By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
The covered basketball court at the Narra Homes Subdivision in Imus, Cavite vibrated with shouts and music the afternoon of April 4.
It was no summer sports league. Instead, Imus was having its own version of the many events enveloping the country since March 31–the start of the campaign period for local positions.
At an enlarged stage inside, the candidates of the “Team Saki” slate–named after their mayoral bet Homer Saquilayan–were working up the assembled supporters into cheers.
A live rock band jammed the intro tunes to pop hits like “Call Me Maybe” as each contender was introduced.
The contenders are one side of the intense political battle permeating Cavite that spilled into Imus. They wore azure collared shirts printed with lines in all caps: “No more lies”, “No more deceptions”, “No more corruption”.
The shirts and the speeches hit at the administration of Saquilayan’s opponent, Mayor Emmanuel Maliksi. The two are at odds over Supreme Court and Comelec rulings in March declaring Saquilayan the duly elected mayor of Imus. Maliksi, however, refuses to leave city hall.
But the city candidates (there since noon) were not the only reason for the excited crowd. Even the subdivision guards and barangay watchmen outside were racking their heads over the flow of vehicles entering the already-cramped subdivision from the narrow main road.
Welcoming streamers announced the main attraction—Cavite reelectionist governor Juanito Victor “Jonvic” Remulla, vice-gubernatorial candidate Jolo Revilla, and Revilla’s girlfriend, actress Jodi Sta. Maria.
The hot afternoon meant good business for nearby home-based stalls selling cold refreshments. One heavyset owner already took on blending halo-halo ingredients as the orders piled up. But she laughingly told her vendors, “Kapag dumating na si Jodi Sta. Maria iiwan ko na kayo!”
By 4 p.m., the motorcade of Remulla and Revilla arrived. The governor, wearing a personal collared blue shirt, his running-mate in white, met screams in the court. The band struck up “Mangarap Ka” as the tandem walked to the stage.
The opening melody of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” accompanied Saquilayan as he handed the microphone to Revilla.
Female shouts of “Jolo! Jolo! Jolo!” met the actor, who smiled and quickly replaced the chant with Jonvic’s name. Soon the band joined in with a beat.
Revilla held forth on his accomplishments as a barangay captain in Bacoor for the past three years and the problems in Cavite he assured the crowd he and Remulla would solve if elected.
But seemingly he saved his biggest pitch for their votes for last.
Leaving the platform for Remulla’s turn, Revilla boarded a black van parked outside the subdivision gate. After a while, the van drove near the court entrance and Revilla got off with Jodi Sta. Maria in tow.
The people outside began to shriek and greet Sta. Maria by her TV screen name, Maya.
“I don’t have work today, and it’s also my choice to support Jolo’s campaign,” she told reporter Chiara Zambrano while walking hand-in-hand with Revilla.
Then the “showbiz” question: was she uncomfortable that her boyfriend is running against her former brother-in-law Jay Lacson?
“No, wala, wala,” she answered with a smile. “Kasi past na yun, e. Kumbaga, bagong chapter na ito ng buhay ko.”
Sta. Maria is separated from Panfilo Lacson Jr., with whom she has a son.
Jolo Revilla and Jodi Sta. Maria entered the covered court besieged by even louder squeals, outstretched arms, and attempts at kisses. As if on cue, the band crescendoed to the chorus of “Please Be Careful With My Heart,” the theme of Sta. Maria’s hit teleserye.
The rivals of Remulla, Revilla, and Saquilayan were also staging a less hyped-up proclamation rally that day in Dasmariñas, more than 15 kilometers south.
There were no live bands or celebrities onstage. But Jay Lacson and gubernatorial bet Ireneo “Ayong” Maliksi were being backed up by the biggest personality in the land, President Benigno Aquino III.
Aquino urged the crowd there to support the local bets of his Liberal Party and not those who supposedly relied on “good looks” and “ineffective amulets.” Amulet, of course, referring to the “Agimat” movie roles that shot Revilla patriarch Ramon Sr. to fame.
Jonvic Remulla and Jolo Revilla are running under the Lakas Christian Muslim Democrats party, which has no bets vying for national office this election.
Remulla could not help but tease the two. He said Jodi couldn’t visit Jolo when he was ill, unlike her onscreen boss “Ser Chief” whom her character brought a bowl of “lugaw” when he was down with “a little” fever.
Jolo then took the mic to introduce Jodi, whom he called “ang nag-iisang nilalaman ng puso ko.”
Sta. Maria alluded to her housemaid character by thanking “Ser Chief” for allowing her a “day off” for the sortie.
“Narinig niyo na po ang bawat plataporma ng bawat isa po sa mga kandidato na nandito po ngayong hapon,” she said. “At siguro po, alam na rin po ninyo kung bakit po karapat-dapat na sila ang inyong ihalal ngayong eleksyon.”
At a loss for words, she had none more to add but thanks for the welcome. She still had a “gift” to give the assembly–a live rendition of “Torete,” a ballad from her TV show’s official soundtrack.
The audience roared as Revilla stood and approached Sta. Maria as she sang. He took her hand, put his arm around her, arranged her hair, and used her towel to wipe off his forehead.
The scene was no different from the noisy and jam-packed mall shows of Jodi’s “Be Careful With My Heart” cast mates. Only this time, the leading man was her real-life “Ser Chief”.
It’s nothing new. Celebrity couples have long colored elections, with the more popular lover helping drum up support for the other’s campaign.
Locally, there’s Richard Gomez and Lucy Torres, ER Ejercito and wife Maita Gomez, Manny and Jinkee Pacquiao, even Jolo’s father Bong Revilla and his wife Lani Mercado. And nationally, Senators Kiko Pangilinan and Ralph Recto with their spouses Sharon Cuneta and Vilma Santos.
Jolo Revilla is not the only celebrity running in the 2013 elections, but he is one of few banking on a little celebrity help from one closest to his heart.
Revilla, leading Jodi Sta. Maria down from the stage after the song number, said he respects Jodi’s decision to get involved in his campaign.
“Mas gugustuhin ko na wag siyang ma-involve. Pero, mas ginusto pa rin niyang sumama sa akin at ikampanya ako… Nandito ako para sa kanya, at nagpapasalamat ako sa suportang binibigay niya sa akin.”
As the stars made their exit trailed by a crowd of unrelenting fans, the city candidates and their supporters remained to clean up the remnants of an ended sortie.