Agusan pol campaigns on promise to dismantle his own family’s political dynastyBy Chris V. Panganiban
SAN FRANCISCO, Agusan del Sur—Political dynasty, the very same vehicle that brought him to politics and the halls of Congress in the past, will be the very thing Rodolfo Plaza promises to fight against if he gets elected to Congress again in May.
Ompong, as he is popularly known here, is a scion of the Plaza clan, which has maintained its grip on the province’s politics for decades now but from whom he has been estranged of late.
But Ompong, 54, said he was willing to help dismantle his family’s political dynasty and that of other clans by supporting proposals to outlaw family political affair if he is elected representative of Agusan del Sur’s second congressional district, which is made up of this town and the municipalities of Rosario, Bunawan, Trento, Sta. Josefa, Veruela, Loreto and La Paz.
He described the Plaza family’s political hold as part of the “age-old corrupt feudal wardlordism and governance with impunity.”
Ompong’s professed battle against political dynasty came as a surprise to both voters and politicians here. After all, it was the same political dynasty that made him congressman from 2001 to 2010.
The family’s name even helped him — in Agusan del Sur, that is—when he ran for the Senate under ousted President Joseph Estrada’s party in the 2010 elections. He was No. 1 among the senatorial candidates then in Agusan del Sur with as total of 127,000 votes. While it was not enough to win him a Senate seat, it proved that the Plaza family’s influence in the province had not diminished.
But now, so he says, he wants that influence ended along with political dynasties.
“If that’s the only way to end feudalism and governance with impunity…. If only to free Agusan del Sur residents from the bondage of poverty, I will do so,” he told the Inquirer in an interview.
Ompong said the “widespread corruption” at the provincial Capitol was due to the greed of Plaza family members as they “enriched themselves by siphoning almost all the government’s financial resources.”
He cited the graft charges filed in the Office of the Ombudsman against his younger siblings, Adolph Edward and Maria Valentina, during their respective terms as governor to justify his claims about the alleged corruption of members of his own family while in office.
Adolph Edward first served as governor from 2001 to 2007. He was elected anew in 2010 and is now seeking reelection.
Ompong said the graft charges against his siblings involved P852 million in unliquidated cash advances.
Adolph Edward and Maria Valentina have themselves remained silent about their elder brother’s tirades although their spokespersons have said in paid radio programs that the cash advances have been slowly liquidated and that the remaining balances totaled P90 million.
Adolph Edward’s camp has also started circulating text messages accusing Ompong of having P4.3 million in unliquidated cash advances himself when he was congressman, while another sibling, Victor, a provincial board member, has P27,000 in unliquidated cash advances.
Adolph Edward has found an ally in their mother, Valentina, who served as provincial governor for years before retiring to oversee her children’s forays into politics.
In a handwritten letter, Valentina is asking voters to vote for Adolph Edward only among the Plaza siblings, and for his running mate and incumbent vice governor, Santi Cane.
But Ompong was unfazed by their mother’s open support for Adolph Edward, saying it was not surprising. He said Valentina did the same thing when she campaigned against his senatorial bid.
“Except for Victor, the entire family campaigned against me, even traveling to other parts of the country to do that, but I still got the most otes in Agusan del Sur,” Ompong said.
He said the chances of mending fences with members of his family were slim.
“Simply put, whether they agree or not, [Plaza] is an emotionally damaged family,” Ompong said, pinning the blame on politics and what he called greed.
He is pitted against elder sister and incumbent Rep. Ma. Evelyn Plaza-Mellana, while an ally of his—Bob Aquino, a son of former Agusan congressman Jose Aquino, his father’s bitter rival years earlier—faces Maria Valentina in the race for the first congressional district.
Ompong is challenging Adolph Edward’s re-election bid by fielding another ally, Dickens Otero, son of Rufino Otero, the first governor of Agusan del Sur. His younger brother and only ally among the 12 Plaza siblings, Victor, takes on Cane in the vice gubernatorial contest.
The other Plaza members seeking election are Vice Mayor Eric Mellana of Prosperidad and Edward Plaza Mellana, both sons of Ma. Evelyn.
Eric is seeking re-election while Edward is trying politics for the first time by seeking a seat on the Agusan del Sur provincial board.
The Plaza family has ruled the province’s politics since the 1960s when their father, Democrito Sr., with his booming logging company and cement factory in Cebu, became congressman and governor. He was succeeded by his wife, Valentina as governor during the Marcos years.