Lawyer Marwil Llasos, a political newbie and one of the three senatorial candidates of the Kapatiran Party, admits that they could not match the electoral machinery of traditional politicians.
“Ours is not a well-entrenched political party, we don’t even have political ads. We don’t have the money and we are nameless, so to speak,” Llasos told the INQUIRER in an interview.
Llasos, who has taken to Twitter and Facebook to get mass mileage, said the Kapatiran candidates are not inclined to resort to dancing and singing during the campaign as other candidates do.
“We will not do that because we don’t want to be the dragons that we want to slay,” he said.
“What boosts my morale is the ground swell of support from the youth, the students who are the ones very active in social networking,” he said.
Llasos said he is doing well in the debates and fora he has been invited to and he could well give Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago a run for her money as campus darling.
Citing an instance, the 37-year-old Llasos said he ranked No. 2 in the mock poll that followed a forum he recently attended at the University of the Philippines in Diliman.
“I got a good ranking although I had no hakot (hauled-in) crowd, unlike (Bayan Muna candidate) Teddy Casiño who brought with him supporters carrying tarpaulins,” he said.
He noted how the low recognition rate he had before the forum was reversed after he spoke to the audience.
“Only three to five people recognized me before I addressed the crowd. But when I went out of the hall after my speech, students mobbed me, asking for autographs or their pictures taken with me,” he said.
“This only shows that if people could get to know me and hear me speak, I have a good chance of winning,” said Llasos, a native of Daraga, Albay.
“I knew I had won the crowd and this was later on proven by the mock poll,” he added.
In his blog, Llasos narrated that during the forum, he told the students what he knew were the real function of a Senator—legislation, investigations in aid of legislation and education on issues.
Crusade vs pork barrel
“Because of my (and Kapatiran Party’s) crusade against the pork barrel system, I blasted the congressmen’s interest in public contracts due to their PDAF (priority development assistance fund) that they should no longer be called kongresista (congressmen) but kontratista (contractors),” he said, adding that his remark elicited laughter and applause from the audience.
A senator gets a PDAF of about P200 million each year, an amount that makes up a substantial amount of congressional allocations that lawmakers receive each year.
Llasos said the PDAF or pork barrel was among the reasons that motivated him to run.
“But it motivated me in a different way,” he said. “I want PDAF and other discretionary funds abolished. These funds are the root of graft and corruption.”
‘We have a message’
“Why don’t we just have a comprehensive system in responding to the development needs of the people? Why don’t we just put the fund to the General Appropriations Act instead of discretionary? We have the barangay development council, for instance. They know better, we don’t need a congressman for that,” he said.
What sets him apart from traditional politicians or idealistic candidates like him?
“(Kapatiran candidates) are different because we have a message and that is what the people are going to buy,” said Llasos, who used to work as corporate lawyer for a multinational casino company and as executive assistant at the Department of Agrarian Reform. “What traditional politicians say are all motherhood statements, they’re all about themselves, their families, their achievement and the people are left out in the process.”
Llasos admitted that he was initially reluctant to run for public office.
But he changed his mind after being challenged by something fellow Kapatiran senatorial candidate, sociologist-environmentalist Rizalito David, told him in the process of convincing him to run.
“He (David) told me that a lot of people were pushing him to run, to fight, but when he returned to them the challenge to join him in seeking public office, they all disappeared. So that struck me,” he said.
“The Bible says, ‘You will be measured in the same way you measure others.’ I felt that I’m using that measurement to others but when it was used against me … I don’t want to be weighed and found wanting,” he said.
“Self-credibility is very important to me,” Llasos, a commissioned lay preacher said. “It’s important that when I face people, I know what I say and walk the talk. So eventually I relented.”
He said he was commissioned a recognized preacher in 2006 by Bishop Antonio Tobias of Novaliches.
Apart from Church doctrines, Llasos said he also speaks about the social doctrines of the Church.
“(The issue) on environment may be a social or environmental issue but that is definitely a spiritual one, because it’s respect for God’s creation. Graft and corruption is a violation of the ‘Thou shall not steal’ commandment, isn’t it? Most of the things concerning the government has implication on morality,” he explained.”
Llasos said his life’s defining moment was when he passed the bar exams.
“I had no plan to be a lawyer but I became one. Initially, I also did not intend to run for the Senate. But for all you know, I may become a senator,” he said.
Llasos said his being religious stemmed from the influence of his grandmothers on both his parents’ side.
“They would rouse me from sleep early in the morning to pray in Latin,” he said.
A product of a broken home, Llasos said that while he grew up in the care of his father’s family, he was single-handedly raised by his mother Marichu Nacor, a seamstress who used to work as an overseas Filipino worker.
His father, Wilson Llasos, was a witness in the Agrava Fact Finding Board, which investigated the Aquino-Galman double murder case in 1983.
A product of the public school system, Llasos, who finished cum laude with a degree in Bachelor of Arts in Political Science at the Bicol University, said that if he wins, he would push for the strengthening of state universities and colleges (SUCs).
“I want to strengthen the SUCs chiefly by giving them fiscal autonomy just like the privilege given to the University of the Philippines and Mindanao State University,” he said.
Although Llasos is a perceived Catholic candidate, he said he enjoys strong support from the Muslim community, including the Ulama Association of the Philippines.
“That’s the body of Muslim bishops endorsing me. There are local leaders in Mindanao who also pledged to support me,” he added.
He admitted that he had encountered people who questioned his intentions for running considering that he was not as popular as the veteran politicians.
Why are you running?
“Others would tell us, ‘You have no money, why are you running?’ If that’s our mindset, we already condemn our country that only the rich and moneyed can rule,” Llasos added. “I tell them, I am poor, but you are also poor so let’s help each other.”
He explained that Kapatiran candidates do not accept contributions from donors.
“It is the party that accepts contributions so that the individual candidate would be spared from a debt of gratitude to the campaign donors,” he said, stressing the need for transparency in campaign contributions.
Llasos also said that Kapatiran candidates enjoy the backing of Catholic lay organizations.
“We do not actively seek the support of the Catholic bishops but if they do endorse us, we welcome it,” he said.
In the 2010 elections, Kapatiran obtained the endorsement of several Catholic bishops and leaders of lay groups and other churches.
Llasos said Kapatiran’s platform and issues—the prohibition of political dynasties, abolition of the pork barrel system, legislated gun control, passage of the freedom of information bill, opposition to the reproductive health bill—have not changed.
He also believed that the defeat of the Catholic church on the issue of reproductive health (RH) law is the party’s gain.
“I think when RH law was passed, the Catholic church was really hurt. But the defeat or loss in the RH law is our gain, politically speaking, because somehow it galvanizes the opinion of devout Catholics to really fight it, to really engage in this election by voting for those who parallel their religious beliefs and that is us,” he said.
Winning is a bonus
But to win in the elections is only a bonus, Llasos said.
“Other candidates are hard-sell, they have to win at all cost. If I win, that would be just a bonus. My experience during the campaign matters more, this is very educative for me,” he said.
“We are engaged in a crusade, we are engaged in political education and no matter what will be the outcome of the election is already irrelevant. What is important is that seeds have been planted. The elections come and go, politicians come and go, but the principles remain. And if we don’t succeed in this election, somehow the future generation of Filipinos will learn from our experience.”