Commentary Editor's Pick

Easter Sunday spectacle at the Pen

Vice President Leni Robredo was the elephant in Manila Peninsula’s Rigodon Ballroom in the early part of three other presidential candidates’ Easter Sunday press conference, and it seemed that they could not quite bring themselves to identify her.

It was Sen. Panfilo Lacson who finally named the Vice President as the apparent reason behind the formation of the small assembly that also included his running mate, Senate President Tito Sotto, Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso and his own running mate Dr. Willie Ong, and former defense secretary Norberto Gonzales. Domagoso quickly seconded Lacson in naming Robredo and went on to disparage her numbers, even actually describing as “shenanigans” reports of the unfailingly enormous attendance at her campaign rallies in various points nationwide.

The press conference was purportedly intended as a presentation of the “alternatives” to the survey frontrunners, as Lacson kept repeating when the remarks descended to a bash fest targeting the Vice President. Neither he nor Domagoso hesitated in touting their capabilities as a future president or in how they have been insulted at being told — allegedly early on by Robredo and lately by types such as an ex-mayor of Quezon City — to withdraw in her favor.

Fair enough. They had every right to present themselves in the best light and to announce how they are taking umbrage at being undercut in their respective candidacies. It was their press conference, after all, the posh venue for which they doubtless paid a hefty sum. Yet Domagoso and Lacson kept insisting that the proceeding — aired live on tv — was not about Robredo, as though they took their viewers for fools. Of course it was about her, and the language they employed in conveying their portrayal of the Vice President, each taking a cue from the other, using one another’s turns of phrase, displayed the misogynistic nature of the political landscape: Ito ba ay disenteng (Is this a decent) character? they said of the sole female presidential candidate. Hinuhubaran kami ng (We’re being stripped of) support. Etc.

And, in the course of their perorations, they maligned her person. Lacson said Robredo “ransacked” his party,Partido Reporma, whose leader and some of its members have transferred allegiance to her, suggesting misdemeanor on her part and Pantaleon Alvarez and minions as patsies led by the nose. Domagoso insinuated that money changed hands in the shift of loyalties of Tim Orbos and others in Ikaw Muna Pilipinas to Robredo’s camp. He must think every candidate toys with campaign funds, or pockets a portion as he has done, claiming salvation in paying taxes on it.

Domagoso spoke as though on script in fielding a reporter’s “question” about Robredo supposedly warning of chaos if she were to lose the vote, repeating it many times despite the questionable source of the statement. In fact she is not on record as saying so. He presented himself as a candidate for everyone’s “ peace of mind,” portraying Robredo as “mapaghiganti” — vengeful — in effect saying that her presidential candidacy, now apparent as a direct contestation of Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s own, would, if foiled, result in instability, in an absence of peace, in a mere extension of the supposed continuing clash of two political families.

Lacson himself warned of destabilization if Robredo were to lose against Marcos Jr., implying that she and her camp would foment disorder. In doing so, he willfully ignored the possibility of cheating at the polls, as foreshadowed by the incidents of pre-shaded ballots in voting precincts in Singapore and Dubai, and the resulting public anger if it would come to pass.

Through all these, through the fierce tirades against Robredo and her No. 2 ranking in the surveys, Lacson and Domagoso intoned: This is not all about being against Leni, this is offering other options. Rather expectedly, they both flashed the communist card, accusing the Vice President of collusion with Reds, which even Gonzales amplified on. (The old man, 0 percent in the surveys, appeared to have been moved by the group hug and warm promises of mutual help in terms of Cabinet posts if and when.)

“This is about you, you, you, and other suffering Filipinos,” said Domagoso, gesturing artfully at those listening to him and his fellows in the Rigodon Ballroom. “We unite against the poverty of Filipinos.”

And then he voiced a notion at once startling and absurd: that Robredo — who has laid out a comprehensive platform of governance, who has by her record and experience made of public office once more an honorable choice, who is offering hope for Filipinos long deprived of it — make the “supreme sacrifice” and withdraw her presidential candidacy.

What did these men gain from the Easter Sunday spectacle at the Pen? Last we looked, their reckless wager has launched torrential online ridicule and more desertions than they could have expected.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.