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Willie Ong sits out Isko’s Maguindanao events where ‘ISSA’ gains ground

Willie Ong sits out Isko’s Maguindanao events where ‘ISSA’ gains ground

Tarps promoting an ‘Isko-Sara’ tandem are prominently displayed in the venue of the Manila mayor’s first Maguindanao town hall meeting

MANILA, Philippines – There was no sign of Isko Moreno’s running mate doctor Willie Ong in the Manila Mayor’s first sojourn into Mindanao where supporters of the tandem Isko-Sara (ISSA) showed up in full force.

From February 20 to 21, the dates Moreno spent in Maguindanao, Ong was noticeably absent. It quickly became apparent why. In Moreno’s first event in the vote-rich Bangsamoro province, large banners of “Team ISSA Movement” were prominently displayed in the venue.

‘ISSA.’ Banners that say ‘Team ISSA Movement’ are displayed in Isko Moreno’s first town hall meeting in Maguindanao on February 20, 2022. Isko Moreno Domagoso FB screenshot

Lito Banayo, Moreno’s campaign manager, said it was he who had asked the internist-turned-politician to sit out campaign sorties in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) because of the intense support for Sara Duterte there.

“I called up Doc Willie on Saturday and I said maybe it might be better [to skip] because it’s too partisan for Sara… It might become embarrassing,” Banayo told Rappler on Monday, February 21, in a phone call.

“He said, ‘Walang problema‘ (No problem). I told him we can focus on his visits to Christian Mindanao,” added Banayo.

‘Team player’

Moreno’s Maguindanao events were dominated by politicians who are openly supporting the President’s daughter for vice president but are loathe to back her standard-bearer Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Chief of these were Maguindanao 2nd District Representative Toto Mangudadatu and his brother, Dong Mangudadatu. Their side of the powerful clan rolled out the red carpet for Moreno, welcoming him at the airport, accompanying him on motorcades around the province and in Cotabato City, ensuring the attendance of tens of thousands to a rally where the Manila chief spoke.

Also present at the Maguindanao events was former agrarian secretary and senatorial candidate John Castriciones, founder of major 2016 Duterte volunteer group Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte National Executive Coordination Committee (MRRD-NECC). The former Duterte Cabinet member is backing Sara for VP but Moreno for president.

Bangsamoro Interim Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim, the highest executive official to meet with Moreno during the trip, has also declared support for Sara but is yet to endorse any presidential candidate. United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP), the political arm of Murad’s Moro Islamic Liberation Front, is also officially backing Sara, its secretary-general Naguib Sinarimbo told Rappler. Sinarimbo is also Bangsamoro Interior Minister.

Meanwhile, Aksyon Demokratiko, party of both Moreno and Ong, said it “respects” the decision of political personalities from around the country to pair the Manila mayor with another vice-presidential candidate.

“Mayor Isko and Aksyon Demokratiko welcome such endorsements of support. Having said that though, both Mayor Isko and the party will continue to have Doc Willie Ong as our only vice-presidential candidate,” party chairman Ernest Ramel told Rappler.

The party, he added, “openly discusses” such pair-ups with each other and “are all up for it with open minds and hearts.”

Ramel called Ong a “team player.”

When Moreno is asked about his supporters who want to pair him up with Sara, he thanks them for their support but appeals to voters not to “separate” him from Ong. It was the Manila mayor who asked the doctor and online personality to forego a Senate bid and be his running mate instead.

Support for “Isko-Sara” is not limited to Mindanao. Last February 18, a group of Cebu politicians and personalities declared support for that tandem. The group calls itself Visayas for Isko-Sara Alliance (VISA). They said they pledged their support for Moreno and Duterte because of their performance as mayors.

Splitting up official tandems and putting two candidates from different parties under one tandem is an age-old practice of Filipino voters. In 2016, there was also a movement within Duterte supporters that campaigned for DuBong or a Duterte-Bongbong Marcos tandem.

In post-EDSA Revolution history, only one official tandem was elected together – that of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Noli de Castro in the 2004 elections. –