MONREAL, Masbate—Soft-spoken and shod in slippers, Fr. Leo Casas, 37, may be waging a quixotic fight for governor of Masbate, but his political foes are certainly no windmills.
Casas, who resigned from the priesthood last year to run for governor, is caught between two feuding political clans in the province—the Khos and the Lanetes—and the outcome may not be pretty for him.
The Khos are fielding their 53-year-old patriarch, Antonio, against the Lanetes’ matriarch, Gov. Rizalina Seachon-Lanete, 60, who is seeking reelection.
The stakes are high. A defeat for either Kho or Lanete could weaken or, if not abruptly, end years of political domination in the first-class province with a history of political violence.
What adds fuel to the derby is a standing enmity between the two clans over the assassination of Lanete’s brother, former Rep. Fausto Portus Seachon, in 2008. No one knows who perpetrated the murder, although the clans have traded allegations.
Kho and Lanete are political heavyweights. Kho was governor for nine years before he represented the second district of Masbate in Congress. Lanete was representative of the third district before she defeated Elisa Olga, Kho’s wife, in the 2010 gubernatorial race.
With his rodeo hat, Kho, an engineer, looks like a governor in every aspect. On the other hand, one cannot question the eloquence and charm of Lanete, a former academician.
Casas is a community organizer and deputy chairman of the Regional Development Council of Bicol.
As a diocesan priest and a native of Masbate, Casas is more known for his involvement in the Masbate Advocates for Peace, a Church-led multisector organization that campaigned for violence-free elections in 2010 and which was largely credited then for the drop in bloody incidents in the province.
Before Casas joined the race, it was expected to be a bitter fight between Kho and Lanete.
A 38-year-old mother in a slum area at Barangay (villge) Ibingay in Masbate City said she would vote for Casas because she wanted change.
“If Casas will win, the people in our province can also be more religious and united as a result. The reason we have killings here is that people do not have unity,” she told the Inquirer.
But she admitted that Masbate was better off during the administration of Lanete who, according to her, was very accessible and was able to accomplish many things, especially infrastructure projects.
Her neighbor said she would vote for Lanete because there were “visible changes” under the governor.
Her husband, however, is a loyal supporter of Kho. Her late father-in-law, she said, was also a staunch defender of the Khos.
According to her, the men in her life believed that the Khos had done so much for Masbate.
But her mother, like her, will also vote for Casas, believing that a vote for Casas would be a vote for change. However, she said she did not see him getting elected.
“He cannot win against the money and machinery of his two powerful opponents,” she said.
One of her neighbors, a woman, held a similar view.
Some voters in the neighborhood remain undecided, with one saying that money surely would flow in the province during the elections.
A woman said most of the poor would vote for those who could give them money. A police official said vote-buying in the province could go as high as P10,000 per family. A young entrepreneur also said a sure vote from a person could “cost” P5,000.
Her statement was contradicted by her neighbor. “Here in Masbate, we take the money but we vote for the one we like once we are inside the polling booth,” her neighbor said.
The situation in the neighborhood, where people can only speak their political views anonymously “for fear of retribution,” reflects divisions among the electorate, especially with the surprise candidacy of Casas.
Casas is the standard-bearer of the Liberal Party in Masbate but is struggling to stand up against his two opponents because of his meager resources.
“We do not have enough money, although pledges keep coming in. We just go around meeting people with what little we have,” Casas said.
Because of a cash-strapped venture, Casas has been accused of being a spoiler in the race for the top post in the island-province, long under the list of hot spots of the Commission on Elections.
He said he was being accused of being made to run by the Khos to shave off votes from Lanete. “But I am running on my own agenda and I am offering them to the people of Masbate on my own.”
Casas said he has been looking for an alternative candidate “but no one was ready to join the race, so I decided I should run instead.”
Lanete has accused Casas of running on a “recycled platform” of reforming Masbate. “Those are longtime but past issues that we are changing already,” she said.
Casas admitted that some things are becoming better under Lanete.
“But the things being done are not enough. The focus of the governor is on the infrastructure, on the physical. But we need a reform beyond those things. We need people-centered change,” he said.
He said he missed being a priest but did not regret going into politics.
“I’m starting to realize what situation I put myself in but there is no turning back,” he said.
In a place notorious for election violence, Casas said he understood he was putting his life at risk.
Knowing he could be killed anytime, Casas said he had prepared his last will and testament.