In Bataan village, Isko courts votes — and meets remorseful bully in their youth

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 12 2021 07:33 AM | Updated as of Nov 12 2021 08:34 AM

Aksyon Demokratiko standard bearer Isko Moreno Domagoso holds a dialogue with fisherfolk from Balanga and Pilar, Bataan on Nov. 10, 2021. Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News
Aksyon Demokratiko standard bearer Isko Moreno Domagoso holds a dialogue with fisherfolk from Balanga and Pilar, Bataan on Nov. 10, 2021. Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

PILAR, Bataan—The bayside town of Landing cheered on a hot Wednesday morning, as Aksyon Demokratiko standard bearer Isko Moreno Domagoso disembarked from an SUV, returning to the small village where he worked as a farmhand as a teen.

Among those who welcomed Domagoso, 47, to the land he once helped till, was Romeo Santos, who recalled poking fun at the Manila Mayor about 3 decades ago.

“Ako 'yung bumu-bully sa kaniya. Kapag nasa pool-an, palibhasa maraming babaeng nanonood sa kaniya, 'pag lalabas siya ng pool-an, babatukan ko siya,” Santos told ABS-CBN News in a chance interview. 

(I was the one who bullied him. Ladies would cheer for him when we played billiards, so I would hit him on the head when finishes the game.)

“Siyempre malaki ako sa kaniya, medyo maluluha-luha lang siya . . . Hindi naman siya lumalaban,” he said.

(I was bigger than him so he didn’t fight back . . . He just held back his tears.)

Landing is 1 of the 19 villages in Pilar, where townsfolk rely on agriculture and fishery to make a living. As a boy, Domagoso spent his vacations here gathering unhusked rice and collecting gravel to earn some cash.

After his work at the farm and at the gravel yard, Domagoso killed time playing with other youngsters in an empty field just outside their family’s shanty built under the shade of banana and coconut trees.

“Mapaglaro po siya (He was playful),” said Toto Caspe, one of Domagoso’s childhood friends in Landing.

“'Pag galing niya sa Tondo, palagi pong may dalang laruan 'yan… Mga kung ano-ano [galing] sa Smoky Mountain.”

(Whenever he returns here from Tondo, he always brings some toys . . . He brings trinkets from the Smoky Mountain.)

While Domagoso was friendly and caught the eye of women both young and old, the men teased him for being lanky and grimy then, Santos said.

“Talagang kung minsan lumalabas ‘yan may uling pa sa ilong. Gasera kasi ang ginagamit nila sa bahay na tinutuluyan nila,” he said.

(He came out to play with coal smeared on his nose, because they only had gas lamps at home.)

“Nalunod pa siya kasi tumalon diyan sa dagat . . . ‘Yung mga kasama niya, nakalutang na, siya hindi pa kaya sinagip siya.”

(He even almost drowned once because he jumped into the bay . . . His playmates had to save him.)

Domagoso last played with his boyhood buddies in Landing in the late 80s before he became a full-time matinee idol, after being discovered at a funeral in the slums in Metro Manila.

Thirty years, stardom and a successful mayoralty bid later for Domagoso, the village of Landing now looks to him to save their town from drowning in poverty.

“Sana mabigyan mo kami ng dike kasi lubog kami agad kapag high tide,” one of the elderly women from neighboring Balanga told Domagoso.

(I hope you can give us a dike because our area is always flooded during high tide.)

Even his former bully hopes that the Manila Mayor will create more employment in Landing should he win the presidency in 2022.

“Kung makakapagbigay siya ng trabaho dito, pagagandahin niya yung lugar namin,” Santos said.

(If he can generate jobs here, he would make this place better.)

“Puwede itong gawing tourist spot dahil dito siya lumaki,” he said.

(This village can become a tourist spot because he grew up here.)

SECURING BATAAN

Months before announcing his presidential bid, Domagoso sent help to Bataan, Gov. Albert Garcia said.

“Siya po ang tumulong sa atin mag set-up ng ating cold-chain facility kaya dumating agad ang supply ng bakuna dito sa Bataan,” Garcia said, referring to COVID-19 vaccines that had to be stored in low temperatures.

(He was the one who helped us set up our cold-chain facility that’s why vaccine supplies were delivered here immediately.)

“Noong panahon ng pandemiya na ang dami pong naghahanap ng gamot lalo na po yung binili nating Remdisivir at Tocilizumab… marami pong natulong si Yorme sa ating mga kababayan,” he said in a speech in the provincial capitol.

(The mayor helped us with a lot of things . . . At the height of the pandemic, he helped us procure in-demand medicine like Remdisivir and Tocilizumab.)

While Garcia joined Domagoso and his slate in his dialogue with fisherfolk in Balanga, the governor stopped short of formally endorsing the presidential candidacy of the Aksyon Demokratiko standard bearer.

“Welcome siya dito dahil parang kababayan na namin siya,” Garcia told ABS-CBN News.

(He is welcome here because this is somehow his province too.)

“Pero hindi pa napapag-usapan ng party kung sino [ang ie-endorse] kasi matagal pa naman ang official campaign period.”

(But our party has yet to discuss who to endorse since the official campaign period won’t happen anytime soon.)

Garcia is part of the National Unity Party (NUP), Domagoso’s party before he bolted to Aksyon Demokratiko where he is now president and standard bearer.

This is not the first time Domagoso failed to secure an endorsement from a governor despite being warmly received in a province.

In Cebu, Gov. Gwen Garcia said the Manila Mayor has been “saying the right things” but noted that the coalition of local leaders from the vote-rich Visayan province were still weighing its options.

The NUP is reportedly in talks with the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) and Partido para sa Demokratikong Reporma (Reporma) to create a partnership that would support the presidential candidacy of Sen. Panfilo Lacson and the vice presidential bid of Senate President Vicente Sotto III. Lacson chairs Reporma, while Sotto heads the NPC.

Garcia, on the other hand, is an ally of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio who is rumored to be running for president after she withdrew her certificate of candidacy for re-election earlier this week.

EVERY POOR MAN’S CHILD

The key to surviving politics without the support of the political elite is to side with the public, Domagoso has repeatedly said in several public addresses, citing his experience in Manila.

In his speech in Landing’s covered court, Domagoso described himself as a symbol of hope for every poor man’s child as he appealed for voters’ help in his quest to Malacañang.

“Ang bawat isa sa atin may Isko sa buhay,” he said.

(Each of us has an Isko in our lives.)

“Isko ay simbolo ng pagsubok pero pag hindi ka sumuko, magtatagumpay ka rin. Yan tayo, yan ang Pilipino,” he said.

(Isko is a symbol of overcoming hardships if you do not give up. That is who we are, who Filipinos are.)

The garbage picker who rose to the capital’s seat of power urged parents and grandparents to vote for him and have hope that their children and grandchildren, too, could be have a success story like his.

“Hindi biro ang laban ko. Puro bigatin toits, puro pinagpala ng Diyos nila… pero first time na tulad ng mga anak at apo ninyo ang lumalaban sa mga higanteng ito,” he said.

(This battle is no joke. I’m up against heavyweights who are blessed by their own gods . . . but for the first time, someone like your children and your grandchildren will stand up against these giants.)

“‘Pag nagtagumpay ako, tagumpay din ito ng mga anak at apo ninyo.”

(If I succeed, it will also be the success of your children and your grandchildren.)

Isko’s vow to the townsfolk: A simple and straightforward government.

“Sa loob ng 2 taon, 2 bagay ang bibigyan namin ng pansin: buhay at kabuhayan,” he said.

(In 2 years, we will focus on 2 things: life and livelihood.)

“Hindi ko kayo ipapahiya.”

(I will not let you down.)

While Domagoso did not promise to build a dike in Pilar, he vowed to construct a bridge that would connect Bataan to Cavite and Batangas worth at least P175.7 billion.

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) earlier said the Bataan-Cavite Interlink Bridge would cut travel time between the 2 provinces to 40 minutes from 5 hours.

"Kaya kahit gaano kamahal sa mata natin, sa kwentada natin, mura yan sa kapakinabangan ng tao," he said.

(That's why even if it is expensive in our view, in our computation it is cheap if the public can benefit from it.)

More than Domagoso’s current stature as standard bearer, Santos said they are more of the Manila Mayor for not forgetting his humble roots.

“Pagpunta pa lang niya dito proud na proud na kami,” said the 50-year-old man who once belittled Domagoso.

(We are already very proud just seeing him return here.)

“Magmula noong naging tao ako, wala namang tumungtong dito kahit senador . . . Hindi siya nakalimot dito kasi binalikan niya,” he said.

(Since I was born, no candidate - not even a senator - came here… He did not forget us because he came back.)

As they were walking along Landing’s bunds, Santos said he apologized to Domagoso for being a bully.

“Alam ko nasaktan ko siya noong araw. Dinamdam niya din ’yun. Sabi naman niya, ‘Kalimutan mo na ’yun wala na ’yun. Dala lang ng kabataan natin ’yun,” Santos said.

(I know I hurt him in the past. He felt bad about that too. But he said, ‘Let’s forget about it. It happened because we were just kids.)

“Kaya proud ako sa kaniya. Siguro sa dinaanan niyang iyan, lalo niyang pinagbuti . . . Narating niya yan dahil siguro sa hirap na dinaanan niya rin,” he said.

(That’s why I’m proud of him. Maybe he persevered because of all those challenges . . . He is where he is now because of the hardships he went through.)

“Marami siyang memory na siguro nagpalakas sa kaniya para maging isang pinuno.”

(He has a lot of memories that made him stronger so that he can be a good leader.)