IN WHAT may be a tacit endorsement, President Rodrigo Duterte raised the hand of former mayor Michael Rama, whom he had publicly named a drug protector, at a PDP rally in Cebu City on Sunday, Feb. 24.

Duterte also explicitly told the huge crowd at the PDP rally at Plaza Independencia that Rep.Gwen Garcia was his choice for gubernatorial candidate in the May 13 elections.

“Si Gwen ako gyud nang suportahan... sila’y nagda nako diri sa Cebu, so salamat kaayo,” Duterte said.

He lifted Garcia’s left hand and her running mate Daphne Salimbangon’s right hand, sealing his proclamation of support.

Meanwhile, Rama described the moment Duterte raised his hand at the rally as akin to “(being) in Cloud 9.” The Duterte-Rama moment was captured by photographers, and that of Duterte-Garcia.

Together with Rama’s, Duterte raised the hand of Vice Mayor Edgardo Labella.

Interviewed by Superbalita Cebu the day after the rally, Rama said he and the President spoke “for a few seconds” before the public display of political support.

Rama said: “Pagka-eye to eye namo, niingon ko, ‘Mr. President.’ Ug tubag siya, ‘O, kumusta?’ ’Mr. President,’ niana man ko, ‘akong mayor si Edgar Labella. Ako man ang iyang bise mayor.’ Ingon ko, ‘Can you raise my hand?’ Niingon siya (Duterte), ‘O sige.’ (Rama asked Duterte to raise his hand because he was Labella’s vice mayor and the President did.)”

Osmeña’s reaction

Rama said he felt relieved when the President did it “because that would already manifest without having the President say anything.” In 2016, Duterte publicly named Rama, “despite their being friends,” as among those in the list of politicians who were involved in the illegal drug trade and that Rama provided drug lords with protection.

Rama has denied the accusation and had gone to see the President directly and through channels to clear his name.

Labella, for his part, said he was glad to get the President’s trust in him and his party mates in the Barug-PDP Laban.

He thanked Duterte for the endorsement and said he will do his best to rise to the President’s expectation to fight corruption, illegal drugs and crime.

Mayor Tomas Osmeña’s reaction? “Drug protector Imok (Rupinta) is cheering in his grave.” Osmeña, who will face Labella for the mayorship, has labeled the Labella-Rama slate as “Team Suyop” in reference to the allegation of Rama being a drug user and a drug protector. Rupinta, erstwhile barangay captain of the drug-infested Ermita, was fatally ambushed on Nov. 23, 2017.

In the Cebu gubernatorial front, Congresswoman Garcia said Duterte’s proclamation of support bears huge impact on her candidacy.

She pointed out that Cebu gave the highest majority vote for Duterte in the 2016 presidential elections.

She said it’s common knowledge that Duterte is popular in the country, more so in Cebu. “Walay laing nakahatag og 14 million votes nga mayoriya.” In 2016, Garcia was running for a second term in Congress after three gubernatorial terms. In Cebu, she was the first to declare her support for Duterte, aligning her local party One Cebu with PDP-Laban, Duterte’s party.

“Turning point”

Based on the 2016 election results in the Visayas, Duterte swept the votes in Cebu, Bohol, Southern Leyte, Leyte and Biliran. The other 11 provinces went to Mar Roxas.

Garcia said the President made it clear during the Feb. 24 PDP rally that he is supporting her in Cebu and that she knows the Cebuanos will let that sink in.

Duterte’s raising her hand was “a turning point” in her candidacy now.

Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale, who is facing Garcia in the gubernatorial race, dismissed Duterte’s gesture as nothing but a “political exercise expected in any campaign.” “We expected it and true enough, PDP candidates were endorsed by the President,” she said in a statement released by the Provincial Information Office.

“Notwithstanding alliances formed in this midterm elections, we remain steadfast in support of President Duterte’s anti-graft and corruption/anti-drugs campaign. We trust that the President will strongly go against officials who stole people’s money and he will not spare anyone, not even his political allies,” Magpale said.

Other local candidates who got Duterte’s endorsement at the PDP rally include Rep. Jonas Cortes and Provincial Board Member Glenn Bercede, who are running for mayor and vice mayor of Mandaue City; Talisay City Mayor Eduardo Gullas and his grandson Rep. Gerald Anthony Gullas (Cebu, 1st); father-daughter tandem City of Naga mayoral running mates Val Chiong and daughter Kristine Vanessa Chiong; and re-electionist San Fernando Mayor Lakambini Reluya. (MPS from reports of RTF of SunStar Cebu & PAC & AZLG of SuperBalita Cebu)