Metro Manila races: Dynasts persist, millennials tested | Inquirer News
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Metro Manila races: Dynasts persist, millennials tested

ILLUSTRATION BY RENE ELEVERA

ILLUSTRATION BY RENE ELEVERA

Dynasts, second-generation politicians, and millennials are running for mayor in Metro Manila’s 16 cities and its lone municipality, promising tight races two years into the COVID-19 pandemic.

The metropolis being a microcosm of personality-oriented Philippine politics, fierce showdowns can be expected between and among political families seeking to beef up or regain a stranglehold on local turfs.

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In the next 45 days, the incumbents will have to show and articulate how well they have responded to the pandemic—or, in the estimation of their rivals, did not. The unprecedented spike in fuel prices, joblessness, and other pressing issues are also points for reckoning.

“In the pandemic, we realize that if we do not have the right officials, the pandemic response would fail,” Maria Ela Atienza, political science professor at the University of the Philippines, told Inquirer reporters in an online interview.

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Ground zero

Metro Manila, home to 14 million, has been the pandemic’s ground zero, reaching a peak of 20,307 daily COVID-19 infections last January. It has logged a total of 1,168,674 cases and 12,450 deaths. As of March 21, 11.8 million, or 84 percent of its population had been fully vaccinated.

READ: PH shoots past 61 million individuals fully vaccinated vs COVID-19

That’s why it’s important for voters to understand the responsibilities of local leaders and to ascertain if a candidate has the right skills for a position, Atienza said.

“LGUs (local government units) are very crucial because we always say, all politics is local,” she said. “The way people understand politics—whether they’re happy or not—depends on the daily interaction, and if they are affected by ordinances and regulations provided by the LGUs—whether they are conscious of these or not.”

Apart from the pandemic response, which could “make or break” a candidacy, Metro aspirants should also address such issues as burgeoning informal settlements, proper waste disposal, better air quality and clean water, and livelihood, according to Atienza.

The next batch of local leaders will face bigger responsibilities that come with the implementation of the Supreme Court’s Mandanas ruling, which increases the LGUs’ share in the national government’s tax revenue, and Executive Order No. 138, which mandates full devolution of basic services and facilities from the national to local governments, she said.

Face-off

In Quezon City, Mayor Joy Belmonte is seeking a second term against Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor in a face-off that will be closely watched.

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Even before the campaign started, Belmonte, daughter of former Speaker and Mayor Sonny Belmonte, and Defensor have traded barbs on a number of points, including the city government’s pandemic response. Belmonte had come under fire for her poor handling of the health crisis in 2020. Critics specifically poked fun at the deployment of the mayor’s mascot in the distribution of relief goods to residents, but she recovered after initiating a massive rollout of vaccines and offering more access to COVID-19 testing.

“The difficulty in Quezon City is it’s very large. But the services have been great afterward. After some mistakes committed and initial errors in handling the pandemic, there were improvements,” Atienza said.

Eight other candidates are challenging Belmonte and Defensor, both 52 years old, for the same post.

Proxy wars

Elsewhere, it’s a rerun of proxy wars between longtime officials who are fielding their progeny or proteges to keep themselves in power.

In San Juan City, Mayor Francis Zamora will face Felix “Jun” Usman, a former official of Barangay Batis and former municipal sports coordinator who is running under the Ejercito-Estrada family’s party, Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino.

In the 2019 midterm elections, Zamora, now 44, beat the granddaughter of ousted President and former Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, ending the Ejercito-Estrada family’s five-decade grip on San Juan politics.

“They used to be allies. Now they challenge each other and sometimes, they do use substitute candidates,” Atienza said of the Estradas and Zamoras.

In Las Piñas City, eight candidates are hoping to do a Zamora by challenging Mayor Imelda Aguilar, 75.

New name

Former Vice Mayor Louie Casimiro, Dr. Ferds Eusebio, former Councilor Benjamin Gonzales, former city police chief Simnar Gran, lawyer Mike Maestrado, real estate broker Rey Rivera, Antonio Abellar Jr. and Aladin de Jesus are bound by a common goal: to end the rule of the Aguilar-Riguera-Villar families for nearly six decades, dating back to 1964 when Filemon Aguilar was elected mayor.

“A new name should bring in something new and familiar at the same time. At the local level, face-to-face interaction and personal links, which are part of traditional politicking, are very important,” Atienza said.

In Caloocan City, Dale Malapitan, son of Mayor Oscar Malapitan, can succeed his father if he beats a scion of another prominent political family, Rep. Edgar Erice.

READ: It’s them again: As COC filing ends, Metro Manila sees old, big names

Switching posts

In other cities, family members switching posts are increasingly becoming the norm.

In Mandaluyong, Benjamin Abalos Sr., 86, again wants to be mayor with his daughter-in-law, Mayor Carmelita “Menchie” Abalos as running mate.

Abalos Sr. served as city mayor from 1986 to 1998. He was appointed officer in charge by then-President Corazon Aquino after the 1986 Edsa uprising, was elected and served as mayor in 1988 to 1992, and was reeelected in 1992 and 1995.

He also chaired the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and the Commission on Elections (Comelec). His son, Abalos Jr., also served as city mayor and MMDA chair.

Abalos Sr. was cleared of graft charges over the alleged irregular purchase of vehicles worth P1.7 million in 2003 when he was Comelec chair, and the scandal-ridden national broadband network deal with China’s ZTE Corp.

Family names count a lot among Filipinos, Atienza said.

“This is a result of the weakness of our political-party laws, as well as election laws. We also do not punish turncoats (“balimbing”) so it’s easy for members of political families to switch allegiances every election and after election. That’s how they survive,” she said.

In Parañaque, Mayor Edwin Olivarez and his brother, Rep. Eric Olivarez, are switching places, having reached the three-term limit of their respective posts.

In Valenzuela, the Gatchalian brothers are also swapping positions, with Congressman Wes, 41, running as mayor and Mayor Rex, 43, gunning for his seat in the House.

So are the Oretas of Malabon and the Tiangcos of Navotas.

Enzo Oreta, 32, wants to succeed his brother, Malabon Mayor Antolin Oreta III, against Jeannie Sandoval, a former vice mayor and the wife of former Malabon-Navotas Rep. Ricky Sandoval.

Navotas Mayor Toby Tiangco, 54, and his brother, Rep. John Rey Tiangco, 49, are also switching places.

‘Thin dynasty’

In Pasig City, Vice Mayor Christian “Iyo” Bernardo of the Caruncho political family is challenging Mayor Vico Sotto, who is seeking a second term.

Ahead of the campaign, Bernardo filed a cyberlibel complaint against the popular 32-year-old Sotto, who reportedly called him “uncooperative and unsupportive” in the city’s programs. Sotto, son of entertainment personalities Vic Sotto and Coney Reyes and nephew of Senate President Vicente Sotto III, was elected mayor in 2019, in the process toppling the Eusebio political dynasty.

“Vico Sotto may be young, he is not a member of a local political family, but he’s a Sotto,” Atienza said, noting that the family could be classified as a “thin” dynasty. “So let’s not put Vico on a pedestal, that he’s ‘someone new.’ He capitalized on being a Sotto.”

Senior economist Ronald Mendoza of the Ateneo School of Government defines thin dynasties as families with members following each other in elected positions over time, and fat dynasties as families with two or more members simultaneously occupying political posts.

“The challenge for Vico now, since he started well, is to actually succeed in the May 2022 elections so that [we] can properly use him as a model for progressive politics,” Atienza said.

In Makati City, reelectionist Mayor Abby Binay, 46, will face only independent candidate Joel Hernandez after her younger sister, Anne Binay, withdrew from the race. The father of the two women is former Vice President Jejomar Binay, who is running for senator.

Comeback

In Marikina City, Mayor Marcelino Teodoro’s run for a third and final term is being challenged by Rep. Bayani Fernando, who served as mayor from 1992 to 2001.

In Manila, Vice Mayor Honey Lacuna, a doctor, is seeking the mayor’s post and is up against Alex Lopez; Christy Lim, daughter of the late former Mayor Alfredo Lim; Elmer Jamias, a retired police general; Onofre Abad; and Amado Bagatsing. In Muntinlupa City, Mayor Jaime Fresnedi and Rep. Ruffy Biazon, political rivals-turned-allies, are switching places in the May 9 elections.

Pasay City Mayor Emi Calixto-Rubiano is seeking a second term against former Councilor Richard Advincula, prosecutor Edward Togonon and independent candidate AJ Romero, while Pateros Mayor Ike Ponce is vying for a final term against independent candidate Marilyn Chiong. Two-term Taguig Rep. Lani Cayetano is eyeing a comeback as city mayor against former Taguig-Pateros Rep. Arnel Cerafica. —With a report from Inquirer Research

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