Isko Moreno challenges Leni Robredo to deny asking bets to withdraw from race

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Philippine presidential candidate, Manila City Mayor Francisco Domagoso, known by his screen name Isko Moreno, speaks during a press conference in Makati City, suburban Manila on April 17, 2022.  Three rivals of Philippine presidential candidate Leni Robredo on April 17 refused to back her campaign, dousing speculation they would withdraw from the race to improve her chances of defeating the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
 / AFP / Maria Tan
Manila Mayor Isko Moreno at a press conference on April 17, 2022, during which three rivals of presidential candidate Leni Robredo accused her of asking them to withdraw from the election. / AFP / Maria Tan

Manila Mayor Francisco "Isko Moreno" Domagoso isn't backing down on his criticisms of electoral rival Leni Robredo, having repeated his call for Vice President Robredo to withdraw from the presidential race and challenging her to deny that she asked opposing candidates to drop out from the contest.

At a media interview in Bohol on Wednesday (April 20), Domagoso said, "I challenge the honorable Vice President Leni Robredo, deny. Deny niyo na hindi niyo kami pinaatras, na hindi niyo pinaatras si Norberto Gonzales, hindi niyo pinaatras si Senator Ping. Ang tanong ko, bakit, kayo lang ba ang may karapatan tumtakbo?"

(Deny that you didn’t ask us to withdraw, you didn’t ask Norberto Gonzales to withdraw, you didn’t ask Senator Ping to withdraw. My question is, are you the only ones with the right to run for president?)

Three presidential bets – Domagoso, together with Sen. Panfilo "Ping" Lacson and former defense secretary Norberto Gonzales – held a joint press conference on Easter Sunday at which they affirmed their commitment to follow through on their campaigns instead of withdrawing from the race.

The three candidates alleged that Robredo had asked other bets to withdraw from the election so that she would have a better chance against the current frontrunner, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.

Domagoso, who currently trails Robredo in election opinion polls, drew flak for asking her to withdraw from the contest instead, although his supporters have rallied around him.

The Rappler reported that Robredo spokesperson Barry Gutierrez responded to Domagoso's accusation, denying that the VP asked her opponents to withdraw. "There are no active efforts from anybody in the campaign officially… I think what’s happening here is that there are third parties talking to them, encouraging them to join forces," said Gutierrez.

The mayor, commenting on the flak that his camp is taking, said he had faced bullies all his life. He further called Robredo the "godmother" of bullies. "When you allow bully, you’re also the biggest bully. You’re the godfather of bully, in this case, godmother," said the 47-year-old Aksyon Demokratiko presidential bet.

According to Rappler, various sources said there had indeed been backchannel talks between Robredo allies and the camps of Moreno, Lacson, and Sen Manny Pacquiao, to get them to back out of the race and join forces with the VP. However, Robredo has not publicly called on her rivals to withdraw.

After Domagoso's controversial press conference, netizens had a field day with memes commenting on the "Leni Withdraw" debacle, many of which depicted Robredo making withdrawals from ATMs.

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