A manifesto of support was given to Vice-president Leni Robredo by a fishing community in Occidental Mindoro whose members were visited by Robredo with cash assistance days after their fishing boat was rammed and left for dead in 2019 by a Chinese militia vessel near Recto Bank.
The fishing community, including Occidental Mindoro Rep. Josephine Ramirez-Sato, did not forget that act of kindness and anti-China stance, and vowed support for Robredo and running mate Sen. Francis Pangilinan.
The ramming incident on June 9, 2019 happened near the resource-rich Reed Bank, which the Philippines calls Recto. The 22 Filipino fishermen, who were left in the open sea after their boat sank, were rescued by Vietnamese fishermen.
Robredo visited the fishermen days after the incident. Each of the fisherfolk got cash aid from the Vice-president.
“One woman bravely faced China and said she would not let them oppress our fellowmen in our own country,” Sato said at a Robredo rally in the province.
Political analysts say the country’s sea dispute with China is a major election issue. They note that Robredo’s rival, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. “appears one of the few candidates to agree with President Duterte’s policy of engagement” with China.
Local civic groups and foreign policy experts have accused Marcos Jr. of parroting China’s mantra in its sea dispute with the Philippines.
Robredo has said the next government should not deal with China until it recognizes a 2016 ruling by a United Nations-backed tribunal that voided its claim to more than 40 percent of the waterway.
She has also called for a coalition of nations against China’s militarization of the sea.
Apart from fishermen whose fishing activities in West Philippine Sea is constrained by China, Robredo is also gaining the support of farmers.
A combined group of farmers and fisherfolk joined the 2,000-kilometer march for the Robredo-Pangilinan tandem, touching base with supporters and fellow agriculture sector workers in key Western Visayas areas last week.
Farmers from Sumilao, Bukidnon, and members of the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (Pakisama) stopped at the cities of Bacolod and Iloilo, as well as southern Iloilo, Aklan, and Antique. Sumilao farmer-leader and Pakisama chairperson Noland Peñas said they dropped by Negros Occidental to highlight the huge backlog there of the agrarian reform program.
Many beneficiaries already have certificates of land ownership award (CLOAs) but have yet to be installed in their lands, he pointed out.
“We want to inspire them, and share our experiences, being Sumilao farmers who now own our land,” Peñas said, referring to continuing landlord resistance to agrarian reform.
During their visit to Negros Occidental, the farmers also met with bishops Gerardo Alminaza and Patricio Buzon of the San Carlos and Bacolod Dioceses, who encouraged them to continue networking with farmers in other provinces as a way of consolidating their ranks.
The farmer marchers are batting for Robredo and Pangilinan, noting both their track records for helping farmers and agricultural workers.
The farmers said they hope their house-to-house campaigns and recollections of first-hand experience working with Robredo would help dispel the “elitist fiction” spread by the camp of her rival, Marcos Jr.
Peñas shared how they formed the Panaw Sumilao Multi-purpose Cooperative after successfully claiming their ancestral lands. In this fight, Robredo was one of their legal counsels.