NAGA CITY, Camarines Sur - The Naga Metropolitan Cathedral was near full an hour before the "Misa ng Pagkakaisa at Pasasalamat” began, scheduled at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
Vice President Leni Robredo was to give thanks and address her supporters in her hometown during the Mass.
It was humid inside the cathedral, and the entry of more warm bodies made it even hotter. Supporters kept arriving just as Archbishop Rolando Tirona began his homily.
By the end of the mass, a crowd also nearly filled the grounds in front of the Naga Cathedral.
"Forever Leni, Leni forever," Tirona opened, echoed by the large congregation.
The solemnity during the mass was broken only when Robredo took to the front, with the crowd cheering and shouting her name.
The vice president greeted her fellow Bicolanos in their native tongue, smiling warmly, and sporting the calm facade she had throughout her campaign.
Silence fell again as all prepared to hear her speak.
“Sa tagal ng pinagsamahan nating lahat, marami na tayong laban na pinagdaanan. Sa tingin ko, ‘yung pagkawala ng asawa ko noong 2012, wala nang mas hihigit pa doon – pero nalampasan natin ‘yun,” Robredo said.
Robredo’s late husband, former interior secretary Jesse Robredo, served as Naga City’s mayor. Instead of being buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani as suggested by then-president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, Jesse was laid to rest in Naga based on Leni's decision.
For the vice president’s family, no upheaval was greater that Jesse’s loss. “Totoong mahirap maunawaan. But I don’t think it compares to the heartbreak we felt when we lost our dad,” second-daughter Tricia wrote in an Instagram post.
Robredo knew and acknowledged the despair her impending loss in the presidential race, brings to her fellow Bicolanos. Partial unofficial tally of votes show former Sen. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. as the frontrunner.
"Disappointed kami, disgusted, at hindi namin matanggap na ganun ang result,” 66-year old Ching said. She, her son Junji and his wife Rafa held each other among the crowd outside of the Naga Cathedral as an a cappella chorus of “Rosas” broke out after the mass.
"Nakakadismaya po talaga ang nangyari. Nakakapanghina po talaga. Gusto ko lang talaga ng good governance,” 19-year old Trisan Lance Peña said, voice breaking.
He came with his friends Jasmine Baguio and Ayessa Bulaong to the Mass, carrying with them print-outs that read their doubts about the results.
Peña’s read, “Never again to another Marcos.”
“Pwede nating gamitin ‘yung ating dalamhati, ‘yung ating dismaya, ‘yung ating desperation – pwede nating gamitin ito para simulang magtalaga ng mga mas mabubuting pagbabago dito sa atin,” Robredo said in her speech.
Tirona echoed this, "'Yung kabiguan, naging pagkakataon para madiskubre natin ang napakaganda at napakayamang bunga ng ating pagsakripisyo at pagkakaisa.”
The despair that apparently lingered initially was dissolved as the crowd outside the cathedral began singing together after the mass.
Robredo remained consistent in her message to honor the democratic process of the elections. As in her statement in the early morning after the polls, she asked Bicolanos to accept who the final count declares as the country’s new president.
"Tanggapin natin, dahil ito ‘yung panggagalingan ng mas malaking lakas na pwede nating pagsaluhan,” she said.
This was the strength that brought Baguio out with her friends, despite the academic workload they carry adding burden to the grief of the poll results so far.
"We wanted to speak out about the Comelec anomalies. Parang nagiging echo chamber ang social media. So we went out to the streets to say what we really want to say,” Baguio said showing her print-out.
But the friends do not deny that their fight will be long and arduous.
"Hopeless na po talaga kahapon, kumukuha na lang ako ng lakas sa family and friends ko na sumusuporta kay VP Leni and Sen. Kiko [Pangilinan] at sa Tropang Angat,” Peña said.
"Ngayon, with the people around me, I feel hopeful na we are on the right side of history,” Baguio added, as the crowd around them began shouting “Comelec duwag,” and “Comelec bayad."
The Comelec has dismissed speculations of fraud in the country's May 9 polls.
Tirona’s words emboldened the congregation further, echoing Robredo’s line that the real fight has just begun. “Mas pinapatalim pa tayo, mas binibigyan tayong lakas. Sabi nga, 'di pa tapos ang laban," he said.
"We have the strength in us and the willpower to be able to fight through this,” said Bulaong.
As more and more voices add to the din calling for Robredo’s promised clean and better governance, her fellow Bicolanos said they can at least face the next days with pride, knowing their own Ma. Leonor Gerona Robredo led that advocacy.
"Proud kami na dito nag-umpisa sa Naga, ang example ng isang tunay na leader na matalino, mahusay, at maypagmamahal sa lahat,” Ching said.