out on the street and in the company of over 300 women who were about to embark on a 50-kilometer ultra marathon.
It was two hours before midnight, and the runners, all women, were set to test their endurance as they attempted to run through the long route around the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, and Lapu-Lapu, with the goal of hitting the home run before the Sunday sunrise.
But Cayetano — the statuesque legislator whose athleticism makes the news as much as her proposed laws — was in her element.
"As the night got darker, the karaoke singers sang louder, we, mothers, sisters, women ran into the night, while the world around us slept... It reminds me of what I'm made of, what I'm capable of," Cayetano wrote in one of her Instagram posts, recalling that night in Cebu.
She finished the marathon before 6 a.m. the next day, and even had enough strength to do her trademark headstand pose at the finish line.
"I met so many women during that time. Chatted with them about life. Asked them why they ran. And in truth, many of us ran for the same reason: because we can," she said in one of her video blogs uploaded on YouTube.
Ruminating on the run, Cayetano conceded that her marathon finish was nothing but a personal victory.
"Finishing the race won't change our lives... but it changes one's perspectives," Cayetano told her 61,000 Instagram followers.
But in a different kind of race that Cayetano is running, the lives of 104 million Filipinos are at stake.
A POLITICAL STAR
Born to the late Senator Rene "Compañero" Cayetano and former teacher Sandra Schramm, Pilar Juliana Cayetano, popularly known as Pia, is a female lawmaker who pegged herself as the champion of health, sports, and women's empowerment.
She was instrumental in crafting or passing landmark pro-women and pro-athlete laws such as the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, the 105-Day Expanded Maternity Leave Act, and the Student-Athlete Protection Act.
During her days at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, she was the team captain of the school's volleyball team that delivered a UAAP championship trophy for the State-U.
At 17, she became the youngest member of the national women’s volleyball team.
"I'm so grateful I was raised by parents who believed in sports. When I was a kid, I used to bike and skateboard around my neighborhood... I can’t imagine a life without sports," she wrote in one of her blog posts.
Cayetano finished her bachelor’s degree in economics in UP Diliman, where she also earned her law degree as the 7th in her class, according to her curriculum vitae uploaded in her Senate profile.
Between 1992 until the early years of 2000, Cayetano dabbled into private practice as a laywer, specializing in corporate and intellectual property laws.
But when the Cayetano patriarch passed away in 2004, she stepped into the political spotlight, banking on the legacy of her father.
So, in 2004, 38-year-old Cayetano, a virtually unknown lawyer, became the youngest woman elected in the history of the Senate.
Her political debut was considered even more impressive as she landed in the 6th spot of that senatorial poll.
But by 2016, Cayetano had served the maximum 2 consecutive terms in the Senate as mandated by law.
THE 'PIA IN ACTION' NARRATIVE
Now 53 years old and a single mother of three, Cayetano is the incumbent representative of Taguig City-Pateros' 2nd district and is deputy speaker at the House of Representatives.
Throughout her 15-year political career, Cayetano has remained faithful to her biographical drama: she is, first and foremost, a mother and sportswoman, who happens to know a thing or two about lawmaking.
"I had to do mother duties… Being a senatorial candidate, being a senator for that matter, doesn’t change your obligations in life," she said in one of her vlogs.
When she filed her certificate of candidacy for a fresh Senate term, Cayetano showed off her athletic prowess by riding a bicycle from the Rizal Monument to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) main office in Intramuros, Manila. She said this symbolized her advocacy for "sustainable transportation."
The political clout of the Cayetanos is as robust as ever, with her brothers and sister-in-law all running for different positions locally.
Her brother, former senator and top diplomat Alan Peter Cayetano, and his wife Laarni are running as representatives of Taguig's two districts, while her other sibling Lino Cayetano is seeking the city's mayoral post.
When asked about allegations they were laying the foundation for a dynasty, she told ABS-CBN News:
"We are grounded on the same set of values thanks to our parents but the work that we do, the advocacies that we choose, the legislation that we end up spearheading and are passionate about are very different... In that sense, walang connection ang pagka-Cayetano namin (Our being Cayetanos have no connection), but we are proud of our heritage of course."
Despite being a Nacionalista Party candidate, Cayetano also enjoys the backing of President Rodrigo Duterte's PDP-Laban as well as Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio's regional party Hugpong ng Pagbabago.
"Pia has legislated so many good things for the Filipino. Ito 'yung sinabi kong ibalik niyo. Talagang makita mo na may ginawa para sa bayan. 'Yun ang i-idol ninyo, 'yun ang iboto ninyo... Hindi tayo malugi," the President told the crowd during a speech in Biñan City, Laguna last Feb. 23.
(This is who you should bring back [to the Senate]. You will really see that she did something for the country. She's your idol, vote for her... We will not be on the losing end.)
Seen on the video of that speech was a blushing Cayetano who stood up from her seat on stage to acknowledge Duterte's endorsement.
As she enjoyed having Duterte's nod, Cayetano has drawn criticism for her alleged silence following instances that the sharp-tongued President made mysogynistic jokes about women.
The last time she spoke out against Duterte's jokes was in April 2016, before Duterte became president.
Such scant dissent to the powers-that-be has not made a dent on her enduring popularity.
If survey results are to be trusted, Cayetano's Senate victory is almost certain.
In the latest voter preference survey released by pollster Pulse Asia, Cayetano landed at the 4th spot with a voter preference of 43.9 percent
UP political science professor Aries Arugay said this is because a Duterte endorsement for "comebackers" is immaterial to voters.
"Most of those who are doing well in the surveys are basically returnees, meaning they already have their own brands, their brand names in the Senate, national political arena and it just so happens they are attached to President Duterte,” Arugay said.
"So, to say they are rating well, particularly the comebackers, just because of Duterte’s endorsement, I don’t buy that. It’s really more that these are the names the people are used to."
'YOU NEED TO BE CONVINCED'
In what can be viewed as an attempt to tap into millennial voters who make up more than half of all registered voters nationwide, Cayetano started posting vlogs on her YouTube channel two months ago as the campaign period kicked off.
There, she talks about the value of stretching, how to ace a job interview, the proper way of eating a balut, and other subjects away from politics but nevertheless of great interest to the youth.
In a tutorial video on how to stick to a workout routine, Cayetano said this:
"Like any other goal in life, you need to be convinced that you have to do this. Kailangan kumbinsido ka, passionate ka na gagawin mo 'to (You have to be convinced and passionate that you will do this)."