Shunned by politicians who support a different vice president for his running mate, presidential candidate Leni Robredo, Sen. Kiko Pangilinan got the backing of a group of small town farmers who raised his hand before 220,000 people at a campaign rally in Pampanga province on April 9.
Pangilinan, who is running on a platform of food security and uplifting the farm sector, was in tears and video clips of that moment on stage went viral, illustrating the power of endorsements from ordinary people, analysts said.
"Election campaigns are not only about machines. This is also about the story, the symbol," said Cleve Arguelles, who teaches political science at De La Salle University. If this resonates with voters, then it could be a "big boost" for Pangilinan's VP bid, he told reportr.
The endorsement from the farmers can help voters identify with Pangilinan, who gambled against running for reelection and instead go against survey frontrunner Sara Duterte, the outgoing president's daughter, said Ramon Casiple, Executive Director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.
"Kung maliwanag sa ordinaryong mamamayan na kusa 'yung ganung ginagawa, hindi 'yung istorya lang, 'yung identification mas madaling gawin," Casiple told reportr.
Kiko's moment with the farmers
Pangilinan said it was his honor to be endorsed by the farmers, who were featured earlier in his "Biyahe ni Kiko" vlog. Food security has long been his advocacy having previously served as head of the state grains agency BFA.
"Tumindig tayo noon para sa mga magsasaka ng San Simon at ngayon sila naman ang tumitindig para sa amin," he said in a Facebook post.
Based on Pulse Asia's March 17 to 21 poll, Pangilinan is third in the race for vice president behind Sara Duterte and his uncle-in-law, Senate President Tito Sotto.
In areas where local officials back RoSa or Robredo-Sara instead of Leni-Kiko, Pangilinan would skip large rallies at the end of the day to give Robredo her moment on stage with the endorsing mayor or governor.
"For Leni to increase, I must decrease," he said on March 30.
Robredo said she was standing by Pangilinan as her running mate. "Hindi naiiwasan... may mga supporters na iba 'yung choices and iba 'yung pinu-push na mga combinations pero as far as I am concerned, as far as 'yung official campaign structure is concerned, ang aking vice president until the very end, Kiko Pangilinan," she said on March 24.
Pangilinan openly addressed RoSa calls during a sortie in Occidental Mindoro on April 7. "Huwag ho kayong maniniwala doon sa may nagsasabing RoSa. Gusto ba ninyong iba ang magiging ka-tandem?... Protektahan natin at tiyakin na solid ang Leni-Kiko tandem dito sa Occidental Mindoro," he said.
Not to be underestimated
Ordinary people's endorsements are usually belittled and "condescendingly treated as if they are manipulated," said political analyst and UP Diliman professor Aries Arugay. That's not the case when it's local politicians vouching for candidates, he said.
What made the Pampanga farmers' endorsement viral was it brought attention to Pangilinan and what he can contribute to the campaign that largely focused on Robredo, said Arugay.
"Pinaka-optics nun is it brought to urgency his importance in the campaign," Arugay said.
While lagging in surveys, Arugay said election history in the Philippines shows that survey frontrunners are not sure bets, as in 2016, when then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte beat early favorite Sen. Grace Poe and administration bet Mar Roxas.
In 2010, the late former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III beat early frontrunner Sen. Manny Villar and former President Joseph Estrada.
"Ang tunay na survey nasa election day," Arugay said.
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