PANGASINAN, Philippines – A giant Liberal Party (LP) banner marked the house of San Carlos City, Pangasinan mayoral bet Wilhelm "Beebong" Soriano. Otso Diretso staff affectionately called his home "HQ" or headquarters, for where else could you find a proudly yellow HQ in the time of Duterte?
"When I saw the streamers outside, I said we have found our home in Pangasinan," said Pancho Joaquin, Mar Roxas' cousin who represented him in the campaign here. His statemement elicited a round of "awwws" from the dozens of people they managed to draw to their mini-campaign sortie on Wednesday, April 24.
Tricyle drivers watched them just outside the gate, mumbling the names of opposition candidates after they are announced, as if trying to memorize them.
Florin Hilbay said it: "Hanggang ngayon hindi pa rin kilala masyado (Up to now, we're still not very well known)."
One would appreciate the hustle up close. Hilbay and Samira Gutoc went around markets in municipalities in Pangasinan, offering their hands although people could barely place them.
It's easy for candidates to lose energy when they still get underwhelming reception at market visits in the final stretch of the campaign. But they do what they have to do. (READ: Otso Diretso plays catch-up on campaign trail)
In the Soriano home, Gutoc passionately declared, "San Carlos City, you are showing us that yellowtards is not a bad word."
It was a reference to how the LP, or the "yellows," had been demonized by the Duterte administration so severely that it had practically crippled the local support of the entire opposition campaign.
Otso Diretso finds respite in the HQ of San Carlos mayoral bet Beebong Soriano of the Liberal Party. Mar Roxas' rep Pancho Joaquin says "when I saw the streamers outside nasabi ko we found our home in Pangasinan." pic.twitter.com/2DpjoXU5oq — Lian Buan (@lianbuan) April 24, 2019
Amid the challenges, the opposition candidates drew inspiration from the people who worked tirelessly for their election.
The volunteers helped Otso Diretso with its listening and persuasion campaigns, a grassroots initiative meant to gauge the sentiment of the masses and how their candidates could help address them.
The mood was a little somber among Otso Diretso staff on Wednesday because they had just learned that the 6 campaigners who died in an accident in Baguio City the day before were LP volunteers.
Otso Diretso took pride in the thought that they may have fewer supporters compared to the administration slate, but these were authentic supporters who sincerely believed in the same cause.
A post from a supporter, however, sparked social media buzz this weekend as it hinted at a rift between supporters of Otso Diretso candidates and progressive candidates. A supporter's post had apparently suggested to vote for Otso Diretso only, and not other opposition candidates like the Left's Neri Colmenares.
Teddy Casiño, campaign manager of Neri Colmenares, penned a long rant on Facebook: "Eh kasi daw komunista si Neri. Aba'y teka rin. Para na rin kayong si Duterte. Porke ba't makabayan, makamasa at hindi elitista ay komunista na (Because Neri is supposedly a communist. Hold on. You're acting like Duterte. Because he's pro-country, pro-people, and not an elitist, he's already a communist)?"
The bickering underscored the internal conflict of LP and the Left no matter how both sides would like to push a united opposition front.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, Otso Diretso's campaign manager, sent an email blast on Wednesday afternoon – a message that sounded like a referee's earnest plea for unity among feuding players in the final quarter of a ball game.
"We know the 'how' is as important as the 'what.' The way we achieve our goals is as important as the goals. We want to mould and forge ourselves into goodness. Let us be conscientious in not becoming the monsters we wish to defeat," Pangilinan wrote.
The ending had an indicative touch: "Onward, comrades."
Gutoc, Hilbay, and the representatives of the other 6 Otso Diretso candidates met with a key person in Pangasinan on Wednesday: Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas.
Villegas, as other bishops would, shied away from making a categorical endorsement. (READ: Duterte vs the Church: Do the times call for a Catholic vote?)
He said in front of rolling cameras as Otso candidates sat in front of him: "Ang tulong ay 'yung i-guide 'yung mga tao, mga kababayan natin, kung papaano bumoto base sa turo ng moralidad, turo ng pagiging Pilipino, dapat makabayan, at saka maka-Diyos tayo."
(We can help by guiding people, our countrymen, on how to vote based on morality, and based on our values as Filipinos, someone who's patriotic and God-fearing.)
In March, Villegas released a video that showed President Rodrigo Duterte attacking God and the Catholic faith. At the end of the video, the bishop had an ominous message, "My dear brothers and sisters, are you going to betray God, are you going to deny your faith, by your vote?"
What did that mean? Still keeping it vague, Villegas said: "On Easter Sunday, we Catholics said, 'I reject evil, and I believe in God.' That was the question: 'Do you reject evil?'"
It was one of the more direct messages to come from a bishop against Duterte, who is endorsing several candidates.
Hilbay said Duterte was employing a "policy of distraction" to shield the administration candidates from tough scrutiny on their stances on policy.
But at the end of every sortie, reality bites: they are still mostly bottom-dwellers in preelection surveys.
With less than 3 weeks until election day – the final stretch – they just have to heed their campaign manager's rallying words: "Keep the faith." – Rappler.com