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3 bets hit Robredo: Who gains? VP camp asks

(L-R) Philippine presidential bets Manila City Mayor Francisco Domagoso, known by his screen name Isko Moreno, former defence secretary Norberto Gonzales, and senator Panfilo Lacson hold a press conference at the Manila Peninsula Hotel in Makati City on April 17, 2022. STORY: 3 bets hit Robredo: Who gains? VP camp asks

Presidential candidates (from left)  Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso, known by his screen name Isko Moreno; former Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales, and Sen. Panfilo Lacson hold a press conference at the Manila Peninsula Hotel in Makati on April 17, 2022. (Photo by MARIA TAN / Agence France-Presse)

MANILA, Philippines — Three presidential candidates on Easter Sunday offered themselves as alternatives to Vice President Leni Robredo to pose a stronger challenge against preelection survey frontrunner Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

In a much hyped press conference, Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso went as far as to call on Robredo to “make the supreme sacrifice” of withdrawing from the race, claiming that he and one of his other rivals for the presidency could have a better chance of winning against Marcos Jr.

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Robredo on Easter Sunday chose to hold her head above the fray by dining with the Sumilao farmers in her hometown Naga City. But her spokesperson asked: Who will gain from the stunt?

Sen. Panfilo Lacson maintained that Sunday’s gathering at the posh The Peninsula Manila Hotel in Makati City was not an “anti-Leni press conference,” pointing out that their joint core message was that none of them were withdrawing from the presidential race, although their statements mostly targeted the Vice President.

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They refused to disclose who funded the joint press conference at the luxury hotel.

No Pacquiao

Then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s former national security adviser, Norberto Gonzales, said that one of them might prove to be the better challenger to Marcos Jr., instead of Robredo, even if he, Lacson, Domagoso, and Sen. Manny Pacquiao did not believe in surveys.

The four presidential candidates had lackluster showings in last month’s surveys, obtaining single-digit percentages. Only Robredo gained a rating percentage.

At the start of the press conference, Domagoso read a joint statement he, Lacson, Gonzales, and Pacquiao prepared. But Pacquiao did not show up despite an earlier commitment to attend the briefing.

Only Domagoso, Lacson, and Gonzales signed the joint statement with vice presidential candidates Willie Ong and Sen. Vicente Sotto III signing as witnesses.

According to the statement, they committed to be part of the government of the duly elected president and that they would not deprive the electorate of their options for the country’s presidency and continue with their respective presidential candidacies. They also committed to working together to ensure that there would be no irregularities that would subvert the people’s vote on May 9.

For the next two hours, they accused the Robredo camp of talking them into withdrawing from the race.

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In a tweet shortly after the press conference of her rivals, Robredo thanked the Sumilao farmers for marching for her across the country in support of her candidacy. The farmers from the Higaonon tribe in Bukidnon were among Robredo’s clientele back when she was still a pro bono human rights lawyer before entering politics.

On Sunday night, Robredo thanked her supporters for coming to her defense but asked them to “focus on the campaign: “tao sa tao (man to man), puso sa puso (heart to heart).”

“Starting [today], there would only be 20 days left to the campaign. Let us not let our emotions get the better of us. Let’s not say hurtful words,” she said. “We have a nation to fight for.”

Robredo’s spokesperson, Barry Gutierrez, said it was the “prerogative of every candidate to continue till the end, the same as it is the choice of a candidate to disregard surveys, rally attendance, endorsements or any other conventional measure of support.”

‘Theatrics’

“We wish every candidate who decides to push through to the end only the best,” he said. “But in making these choices, should we not ask ourselves: Must this assertion be made through bluster and falsehood?”

“Who benefits from these theatrics? What is best for the Filipino people? Perhaps, silence would have had more depth; at the very least, it would exhibit less self-entitlement, fragility and toxicity,” he added.

Gutierrez said they were thankful that the “alignments have been made even clearer, and we remain focused on showing our people that a Robredo presidency will mean a victory for all Filipinos.”

Robredo’s running mate, Francis Pangilinan, also came to the defense of his partner and said it was not their style to hoodwink politicos.

He warned that, with Sunday’s press conference, Robredo would gain against her rivals.

‘Change players’

During the press conference, the three presidential candidates claimed that they were asked to withdraw from the race by Robredo’s supporters, although none of them could directly say that the Vice President had asked her supporters to prompt their withdrawal.

According to Lacson and Domagoso, they were asked to back out of the presidential race by Robredo during “unity talks,” even before the filing of certificates of candidacy in October last year.

Lacson admitted that he was not sure if Robredo was aware of persons approaching them to withdraw during the campaign period.

“I don’t know if [Vice President] Robredo herself knows about this. My experience with her was when we talked, even before we filed our certificates of candidacy,” he said, referring to a discussion he had with former Quezon City Mayor Jun Simon, who supposedly asked him to withdraw in favor of Robredo.

Domagoso, for his part, said that Robredo’s supporters have been hounding him to withdraw on social media and allegedly even spread fake news that he was planning to quit the race on May 1, in exchange for an appointment as home affairs secretary.

Both Lacson and Domagoso recently lost some of their supporters to the Robredo campaign.

For his part, Gonzales said that some of his friends, including former Elections Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, asked him to withdraw and support another presidential candidate.

But, he pointed out, “[The argument is] flawed. It’s not true that if we withdrew and endorsed [Vice President] Robredo, that our supporters will automatically go there. That doesn’t happen in reality. It’s more important that we preserve the percentage [of voters] going to us.”

Gonzales claimed that he was also concerned about another Marcos in power and said that Robredo might be the “wrong” contender to go against the late dictator’s son and namesake.

“We might need to change players. There are only three weeks to go but if we jointly attack the No. 1 (Marcos), it would only be to No. 2’s (Robredo’s) advantage … But if you remove No. 2 it might be better,” he pointed out.

Domagoso said that it might be nobler for Robredo to withdraw and make the supreme sacrifice, allowing him and other presidential bets to pose a stronger challenge to Marcos’ candidacy.

He said: “If you’re not a good player to win, then you [make] the supreme sacrifice, you withdraw. The same challenge they are giving us … Now we’re calling: Be a hero, withdraw, Leni.”

Domagoso later on said that this was only “his” call.

He clarified that his animosity toward Robredo was not based on gender but on character as a person. Although he did say at one point, “Let the best man win,” in reference to his rivals for the presidency.

He also made reference to a point in the presidential debates when he and Lacson wanted to engage Robredo in arguments but thought better of it because “she might get offended as a woman.”

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TAGS: #VotePH2022, 2022 presidential race, Isko Moreno, Leni Robredo, Norberto Gonzales, Panfilo Lacson
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