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In Hugpong’s star-studded Calamba sortie, glimpses of ‘reconciliation’; Duterte factor in full display

Calambeños delighted in the presence of actors, actors-turned-politicians, actors-turned-politicians-turned-accused-plunderers and a bevy of personalities whose main reason to be onstage was their closeness to the Dutertes. Some in the crowd couldn’t care less and went on with their lives.

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CALAMBA CITY — Everyone walked toward the same direction. From children to the elderly, they either followed other people or the senatorial candidates’ convoys, or were redirected by police stationed on blocks surrounding the Calamba City Plaza near Dr. Jose P. Rizal’s ancestral home. The mass exodus to the plaza last Saturday was because of the campaign sortie of Hugpong ng Pagbabago, an affiliate of the current ruling political party Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Laban ng Bayan. Led by its campaign manager, Davao City mayor and presidential daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio, Hugpong came to the province to woo Lagunenses.

The crowd was mostly in a festive mood but traffic came to a halt at a public market nearby and people were upset about the build-up. Campaign jingles reverberated throughout the plaza. Street vendors, taking advantage of the sudden influx of people, lined up nearby to hawk their ware. The white tents covering the plaza fluttered in the warm afternoon summer wind. The color-coded crowd — the colors represented various groups or sectors —  grew thicker by the minute. Anticipation was in the air.

Incumbent governor and reelectionist Ramil Hernandez and former governor E.R. Ejercito shake hands. (Photo by Chris Quintana)

The people knew who were coming based on the campaign posters plastered and hung by the stage. Some senatorial candidates already achieved celebrity status before going into politics while others have already become celebrities in their own right. Many behaved like fans, excited not because they wanted to hear about the candidates’ platforms but because they wanted to see them so they could post selfies and videos. Many looked forward to the usual giveaways like T-shirts and plastic fans and campaign tarpaulins that they could repurpose after the event.

Reunion of Pinoy action stars, detainees

A campaign sortie would not be complete without celebrity candidates or endorsers, and last Saturday’s served as a mini-reunion for action stars Philip Salvador, Robin Padilla, former action star and gubernatorial candidate Emilio Ramon “E.R.” Ejercito III, and former action stars and senatorial candidates José Ejército Jr., more popularly known as Jinggoy Estrada, and Ramon Bong Revilla Jr.

From left to right: Actors Philip Salvador and Robin Padilla, and senatorial candidate Bong Go sing together. (Photo by Kimmy Baraoidan)

Salvador and Padilla shared the stage with senatorial candidate Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, the former aide of President Rodrigo Duterte, and, as expected, the crowd went wild. In Biñan City last month during the PDP-Laban campaign rally, Go and Salvador performed a skit where Go joked that Salvador manipulated ex-partner actress Kris Aquino. Aquino slammed the gimmick, calling it hurtful.

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The controversial skit went unperformed in Calamba. Go, Salvador, and Padilla, who also was involved with the actress in the past, sang to the crowd instead, drawing cheers and screams especially from the women. The frenzied crowd swelled forward; the steel barricade that separated the VIP area (where other local officials sat) from the general audience was in danger of being toppled over.

Estrada and Revilla told the crowd that they had been wronged even if they did nothing wrong. “Naging biktima po kami ng selective justice nung nakaraang administrasyon. Ngunit unti-unti na pong nalalaman ng taumbayan na talagang wala po talaga kaming kasalanan sa taumbayan,” Estrada said. Estrada and Revilla were detained in Camp Crame, the national police headquarters in Quezon City, for three and four years, respectively, for their alleged involvement in plunder cases but were later acquitted.

Attendees raise their arms, hoping to catch the giveaways tossed their way. (Photo by Kimmy Baraoidan)

Revilla ended his speech like a true action star. “Matindi ang pinagdaanan pero kahit na ano pa ang gawin nila, kahit na ano pang gawing paninira sa akin, si Bong Revilla, habang nasasaktan, lalong tumatapang, habang naduduguan, lalong lumalaban,” he said.

‘Padrino’ vs. meritocracy

Duterte-Carpio took a minute or two promoting each of the senatorial candidates. A few were endorsed based on merit, like incumbent senators and reelectionists Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara and Cynthia Villar, and former journalist Rodrigo “Jiggy” Manicad. Others were endorsed based on what they promised to do or continue to do if elected, like Taguig City representative Pilar Juliana “Pia” Cayetano (not present during the sortie), incumbent senator and reelectionist Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito, Maguindanao representative Zajid “Dong” Mangudadatu, and Revilla.

The main selling points for the rest, in contrast, were that they are close friends with Duterte-Carpio’s father, have worked with the president for a long time, or are Duterte’s favorites. Go and former Philippine National Police chief General Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa have worked closely with Duterte when he was still mayor of Davao City. Estrada, Duterte-Carpio said, was a longtime friend of Duterte’s and claimed that they both were “sons of the masses.” Ilocos Norte governor María Imelda Josefa “Imee” Marcos and former political adviser Francis Tolentino are the president’s “favorites,” according to Duterte-Carpio.

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Making peace

Hugpong ng Pagbabago campaign manager, Davao City mayor, and presidential daughter Sara Duterte-Caprio speaks. (Photo by Chris Quintana)

Reconciliation was a recurring theme of the campaign sortie. After Revilla told the audience how his detention affected him and his family, in the end he said that he forgave the people who put him in jail, as per his father’s advice, to which the audience cheered and applauded.

Duterte-Carpio shared an anecdote about estranged half-brothers Estrada and JV Ejercito, sons of former president Joseph “Erap” Estrada. She ended her anecdote with, “Kung hindi man ngayon, darating ang panahon na lahat ng hindi natin kabati ay magiging kasundo din natin.” Then she alluded to Otso-Diretso, an alliance of other senatorial candidates from the political opposition. “Puwera na lang sa walo. Walo na lang ang naiiwan na hindi natin kasundo,” and the crowd roared. “Joke lang,” she quickly added.

The crowd was caught by surprise when Estrada called upon his cousin E.R. Ejercito and Laguna governor Ramil Hernandez to the front and asked them to shake hands. E.R. Ejercito and Hernandez were gubernatorial rivals in past elections and they are running against each other again this year. Marcos lauded their “sportsmanship” and jokingly said that a thing like this would never happen in her province where rivals tend to gun each other down.

Aftermath

Attendees raise their fists during the Hugpong ng Pagbabago campaign sortie in Calamba City. (Photo by Chris Quintana)

Calamba City mayor Justin Marc “Timmy” Chipeco formally closed the program. The night was still young, and people left the plaza still in high spirits. While most of the people headed home, some lingered, like tricycle driver Paulino Sison, 52, a native of this city. Sison commented that politics is good in this city, citing the “sportsmanship” between Hernandez and E.R. Ejercito. He was also satisfied with the candidates’ speeches. “Maganda naman yung mga plataporma nila. Lahat sila magaganda mga sinabi,” Sison said.

Construction painter Josephen Lanogon, 32, remained in the premises after the rally. Standing on a Monobloc chair surrounded by her companions, her energy level was still through the roof. She was wearing orange, the color of one of the candidates. “Masaya, siyempre nakakita ng artista,” she said, punctuating her statement with a hearty laugh.

Along the sidelines, a vendor pushed her cart full of boiled peanuts. Though she was there the whole time, she failed to watch or listen to the program because she was busy selling. She didn’t care, she said, and stuck around, hoping to sell more to the hungry people rushing to go home. (Laguna Now)

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