BATANGAS, Philippines (UPDATED) – Opposition senatorial candidate Chel Diokno got the support of the local government of Taal, Batangas, despite it being a Nacionalista party town.
Mayor Pong Mercado and Vice Mayor Jovito Albufera of Taal belong to the One Batangas party which joined forces with the Nacionalista Party in late 2018, and was the latest political group to leave the opposition Liberal Party.
Mercado and Albufera, with the full force of their councilors and barangay captains, endorsed Diokno on Tuesday, February 19, in a proclamation rally in Taal that attracted a considerable crowd.
“Wala naman (conflict) kasi si Chel ay taga- Taal, ‘yung mga magulang niya ay taga Taal,” Mercado told Rappler.
(There's no conflict because Chel is from Taal, his parents are from Taal.)
The Dioknos hail from Taal, with some of the streets here named after the human rights lawyer’s ancestors. Diokno’s father Jose “Ka Pepe” W. Diokno and his grandfather, Justice Ramon Diokno, were both senators.
Mercado also endorsed fellow Batangueño Romulo Macalintal, who attended Diokno’s proclamation rally.
But when asked whether he’s endorsing the entire Otso Diretso slate, Mercado said: “Syempre ako ay Nacionalista, pero si Chel ay gusto kong isama sa lineup, at si Macalintal who is Batangueño also.”
(Of course I am Nacionalista, but I want to include Chel in my lineup, and Macalintal who is Batangueño also.)
Even Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto and Batangas Representative Vilma Santos, who are now both allied with Nacionalista Party, endorsed Diokno at a February 16 event in Lipa, Batangas.
The Nacionalista Party has coalesced with Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte Carpio's Hugpong ng Pagbabago, which is endorsing administration allies like Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos, Bong Go and former police chief Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa.
Batangas ranks 7th among the vote-rich provinces for 2019, with 1,717,292 total registered voters.
Low awareness rate
In his speech, Diokno called on his fellow Batangueños to help him campaign.
“Alam niyo naman tayo ay walang budget hindi tulad ng mga ibang nandun na kaydami-dami ng salapi ang nagagastos nila sa kanilang mga tarpaulin, sa radyo, sa TV, mga ads. Tayo, ang kaya natin ay ‘yung makikipag-usap tayo sa ating mga kapatid, ating kapamilya, ating kapuso,” Diokno said.
(You know that I don't have the budget, unlike others who have already spent plenty of money on tarpaulins, on radio and TV appearances, and on ads. All I can afford to do is to talk to you, my brothers and sisters, my family, my supporters.)
According to fellow opposition candidate Samira Gutoc, the Otso Diretso slate has been having difficulty finding local officials to support their campaign, or even just to host their rallies.
“May mga ilan na hindi kami makabisita dahil syempre administration, and I am opposition, pero nakakahanap kami ng mga eskwelahan, ng mga palengke. Sana po pagbigyan kami at huwag kaming pagbawalan ng mga nandoon,” Gutoc said during Otso Diretso’s campaign kickoff in Caloocan on February 12.
(There are some places we cannot even visit because of course, they're administration turf, and I am opposition, but we've managed to find schools and markets. I hope they could let us speak there and not bar our events.)
The 2019 senatorial elections is Diokno’s first foray into politics. He had previously applied for Chief Justice, but lost the spot to Maria Lourdes Sereno.
Diokno is most known as the chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), which has represented victims of drug war killings, as well as former Davao cop Arthur Lascañas who’s now hiding after spilling the beans on President Rodrigo Duterte’s Davao Death Squad.
Diokno’s recent trending performances in television debates increased his awareness among voters, at least on social media.
At the GMA debates, Diokno was paired with Imee Marcos in a face-off. Diokno said term limits must be imposed to avoid a dictatorial and corrupt regime like that of the Marcos era.
At the ABS-CBN forum, Diokno was asked who between Duterte and former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo he would give a life vest to if the boat they are on is shrinking. “Sa akin na lang kaya? (Maybe I should keep it for myself?),” Diokno said, earning praises on Twitter.
For a slate that claims to have low funds for television ads, this underscores the importance of maximizing free airtime for broadcast debates.
“Hindi ko naman sinasadya na ganun eh, at wala naman akong balak na mag-kunwari na aka ay ibang tao, so sasabihin ko lang ‘yung totoong nasa loob ko,” Diokno said.
(I didn't plan on them to turn out that way, and I don't plan on pretending to be someone I'm not, I'll just say what I mean to say.)
In the 2016 vice presidential elections, the lower ranked Leni Robredo captured audiences with strong one liners during debates such as, “the last man standing is a woman.”
Otso Diretso hopes to pull off the same come-from-behind victory that Robredo managed over her close opponent, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
Despite the notable debate performances, with 82 days left in the campaign period, Diokno still has a long way to go.
Diokno ranked 24-31 in the latest Pulse Asia survey that saw Bong Go barge into the winning circle.
Professor Carmel Abao, who teaches political science of the Ateneo De Manila University, categorizes Diokno in the progressive group of candidates, because of his strong stance against martial law, and pro-human rights agenda.
"I think what (Senator Risa Hontiveros) did right in 2016 was to stick to a single issue – health – and this resonated with voters. Again, that notion of ‘emotional appeal,' in Filipino linggo, we call that yung konek sa tao (connection to people) is important," Abao told Rappler.
Diokno has been harping on judicial reform as his main platform, which includes increasing budget for the judiciary and making the institution more transparent.
“Ayaw kasi ng mga pulitikong pag-usapan ang katarungan kasi ibig sabihin ng katarungan, pananagutan, baka natatakot sila na sila ang unang mabilanggo kapag okay na ang justice system natin,” Diokno said.
(Politicians don't want to talk about justice because justice means accountability, and maybe they are afraid that they'll go to jail first when our justice system improves.) – with reports from Camille Elemia/Rappler.com