Photographs by Chris Quintana
BIÑAN CITY — They came in droves. Thousands of Lagunenses aboard buses and jeepneys trooped to the Alonte Sports Arena in this city on Saturday for the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) campaign rally. The party’s five senatorial candidates, together with several guest candidates, presented themselves to the people of Laguna, one of the vote-rich provinces in the country, to persuade the populace to vote for them. But most of the people didn’t come to see the so-called “senatoriables.” They came for one person and one person only — the campaign rally’s guest of honor, President Rodrigo Duterte.
Lagunenses, who wore colors that represented their group or sector, poured out of the vehicles and gathered around the arena, which has a seating capacity of 6,500 people. Hanging from the arena’s facades were huge tarpaulins with images of the senatorial candidates in dignified postures and friendly smiles.
It was almost lunchtime and there was not a cloud in the sky. As noon approached, more and more people arrived and congregated near the arena’s entrances. Most of the attendees were women who were local government employees or members of people’s organizations. Despite the intensifying heat, the crowd was in high spirits — they were going to see the president in person. “Kaya ako nandito, gusto kong ma-monitor lahat ng mga tumatakbo sa ating bansa, tatakbo ng senador, at higit sa lahat [ang] ating mahal na Pangulong Duterte,” said Ma. Lanie Baldomero, 48, a tanod of Barangay San Juan in this city.
PDP-Laban, Duterte hold campaign rally in Biñan City
Baldomero and her companions didn’t know what time the president was arriving. Nevertheless, they were thrilled that Duterte was setting foot in this neck of the woods. “Hindi lang excitement ang nararamdaman nila,” said Baldomero of her companions. “Pagod na sila. Gutom na. Uhaw pa. At nasira ang kanilang mga make-up,” she joked. “Tinitiis namin ‘yan dahil sa pagmamahal namin sa Pangulong Duterte. Sa amin, kahit anong oras sya dumating, basta kami ay nag-aantay para sa kanya.”
Security was tight at the entrances. Nobody could bring in pens, combs, toothbrushes, lipsticks, and liquids of any kind. The arena quickly filled up and once all the seats were taken, the rest of the crowd had no choice but to watch the goings-on from the LCD display outside.
Inside, the crowd was greeted by bright lights and the deafening political jingles, dance music, and the enthusiastic voice of the host booming from the speakers. It might as well have been the set of a game or variety show, with the fervent crowd looking forward to freebies and a chance to take selfies with the “senatoriables” who have become celebrities in the people’s eyes. Entertainment was the order of the day, as with most campaign rallies nowadays.
PDP-Laban’s five senatorial candidates — former Philippine National Police chief Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, former special assistant to the president Bong Go, Maguindanao congressman Zajid “Dong” Mangudadatu, Senate president and reelectionist Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, and former presidential adviser on political affairs Francis Tolentino — took turns courting the southern crowd by serenading them and cracking jokes.
Guest candidates — singer Freddie Aguilar, former Department of the Interior and Local Government secretary Rafael “Raffy” Alunan III, Taguig City representative Pia Cayetano, Ilocos Norte governor Imee Marcos, reelectionist senators Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito, and Cynthia Villar — also had their time on stage, enumerating their qualifications, achievements, past projects, and platforms, and relating how they or their families are connected to Laguna. Biñan representative Marlyn “Len” Alonte, Laguna governor Ramil Hernandez, some board members, and most of the mayors and vice mayors were also present.
In between speeches, giveaways like T-shirts bearing senatorial candidate names were tossed toward the eager crowd whose hands readily went up in the air. Many documented the event on their smartphones — proof that they were in the same room as their idols. The candidates’ promises, which were mostly what the people wanted to hear, were like sweets being given away to the crowd to let them forget even for a brief moment that they were hungry and thirsty, as the venue’s drinking water supply quickly ran out.
As excitement swept through the arena, tension built up at the Mamplasan Exit less than two kilometers away. Aboard jeepneys, protesters coming from a rally at the EDSA Shrine in Metro Manila were en route to the nearby Pavilion Mall to join their comrades to demonstrate against the ongoing campaign event. Police stationed at the exit stopped them and forbade them to go through, saying they were “out of line,” according to a Southern Tagalog Exposure (STEx) journalist who was with the contingent to cover the protest action. Police intimidated the jeepney drivers into handing over their keys, said the STEx journalist, and only returned them when the campaign rally was over.
It took some time for Duterte to arrive but the crowd patiently waited. Upon announcement of the president’s arrival and as he climbed the stage, the crowd broke into a frenzy, cheering and applauding, like a hero had come to save the day. And to many, he is — a man who will solve all their problems.
Not long into his speech, Duterte couldn’t help but utter his trademark curse, “P***** i**,” and the crowd madly cheered as he did. The president is known to hate illegal drugs with a vengeance. “Eventually it will destroy the family, then it will destroy the community, then it will destroy the country. So before you do that,” he said, “I will destroy you.”
Ernie Rola, 60, a local government employee in Kalayaan town, approves of Duterte’s goal to eradicate illegal drugs. However, he had some misgivings about the way it is being handled.
“Hindi yata kayang sugpuin lahat. Lalo yatang dumadami. Kumbaga sa kahoy, sanga lang ang naaalis, hindi pa yung ugat kaya hindi pa rin kayang patayin,” he said.
Duterte also went on to slam his critics and said that when he was in elementary, he often got a grade of 75 but that despite that, “O ngayon, ‘t*** i**, naging presidente ako,” which drew yet another round of applause and cheers.
“The presidency, I said, is a gift from God,” said Duterte, who in the past attacked the Catholic Church and called God “stupid.”
Toward the end of the president’s speech, the crowd’s fanatical fervor wavered, as the tired spectators succumbed to hunger and thirst, abandoning their prized seats.
After almost two hours, Duterte wrapped up his speech. It was already close to 10 pm. Many still had to make the trip back to their far-flung towns in the dead of night. They cheered once more as the president left the podium — maybe because they love him and they were happy to have seen him in the flesh. Or maybe because they were just glad it was over. (Laguna Now)