MANILA, Philippines?So bitter has the race for the presidency become that even mothers?living and dead?are being dragged into the fray.
If the camp of Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno ?Noynoy? Aquino III earlier invoked the memory of his late mother, democracy icon Corazon Aquino, it was the turn of his closest rival to draw strength from his own nanay.
A frail, wheelchair-bound Curita Villar faced the media Monday to defend her eldest son, Nacionalista Party (NP) standard-bearer Sen. Manuel Villar, mainly against critics who question his rags-to-riches story.
In a press conference held at her BF Resort residence in Las Pińas City, the 86-year-old matriarch?visually impaired since 2007?broke into emotional outbursts. At one point, one of Villar?s sisters had to cut the briefing short after their mother began to weep and had difficulty breathing.
?What do you want to know about my son?? Nanay Curing asked in Filipino, addressing reporters gathered in her modest living room awash in her son?s campaign color, orange.
The mother of the lone billionaire among the presidential candidates faced the press in an orange duster.
Villar has pegged his core campaign message to his life story of overcoming poverty as a child through sheer diligence and hard work. Critics have since cast doubts on this claim, while one newspaper columnist has noted that Villar seemed to have forgotten to give credit to his mother for making ends meet for her nine children.
Curita recounted what she called the tough times the family had when they were still living in Manila?s market district of Divisoria, back when she sold fish at market stall No. 2245.
She recalled that ?Manny was with me? on the days when she had to endure insults from fish traders to whom she owed money. One of these angry suppliers once struck her in the head when she couldn?t immediately pay.
The same supplier went on to mock her, she said, for opening a checking account without a stable source of income.
?You may not believe it but we were really poor,? she added. ?[My suppliers] didn?t want to give us fish to sell because they wanted cash up front.?
?I couldn?t complain?. All I could do was cry,? Curita added, eyes welling up and voice breaking.
On her son?s critics, Curita said: ?They say they don?t believe Manny or anything he?s saying. They think Manny is lying.?
?Blessed Virgin Mary, bear witness for my son! Come to his defense!? she cried out, sobbing. ?He?s in such pitiful state. I?ve already endured so much hardship, suffered enough at the marketplace. Should my son still suffer like this today??
Who ?used? mom first?
?Do you think I?m not hurt by what they?re saying about my child?? she said. ?I almost died because of this.?
It was at this point that her now tearful daughters?Gloria V. Benedicto, Vicky V. Divinagracia, Lourdes and Cecille?stopped the press conference and tried to comfort their mother, giving her a glass of water and massaging her arms. A female household companion was also called to check her blood pressure.
Benedicto lost her cool when one reporter said that Villar?s critics might lash back at his family for directly using their mother in his campaign.
?Sino ba ang unang nanggamit? (Who was the first to do it?),? she shot back. Benedicto then alluded to one of her brother?s rivals who, she said, was the first to bank on his parents to propel his campaign.
?Isn?t it that his posters also featured his father and mother?? Benedicto added. ?His mother has already passed away but he?s still getting her involved.?
Benedicto did not name names but it was obvious to everyone in the gathering that she was referring to Aquino.
?It?s getting personal?
?Let them ask us now,? she added. ?Our mother is already 86 years old and she knows where she came from; we came from a poor family. Good thing she?s still around to defend my brother.?
?We?re coming out like this only now because their attacks have become very personal,? Benedicto said.
Divinagracia said she actually didn?t approve of the press conference arranged by the senator?s media group, but ?we were forced to [do this] because [my mother] was already hurting.?
?Imagine what our opponents are saying? Of all the presidential candidates only [Villar] has come under attack. They didn?t come to talk to us about what my mother had gone through. They don?t have any evidence; they don?t know about the life we had,? Divinagracia added.
Benedicto also said her eldest brother had been maligned by critics and unfairly treated by the media, especially TV network giants GMA 7 and ABS-CBN Channel 2.
She asked the press to check with Villar?s own family before airing ?lies? against the NP candidate.
Benedicto singled out GMA anchor Arnold Clavio and Inquirer columnist Winnie Monsod for their supposed bias against the senator.
After regaining her composure, Nanay Curing even managed to break into song and treat her guests to a few lines from her favorite oldie, ?Stardust.?
Her daughters said she would usually sing the song on the karaoke with Senator Villar.
Curita then made an appeal: ?Pakiusap ko lang, pakiusap ko lang. Maniwala kayo sa kanya. (Please, please, believe in him.)?
?His work helping others comes from the heart. It is not for show. Have pity. We may be poor back then but we?re kindhearted. Have pity on my son. He has suffered so much.?