The determined armies of The Digong, Leni and Joel


JOEL “Tesdaman” Villanueva was initially assessed by the LP coalition as a drag to the senatorial ticket, a most likely “ loser.” While names such as Guingona, Petilla and Lapid easily got past the early screening of the party’s gatekeepers, the Tesdaman was not seriously considered by the top LP leaders. The Tesdaman became so desperate that, at some point, he planned to move over to another camp. That camp initially said yes, but changed its mind and said there was no space for a probable loser like him.

Mr. Aquino, to be fair with him, showed pity on his former House colleague and begged the LP leadership to include the Tesdaman in the slate. Saling pusa, if you will. He was the last choice of the ruling coalition and his odds of winning were placed by the LP big guns at almost zero. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history. He got the second-highest number of votes, the “miracle” of the 2016 elections. He performed better than the early polling leader, “Eat Bulaga” ’s Tito Sotto. How the Tesdaman got past the “Eat Bulaga” senator still perplexes pollsters and pundits.

It is, however, quite easy to find the keys that unlocked the potentials of his “miracle” campaign.

Mr. Villanueva “found favor”—that is how Christian groups like the JIL of Mr. Villanueva’s dad describe/express things that come their way—in the form of massive armies of unpaid volunteers that provided the steely backbone to his campaign. Tens of thousands of volunteers took time off from what they were doing to campaign house to house, hang streamers, do social-media messaging, pray in their churches for his victory and, on election day, distribute his sample ballots. Mainline Protestant and evangelical churches set aside animosities to line up behind the Tesdaman.

His supporters jestingly said their campaign was “always short on cash but overflowing with zeal and prayers.” In the Pampanga community where I move around, no one can beat the industry of Mr. Villanueva’s poster people. The zeal of his house-to-house campaigners was overwhelming and palpable.

I am a hopeless skeptic, especially when it comes to politics. I have this unmoved notion that all politics is transactional in nature. Unpaid volunteers do not exist. But in the case of the Tesdaman, it did exist, perhaps as an outlier. And those armies of dedicated volunteers proved to be more potent than the institutional—but compensated—campaigners at the grassroots of the well-known senatorial candidates.

What else could lift him from No. 14 in the early polling to his second place now?

We now go to The Digong.

The Roces family resurrected The Manila Times in 1986 and the timing of the first issue fell on the uncertain days after the February snap elections. The first issue had this banner headline— “A million came for Cory.” I wrote the story and it was about the mass of humanity that packed Luneta to listen to Mrs. Aquino’s appeal for the boycott of the crony firms identified with the late dictator.

I still remember the composition of that crowd. People from the A bracket to the CDE brackets that spilled over into the TM Kalaw area—all with that purposeful sense that a new day was coming and the dictator was at his end-days.

While the A attendees were chauffeured to Luneta, those from the slum areas of Tondo and Baseco marched into Rizal Park with their baon of tap water and cheap bread. There was both gaiety and intensity and the anticipation that an epochal shift in the country’s history would soon take place.

The crowd that packed Rizal Park to listen to Digong Duterte ‘s miting de avance spiel stirred in me a sense of déjà vu. I said to myself that I have seen that intense crowd before and that was during the first salvo of Mrs. Aquino’s boycott call. From A bracket to the CDE—all gathered to make political history. At the same place and with that same unwavering conviction to create change. I found it ironic that in 1986, Mrs. Aquino spoke for a nation tired and weary of Marcos. In 2016, Mr. Duterte’s voice articulated the collective grievance against Benigno Aquino 3rd, the 2nd Aquino President and unapologetic Social Darwinist and President of the 1 percent. And the son of Mrs. Aquino.

The story of the 2016 presidential elections was about the unflappable political warriors of Digong Duterte and their sheer determination to break the elite’s stranglehold on political power. Even Joe David Lapuz was aroused from his “ten mattresses” to make his pitch for The Digong. (Joe David Lapuz used to tell his Lyceum students that he opted out of the movement because he can’t survive the then Spartan life of the underground. I sleep, he said, on top of “ten mattresses.”)

Leni Robredo’s rise from kulelat in the early polling to her lofty standing in the vice-presidential count can be attributed to unpaid armies that campaigned for her as if she were a stand-alone candidate and not at all associated with the campaign of the hopeless Mr. Roxas. The campaign was framed this way: Leni or Bust. It went with a caveat: you are free to choose your presidential candidate. In middle-class villages in the Quezon City area, I saw such intense Leni or Bust campaigners. I saw them in many areas of Central Luzon. They campaigned, mostly probably, without tacit approval, and zero support, none whatsoever, from the Robredo camp.

Somebody has to expound on this story. On how armies of zealous volunteers defied traditional politics, then scored mind-boggling victories. That is the most important story of the 2016 campaign. Those planning to write about it in-depth can start with Exhibits A, B and C—The Digong, Leni Robredo and Joel Villanueva.


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  1. Sec. Joel “TESDAMAN” Villanueva, former DG of TESDA, now officially be called a Senator…loved by many with millions of people he helped to get jobs and have a better living.

    Here in Pampanga, he was supported by our Governor Lilia Pineda, endorsed by competing congressmen of diff districts, endorsed by mayors and even councilors from different parties. There was also a convention where Gov.Pineda endorsed Sec. Joel Villanueva to all Barangay Captains of Pampanga.

    Different Councilors ans our Incumbent and re-elected Mayor Wong of San Simon always included TESDAMAN in all Caucus. Our Mayor even pleaded to all people gathered every Caucuses not to forget #49 Villanueva, Joel Tesdaman as Senator. TESDAMAN spokesperson elaborated why he is to be supported. TESDAMAN Dancers were also given a time to dance TESDAMAN campaign jingle.

    In the tarpaulins and Paseos of Mayor Wong and Councilors — TESDAMAN is also included.

    Sec. Joel TESDAMAN Villanueva gained not just political endorsement, he was also supported by different sects or religious groups such as Catholics led by Bishops who publicly endorsed Villanueva, Iglesia ni Cristo, Ang Dating Daan, Born-again Christians and a lot more.

    Factories and Industries along Quezon Road in San Simon supported TESDAMAN. Mr. Co, Chairman of Chambers of Commerce and Industry in San Simon is a die-hard supporter of TESDAMAN.

    Schools, esp. Tech-Voc schools gave their 101% support to Villanueva with the number of teachers, instructors, staff, to the students enrolled ansd to their parents.

    Aside from all of these overwhelming support, there are hundred and thousands of unpaid yet so passionate supporters who hang tarps and streamers night and day, knocking to every houses – introducing TesdaMan – literally house to house – target not to missed a single house–we call it Suyod Barangay. We have numbers of Paseo roaming 10hrs./day around the town everyday. We bought our own TesdaMan shirts, tarps, streamers, flyers, leaflets, stickers, and all other paraphernalias. TesdaMan has supporters down to grassroots not just all over the Philippines but around the world.

    We’re also active in Social Media, that’s why he’s always on top trend in Twitter and always seen in News Feed.

    Plus the political ads aired daily in National Television and numbers of interviews in Radio broadcast, no wonder awareness increased rapidly.

    I worked in Ortigas, and the whole company composing of hundred and thousands of employees committed to VOTE for him.

    Our relatives who lives in various parts of Manila, Rizal, Zambales, Bohol, Negros, Bulacan, Cebu, Davao and in abroad (US, Canada, Europe, Middle East, Hongkong, Korea and in Australia) campaigned and voted for TesdaMan in their offices, schools and in their communities.

    During elections, even our neighbors said that they only vote for TESDAMAN because according to them he is the only senatorial candidate they knew since TESDA trainings had reached even the distant barrios in our place.

    I myself distributed flyers and sample ballots and people responded as “Iboboto namin lahat yan. Mananalo yan!”

    In the clustered precinct #48 where I am assigned he was no.1.

    In our place, San Simon, Pampanga – Sec. Joel TESDAMAN Villanueva is rank 1 with 58% of the total number of votes casted.

    No wonder, he landed at Top2 among all Senatorial Candidates.

    We love TESDAMAN. :)
    Congratulations Senator Villanueva!

  2. Mr. Ronquillo, Sir naman. I don’t mind you giving biased argument bcoz by nature. all of us have baiases. but forgod sake. pls dont forcefully shrug your spoon to the mouths readers specially on print because its an insult to the highest form among your fellow citizens.
    1.) PPRCV function as a mere decoy. Since there unofficial vote counts not only mislead the public. it even help undermines the real and official tally votes. You see. the function they provided is nothing but even confusion. Perhaps their primary role is to check the publics sentiments and reactions on airing unofficial vote counts through media and internet. Thus the Comelec might able to calculate every moves they would act. This in accordance with the publics sentiment. ( A not so brilliant strategy. ) Ms robredo has been campaigning that she won already when her basis is through PPRCV. the unofficial and parralel partner of comelec only. A calculated move to calibrate the peoples reaction by claiming to be the official winning VP candidate( duh its obvious). this why the trigger command might have done on the middle part on the official vote counting last May 9.(again basing on publics reaction during after the election if there are strong or mild reaction of the public on the unofficial votes aired on TV/ radios.
    2.) Heller! Tesda Boy is a clear beneficiary of HOCUSPCOS machine. Tesda boy was never discussed in any places I’ve been.not a single discussion on his relevance on any of the social media forums. Mr.romualdez famous surname and intensive constant TV commercials have helped him. Now are you saying through the people sincere advocacy in helping him made through no.2 spot. He maintained the no 1. lead until he reached 14 million votes that all people had been asking. wondering what made him number 1 and casted doubts. the obvious was clear of sight that LP made a slight adjustment to number 2 and instilled DRILLON as number 1? WTF.
    Villanueva is POE of 2010 in the making. making the people believed and be condtioned its mind once again for the possible future leader of LP.
    poor lenie. she is made to believe as a fool that she won. [ DO you really think and believe that the USA official result that a ROBREDO name could more famous and recognizable than Marcos. ( Hahaha. only fools had been fooled) certainly not the Filipino again.

    • Kennedy Santos on

      i dont think tesdaman is a beneficiary of hocuspcos, nakita ko sa FB iba ibang volunteers from different areas campaigning for tesdaman, yon talaga ang susi ng pagkapanalo nya, mga hindi binayarang volunteers, at maraming natulungan. Lahat ng makausap namin will vote for tesdaman kahit taga saan.. Nagsalita na ang mamayan.

    • Melinda santos on

      I am one of TESDAMAN’s volunteer. We went house to house to campaighn for him. We receive nothing bcoz we expect nothing but victory for our future senator. The only consolation that we have that time was to hear those we talked to saying that they are for Him for they,themselves, are tesda beneficiary. They knew what he did and they now have jobs becoz of his good governance as the tesda head. So it is really not fair for him and for us for you to say that he won becoz of hocus pocus. If you believe Digong is only the authentic winner, didn’t you know he endorsed him, the INC and other religious group. And most of us made single vote. I believe you know how it will affect his vote.

  3. it is really true, wala po kming bayad volunteer lang talaga kmi ni Senator Joel. Ang pangbawe lang ay libreng food. Taga Valenzuela po ako. I am proud to say we are different sumagi man sa isip namin bakit wala bayad? Well it is our personal service para makapagluklok ng karapatdapat sa Senado. sa mga naninira umayos kayo wala po ata kayong alam di namin kau kasama sa libreng campaign. Basta masaya kaming nagcacampaign wala mang bayad pagkaen lng minsan abunado pa kmi. Even tshirt kami po bumili out of our own money just to support Mr. TESDAMAN!

    Mlakas lang talaga po si tesdaman anunf hukos pcos po jan vcm na po gamit di na po pcos hihi

  4. I thought you were around since 1986, to know the intricacies of RP elections, how things were and are manipulated including the just concluded election. Anyway you are entitled to your opinion though vastly inaccurate to say the least.

  5. Rudi Miranda on

    Thank you! Is Gideon Ronquillo a relation? Perseverance, determination sans finance scandal pays!

  6. I beg to disagree with your observation on Ms. Robredo’s case. If ever she is eventually proclaimed as the winner in the presidential race, it is because she benifited from fraudulent means–and not through determined army of supporters. The fraud may not be her own doing, but she is a benificiary. Please be factual.

    • tagaDumantay on

      Rematch na lang kayo sa 2020 for President. File your case and show evidence that BBM was cheated.

    • I do not agree. You said be factual, what evidence do you have that it is thru fraudulent means ? Leni appeal is her genuineness and charisma. From the start, survey says she is in the lowest percentile point and Chiz was on top. She earned the position day by day , barrio by barrio. I know it is hard to believe that she has beaten the icon BongBong and Chiz but it happened. She will be proclaimed VP.

    • leonardo o. odono on

      Yes mllacuna. Please be factual. Show evidence there was cheating against Bongbong. If I got it correctly, there are still more than a million votes to be counted. What if Bongbong has enough margin over Leni out of the uncounted votes to overtake Leni’s 200k-vote lead now, will you and the other Marcos loyalists continue to say there was cheating?

  7. I would want you to also write about the Smarmatics shameless breach of security protoco while canvassing is going on. Leni’s numbers is in great doubt.

  8. Prinze Fisher on

    I don’t think Villanueva wins fairly. He is just like Poe during 2013 election. A beneficiary of hocus pcos machine manipulation.

    • Liwayway Villela on

      You are entitled to your own opinion but for us who campaigned for TESDAMAN voluntarily he deserve to be on top. We talked to people even in the most remote areas in our community and I was so surprised they knew him because of what he did inTESDA,and one thing they used to call him idol, I am also witnessed some people who knew that we have very limited supply of flyers told us that they will not take the flyers from us instead give it to others anyway “Siya naman ang aming iboboto” yes as TESDAMAN said he was humbled with the overwhelming result of the election it is God’s miracle but accusing him that he cheated I think it’s not fair.

    • Kennedy Santos on

      bumuto ka lang ba? dapat nagbantay ka hanggang bilangan, at nakita mo kahit saan nasa top 5 si tesdaman. balikan mo lahat ng kabarangay mo kung binoto si tesdaman at baka nagkakamali ka ng paratang.