MANILA, Philippines — There were balloons, campaign T-shirts, rhythmic chanting, posters galore, hand signs, party colors — the festive features of Philippine elections — plus promises to lift the country out of the misery caused by the pandemic and its crippling effects on the national economy.

And so, the candidates seeking the highest office in the land, and their running mates, launched their official three-month campaigns on Tuesday following adhoc vote-getting since even before they filed their certificates of candidacy in October last year.

At the cavernous Philippine Arena in Bulacan, the martial law-era anthem “Bagong Pagsilang” was sung by a band onstage at the proclamation rally of presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and his vice presidential candidate, first daughter Sara Duterte.

After the singing, an ebullient Toni Gonzaga, the program host and avowed Marcos supporter, said the elections were over, but she didn’t quite say who was the winner—the late dictator or his son.

“How’s this now, Philippine arena? It’s over, there’s already a winner, the fight is finished,” she said. “The love for Apo Lakay Ferdinand Marcos is very much alive.”

The father of Marcos Jr., an Ilocano, was fondly called Apo Lakay by his loyal followers when he led the country for 20 years before he was ousted in the 1986 Edsa Revolution.

Photo for story: Fight for Palace seat starts on festive noteLeody de Guzman —GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE

Leody on the march

In Quezon City, labor leader Leodegario “Ka Leody” de Guzman, the standard bearer of the Partido Lakas ng Masa, led a march to Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City where he and his candidates held their rally to get votes for “workers this time.”

By midafternoon about 1,100 people had gathered at Bantayog’s small park. Many others watched from outside the compound because of pandemic restrictions on the number of people allowed to gather in an outdoor setup.

In his speech, De Guzman, 62, said that being a worker placed him, more than other candidates, in the best position to stop the abuses of the privileged class whom he blamed for the sufferings of the ordinary Filipino.

He said despite the country’s rich land and industrious workers, poverty and inequality prevailed in the Philippines because it had been run by “governments of billionaires, landlords, capitalists and exploiters.”

He said despite the country’s rich land and industrious workers, poverty and inequality prevailed in the Philippines because it has been run by “governments of billionaires, landlords, capitalists and exploiters.”

De Guzman said his administration would be one that would “prioritize people instead of profits.”

He said that if urgent socioeconomic and political reforms were not adopted, the crises hounding the Philippines would turn the “Pearl of the Orient” into a “desert of destitution.”

With De Guzman was his running mate Walden Bello and their senatorial candidates, Roy Cabonegro, David D’Angelo and Luke Espiritu, and PLM party list nominees Jhuly Panday, Manny Toribio, Tita Flor Santos, Lidy Nacpil and Balwin Sykimte.

Photo for story: Fight for Palace seat starts on festive noteIsko Moreno Domagoso —MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

Tondo boy Isko sets off

In Manila, Aksyon Demokratiko presidential candidate Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso, started the day with a mass accompanied by his wife at Archdiocesan Shrine of the Sto. Niño de Tondo in Manila’s Tondo district, where he spent his youth scavenging at the infamous Smokey Mountain before he became an actor.

A convoy kicked off his campaign, with the streets of the national capital packed with festive crowds waiting for him to pass by, many of them unmasked, seemingly unmindful of the pandemic, while loudly chanting “Yorme! Yorme! Yorme!”

“All the ordinary people have come out,” an elated Domagoso said aboard his campaign truck that was also carrying his running mate, Dr. Willie Ong, and his party’s three senatorial candidates— Carl Balita, Samira Gutoc and Jopet Sison.

The candidates were all properly wearing masks when the so-called Blue Wave Caravan began at past 9 a.m., but by noon, Domagoso and the other candidates had taken them off and let them hang like a necklace.

In his proclamation rally speech at the Kartilya ng Katipunan or Heroes Park close to the Manila City Hall, Domagoso centered his message on the nation not being any better off after decades of political rule by the Marcoses and the Aquinos, without saying anything about President Duterte’s administration, whose endorsement he was trying to secure.

“We already gave them the chance. My question to you, my countrymen, after 39 years, how are you all doing?” he said.

“This is a difficult battle… But I believe there’s God. It’s possible. Can we do it? Is it possible? Of course,” he said.

“So, to all of you, this is the first day of our journey, join me, I need you, I need your help. I will not win without you at my back,” he said.

Photo for story: Fight for Palace seat starts on festive notePanfilo Lacson —NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

Ping’s ‘disciplined’ rally

About 40 kilometers away in his hometown of Imus City, Cavite, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, the presidential candidate of Partido Reporma, said they would exercise a “very disciplined campaign” by strictly following health protocols.

“We do not want to become part of the problem,” he said in a press briefing before the proclamation rally at the Imus Grandstand.

Instead of holding motorcades to avoid gathering crowds, Lacson said they would hold meetings with ordinary people to “engage them in conversations to discuss the common problems.”

According to his running mate, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, they plan to hold “mini-proclamation rallies” in Quezon City, Cebu City, and in Nueva Ecija and Davao del Norte provinces.

Sotto played down the team’s rankings in the recent surveys, saying Filipinos usually changed their positions in the week before election day.
In the December 2021 poll by Pulse Asia, he was at No. 2 spot behind Duterte and Lacson placed fifth in the presidential race.

In his speech, Lacson appealed to Filipinos to think of the “ future of our children, the next generations.”

The 73-year-old former national police chief repeated his earlier reminder to voters of the two kinds of thieves in the country: the street thief and the thief in government.

“There is a big difference between the two. The street thief chooses who to rob, while the government thief does not discriminate, but what is taken away from us is the right to good education, health services, livelihood, infrastructure,” he said.

The biggest problem of the country is the government, he said.

“The solution lies in the face of the problem itself, which is good government,” he said.

Photo for story: Fight for Palace seat starts on festive noteFerdinand Marcos Jr. —LYN RILLON

Marcos rocks arena

Marcos Jr., standard-bearer of Partido Federal ng Pilipinas, and the President’s daughter, who both lead in the surveys, promised unity and a “better tomorrow” for the country hobbled by the pandemic.

Duterte vouched for her running mate, who is facing disqualification cases, saying she believed in his competence and experience.

Such experience, Duterte said, was needed to “not only sustain the growth and development spurred by the current administration, but also bring us to a more prosperous future.”

“We must protect President Bongbong Marcos,” she added.

The President and the former first lady Imelda Marcos did not show up at the Philippine Arena, but former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a stalwart of the once ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats to which Duterte, the Davao City mayor, belongs, was there.

Addressing a crowd of about 25,000 wearing red and green inside the largest indoor venue in the country, Marcos Jr. devoted an almost 20-minute speech calling for unity.

“When I first expressed my desire to run for president of the Republic of the Philippines, I said I am running because my goal, my dream for our country is to unite the Filipinos,” the 64-year-old former senator said.

“Unity has been my advocacy because I believe that unity is the first step to survive this crisis, this pandemic, and this economic crisis brought about by the pandemic,” he added.

During the rally, senators Sherwin Gatchalian and Juan Miguel Zubiri, former Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, former Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar, former Palace spokesperson Harry Roque, former Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, Rep. Rodante Marcoleta, former Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista, and lawyer Larry Gadon joined the tandem onstage.

Only Rep. Loren Legarda and former Sen. and information and communications technology secretary Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan II were absent.

According to Honasan’s wife Jane, the former senator was with pastors of the Victory Christian Fellowship.

Legarda gave a recorded message.

Photo for story: Fight for Palace seat starts on festive noteManny Pacquiao —JEOFFREY MAITEM

Pacman jabs from GenSan

Unlike other teams, Sen. Manny Pacquiao hit the campaign trail alone in his hometown of General Santos City as his running mate, Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza sprained his ankle.

Pacquiao, 43, launched his campaign with a motorcade to the Oval Stadium in General Santos City, during which he and his wife, Jinkee, threw light blue shirts to supporters waiting on the roadsides.

It was an adjustment that he had to make given pandemic restrictions for the presidential campaign, which prohibits all forms of physical contact between candidates and supporters.

The retired world boxing champion was the only presidential candidate to launch his campaign and proclamation rally outside of Luzon.

Addressing about 25,000 people who turned up at the Oval Stadium, Pacquiao likened his quest for the highest post in the land to winning a boxing championship—a throwback to his days as a world-famous prize fighter.

Echoes of Presidents Benigno Aquino III and Ramon Magsaysay reverberated at the rally as he vowed to weed out corruption in government and champion the cause of the poor if elected into the country’s highest office on May 9.

Aquino popularized the slogan “kung walang korap, walang mahirap” (if there is no corruption, there is no poverty) in his 2010 campaign while President Magsaysay was known for his line “those who have less in life should have more in law.”

Pacquiao, who talked about his family’s poor beginnings, said corruption confined so many Filipinos to poverty.

By ending corruption, he said, government would have enough resources to respond to the needs of the poor like providing housing assistance to homeless families.

“Remember this: If I am president of the Philippines, every government official, whether elected or appointed, small (fish) or big (fish), even if they are powerful, I will show you how I will hale them to jail,” Pacquiao said in Bisaya.

“Every Filipino is a winner in this fight,” he added.

Photo for story: Fight for Palace seat starts on festive noteLeni Robredo —MARK ALVIC ESPLANA

Naga rises for Leni

Like a warrior leading her troops to a battle, Vice President Leni Robredo rallied her supporters and Camarines Sur province mates at her rally in Naga, her hometown where she had promised to officially launch her campaign in the city where her late husband Jesse Robredo served as its well-loved mayor for 19 years.

“Let’s go. Let us win this,” Robredo said to a rousing applause from the crowd that filled Plaza Quezon.

“We only have 90 days to work hard. This is the fight of our lives,” she said in a mix of Bicolano and English.

The Vice President, who also served briefly as a representative of Camarines Sur, asked them to extend the same support for her running mate, Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, and the 12 members of their senatorial slate.

Robredo, 56, said she had seen how “the old and rotten system of politics can be defeated by a principled, competent, responsible and propeople style of governance.”

“Here, the people trusted a leader who was one with them, who empathized with them and who lived a simple life like them,” she said.

Robredo reiterated that the country needed an honest government and principled public officials in addressing the issues of corruption and poverty that had stunted economic development even before the pandemic.

Under her administration, she said the government would be ready to listen and work with the people, particularly those in the “laylayan,” or the basic sectors of society.

“We will have a government that will safeguard public funds and use this to improve people’s lives, a government that is always ready to help,” she said.

“We will make the government wear ‘slippers’ and tread the farm dikes to be with you,” the Vice President said.

Around 15,000 supporters chanted “gobyernong tapat, angat buhay lahat” (an honest government will lift the lives of everyone).