Ex-Duterte ally, party endorse Robredo in presidential race

Camille Elemia and Jojo Riñoza
2022.03.24
Manila
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Ex-Duterte ally, party endorse Robredo in presidential race Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo (right) receives the endorsement of Pantaleon Alvarez and the Partido Reporma for the presidential election in May, during a news conference in the southern city of Tagum, March 24, 2022.
Handout photo from Leni Robredo campaign

A former key congressional ally of Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte threw his support Thursday behind presidential candidate Leni Robredo, Duterte’s political rival who has pledged to investigate thousands of extrajudicial killings under his administration’s war on illegal drugs. 

Pantaleon Alvarez, the former House speaker who once attacked Robredo verbally, abandoned the camp of another presidential candidate – Sen. Panfilo Lacson – even though Alvarez had invited Lacson to run under the Partido Reporma banner. Alvarez is the party’s president.

“Right now, two candidates have pulled away from the pack and while the candidate second in ranking still lags far behind from the frontrunner, it is evident that her campaign has gained, and continues to gain, significant traction,” Alvarez said during a joint news conference with Robredo in southern Tagum city. 

“There is much potential there. She has also shown that she represents ideals which are substantially in line with the aims of Partido Reporma – to reform government and provide a better future for Filipinos,” Alvarez said. 

The party’s only “realistic option” at this point was to “converge” with Robredo’s campaign, he said. 

“Together, we will pursue the realization of our collective aspirations to improve the chances of ordinary Filipinos at a better life,” Alvarez said. 

Robredo, who is running as an independent after previously running with the Liberal Party, welcomed the alliance. 

“Partido Reporma and I share the same goals – to fix our country through good governance. And share the same goal – to fight for that. We did have disagreements in the past, and most probably we are not aligned in all things,” she said. “But I’ve always said that what’s more important are the things we agree on, not the things we disagree on. 

“In this case, Speaker Alvarez and I both want what is best for our country this coming election,” Robredo said. 

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A man listens during a campaign rally that drew an estimated 130,000 supporters for Philippine opposition leader Leni Robredo in Pasig City, a suburb of Manila, March 20, 2022. [Jason Gutierrez/BenarNews]

Polls taken last month showed Ferdinand Marcos Jr. – the son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator – leading the presidential race, with 60 percent of respondents saying they planned to vote for him, with Robredo in second place with 15 percent. 

The polls showed Lacson lagging behind two other candidates as well, Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso and Sen. Manny Pacquiao, the retired boxing champion.  

Earlier in the day, Lacson resigned as chairman and member of Partido Reporma after being told about the Robredo endorsement.

Lacson, who long served as an independent senator, joined the party in July 2021 as a vehicle for his presidential campaign. He previously ran for the office in 2004 but lost to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. 

The move “effectively makes me an independent candidate for the presidency in the upcoming May 2022 elections,” Lacson said in a statement. He said he harbored no bad feeling toward the party leadership, but stressed that he would not abandon his quest for the presidency.

The alliance of Alvarez and Robredo, a critic of Duterte, surprised many as Alvarez had served as Duterte’s attack dog early in his presidency. Alvarez repeatedly criticized Robredo, calling her shameless and threatening to file an impeachment complaint in 2017.

“I have said many things that are regrettable, and for that I apologize, ma’am,” Alvarez told Robredo, adding that party leaders felt they had to abandon Lacson’s campaign because at this point only the vice president could realistically pull off an upset. 

Alvarez did not endorse Marcos Jr., the candidate popularly known as “Bongbong” who is running with presidential daughter and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio. After Duterte-Carpio led a coup that ousted Alvarez as House leader in 2018, he went on to become a so-called opposition figure. 

Alvarez had been Duterte’s top man at the lower house where the president has a super majority. Duterte had used congress to discredit his enemies, including Leila de Lima, a senator and former human rights commissioner who has questioned his war on drugs that has left thousands dead. 

De Lima was arrested and jailed on what she claimed were trumped-up charges that she received funds from illegal drug syndicates in her previous campaign. She is running for reelection this year while incarcerated.

Last year, a court acquitted her of one of three drug-related charges against her and de Lima expressed confidence that she would be cleared on the others.

Since Duterte took power in 2016, at least 8,000 suspected dealers and addicts have been killed in police operations, according to government figures, while rights groups claim that the number could be thousands more when including extrajudicial killings blamed on government-linked vigilantes. 

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