Award-winning director Pepe Diokno gives dad Chel‘s campaign a makeover

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 20 2019 03:53 AM | Updated as of Apr 25 2019 05:12 PM

Award-winning director Pepe Diokno gives dad Chel‘s campaign a makeover 1
Pepe Diokno (right), a multi-awarded film and commercial director, is the man behind his father Chel Diokno's campaign messaging and advertisements. Seated next to him are his brothers (l-r) Abe and Ian. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

TAAL, Batangas - Multi-awarded director Pepe Diokno has been lauded for his films and viral commercials, but his latest project may be the 31-year-old creative’s most important work yet: the senatorial campaign of his 57-year-old dad, Chel or Jose Manuel. 

The older Diokno, a human rights lawyer for 3 decades and founding dean of the De La Salle University (DLSU) College of Law, tapped his son to design his campaign messaging and advertisements, with hopes that Pepe’s directorial skills will help him win a Senate seat.


Atty. Diokno, a campaign neophyte, continues to suffer from low voter awareness and is far behind in pre-election surveys. In the January 26-31, 2019 Pulse Asia survey, only 23% of respondents were aware of him. If elections were held last month, he would have placed 24th to 31st. 

This is where Pepe comes in.

Award-winning director Pepe Diokno gives dad Chel‘s campaign a makeover 2
Senatorial candidate Chel Diokno speaks at his proclamation rally in Taal, Batangas on February 19, 2019. The predominantly green color of the campaign is part of Pepe Diokno's design. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

One of the creative tacks Pepe took was to choose teal or mint green as the team’s official campaign color, Atty. Diokno told ABS-CBN News

“Sabi ng anak ko, it’s a shade of green that’s new and fresh which is exactly what we need sa Senado,” he said.

A more difficult problem is how to get his father's campaign message across to voters. Although Chel's message--equal justice for all Filipinos--is clear, the hard part is delivering the message, the veteran lawyer said. 

“It's very exciting, but at the same time, there is a lot of anxiety also because hindi naman ako sanay humarap sa entablado, so mixed talaga siya,” Diokno said.

“When I talk in lectures and classrooms, siyempre mas ano yun, we're talking about abstract concepts in law,” he said.

“‘Pag nasa entablado ka, you have to make sure you are speaking in concrete terms. It also involves a lot of emotional aspects that you will not find in an academic setting,” Diokno said.

“May kaba because of the newness of it,” he said.


To address this problem, the younger Diokno -- christened after his grandfather, former senator and human rights lawyer Jose 'Pepe' W. Diokno -- tapped his skills as a visual storyteller.

Pepe brought home several international awards for his 2009 debut film “Engkuwentro.” After bagging prizes from the Gawad Urian, Jeonju International Film Festival and Venice Film Festival, Pepe helped establish Epicmedia, the production house behind some critically acclaimed films. 

Pepe also directed the cable teleserye, "Single/Single," starring Shaina Magdayao and Matteo Guidicelli, shown on Cinema One. 

“I think this whole campaign is about storytelling so in the coming weeks, we will be telling a lot of stories not just of him, but also how justice is in our country and how we can make it better,” the younger Diokno told ABS-CBN News in a separate interview.

Turning the usually reserved and laid-back Dean Diokno into the feisty debater-candidate he is now was “a family effort,” Pepe said.

“Merong pa-workshop, fitting, lahat,” he said, laughing.

“Nag-pitch in kami lahat in terms of crafting the different lines he uses,” he said, referring to his 5 younger siblings and their mom, Divina.

“After debates, after sorties, we talk about it over dinner, discuss what we could improve,” he said.

The ex-law dean has also been making progress in front of the cameras, Pepe said.

“I directed my dad in 2 commercials already. Nung una, very ano pa siya [stiff], hindi pa siya nagwawarm up in front of the camera,” he said.

“Noong pangalawa, nung nagshu-shoot kami, okay na siya. Nakakapag-one take na siya, nafi-feel ko na yung mga sinasabi niya,” he said.


The Diokno family’s efforts seem to have paid off as the former dean consistently trended online during recent televised senatorial debates.

Diokno was among the most discussed topics on Twitter after he directly told Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos in a GMA-7 debate that term limits should not be lifted to avoid having another abusive dictator, data from Twitter Philippines showed.

Chel's father was arrested without a warrant and was jailed for 2 years without charges shortly after Imee’s father, former President Ferdinand Marcos, declared martial law in 1972.

Dean Diokno set social media buzzing again last Sunday after he gave “witty” answers during the “Fast Talk” segment of “Harapan 2019: The ABS-CBN Senatorial Town Hall Debate.”

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“It's quite a ride. It was quite an experience. I never thought I would have this experience in my life,” Diokno said in an earlier interview.

“Siguro kailangan magaling pa ako magsalita sa Tagalog kasi I'm used to speaking in English as a lawyer and lecturer,” he said.

“I'm more of a perfectionist, I wanna make sure I get it right,” he said.


Diokno’s stronghold lies in the quiet municipality of Taal in Batangas where his great grandfather was a known revolutionary general.

He mounted a humble proclamation rally in a covered court behind the Taal Basilica attended by less than 200 hundred supporters, mostly from marginalized groups he helped defend in courts.

The event was hosted by “Ang Probinsyano” actor Jaime Fabrigas, who said it was the first time he was endorsing a candidate.

“Maaaring kilala niyo ako bilang General Borja o Lolo Delfin pero humaharap po ako ngayon hindi bilang isang aktor kundi isang Pilipino tulad ninyo,” Fabregas said.

“Kailangan po natin sa Senado ng walang takot na harapin ang katotohanan at walang takot na kakalabanin ang mali,” he said.

Pepe stayed mum if he would tap other artists and celebrities to join his father’s sorties, but the family hopes their patriarch’s achievements would be enough to encourage voters to shade his name come May 13. 

“For 30 years, he has been a human rights lawyer pero parang hindi enough yung paisa-isang laban,” Pepe said.

“He needs to change the system to affect more people. That, for us, appeals more than anything else,” he said.