In Palo, Leyte, chants for justice mix with cheers for Leni-Kiko

Robredo lost to rival Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Leyte during the 2016 vice presidential race but her office includes the province in aid and outreach projects

PALO, Leyte – Red-scare tactics failed to stop thousands of supporters of presidential aspirant Vice President Leni Robredo and running mate senator Kiko Pangilinan from gathering early on Tuesday, March 29, at the Boy Scout monument in the town’s government center.

The rally venue drew residents as early as 7 am and their high energy continued as members of the Leni-Kiko senatorial slate or their representatives spoke until Robredo and Pangilinan took the stage.

“Tinitingnan ko ngayon, nasa likod lang ng isip ko ganito pala ang itsura ng pag-asa,” Robredo told her cheering audience. (I look and you and think to myself, so this is what hope looks like.)

Leyte is considered a bailiwick of Robredo’s rival Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Former first lady Imelda Marcos comes from Tacloban and her Romualdez clan remains dominant.

Robredo lost here in 2016, three years after Supertyphoon Yolanda ravaged the island, getting only 241,960 votes to Marcos Jr’s 406,815 votes in Leyte, which has 1.35 million voters in the 2022 polls.

But her PINKtados Warriors here told Rappler the vice president’s outreach projects in Palo and other Leyte areas have raised admiration among Leyte residents.

“Maasahan lang nating umangat ang buhay ng lahat kapag siniguro nating malinis at mahusay ‘yung ating pamamahala. At ‘yung sa amin po, hindi lang ito pangako, hindi lang po ito plano pero buong buhay ko ito na ‘yung aking ipinaglalaban’,” the vice president said. (We can only improve the lives of everyone is we have clear and efficient governance. This isn’ just a promise, this isn’t just a plan. This is what I have been fighting for my entire life.)

Roars of “Hustisya!” (Justice) erupted as lawyer Phillip Sawali, proxy for the jailed senator Leila de Lima, called for justice for her and all other human rights victims of the Duterte administration, including local, humanitarian, human rights workers, and indigenous peoples.

The lawyer reminded residents that despite serving most of her six-year term behind bars, de Lima has crafted bills for healthcare, work, and human rights.

Activists are involved in the Leni-Kiko campaign here and some placards called for the freedom of the Tacloban 5, a group arrested in February 2020. It includes community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio and four other human rights leaders.

A call for freedom for the Tacloban 5, a group of human rights workers and journalist Frenchie Quimpo arrested in February 2020. (Brynch Bonachita)

Pangilinan also engaged the crowd with his listing of key problems facing Filipinos.

“Hanapbuhay, trabaho, kaligtasan, kalusugan, edukasyon; yan ang nakataya sa Mayo,” Pangilinan said. (Livelihood, jobs, safety, health, education are at stake in the May elections.)

The response gew louder when the senator said, “kung sino pa ang nagpapakain sa atin sila pa ang kapos, ginugutom, at baon sa utang,” as he recalled efforts to stop the price hike of rice. (Those who provide our food are the ones who are poor, hungry, strapped in debt.)

Presidential aspirant and Vice President Leni Robredo in Palo, Leyte on Tuesday, March 29. (Brynch Bonachita)

As Robredo came out on stage to the drumbeats of Leyte’s Pintados festival, the crowd chanted, “hindi kami bayad!” (We don’t get paid for this.)

Robredo acknowledged losing to Marcos in the province during their vice presidential contest but said she did not let that stop her from serving Leyteños. the crowd replied, “Babawi kami!” (We will make up for it.)

Robredo recalled repeated visits to Estern Visayas to give aid in the aftermath of earthquakes and typhoons. He stressed that as vice president, she did not look at the “colors” of communities.

The vice president cited the funding her office provided for the Schistosomiasis Hospital in this town and the Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center. According to the World Health Organization, schistosomiasis is among six neglected tropical diseases in the country.

Despite a very small budget for her office, Robredo said she was able to help build two classroom buildings in the province, water systems in Baybay town, and three community learning hubs in Barugo town. — With reports from Mara Cepeda/Rappler.com

Brynch Bonachita is a Visayas-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.

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