GENERAL SANTOS CITY – President Benigno Aquino III arrived here Friday afternoon (April 26) to lead a big rally on Saturday, April 27 for his coalition Team Pnoy as the May elections head into the homestretch.

Aquino is also here to give a strong, final push for the re-election bid of General Santos City Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio who is in a tight race with lone rival Ronnel Rivera, the official candidate of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).

AQUINO ALLY. General Santos City Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio is gunning for re-election, and has been endorsed by President Benigno Aquino III. Photo by Edwin Espejo

General Santos City Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio is facing a big challenge in Ronnel Rivera.

Rivera topped the 2010 race for the city’s 12-seat city council despite running as an independent.

Bebe-I Gonzales, a close aide of former Rep. Lualhati Antonino, mother of the incumbent mayor, said the president will personally endorse Darlene to ensure that the planned infrastructure projects in the city will push through.

The re-electionist mayor is running under the administration coalition.

Antonino-Custodio told ABS-CBN Socsksargen, Aquino will address the city’s crippling power supply problem. Last week, he blamed Mindanao leaders for their alleged failure to address the island’s critical power supply.

This is the second time the president is appearing in General Santos to endorse his senatorial ticket.

In February, Aquino told the crowd in an indoor rally that he will be “borrowing” Darlene in 2016, hinting at a possible crack in the Senate race for the 41-year-old city mayor.

Needed push

An Antonino-Custodio loss in the mayoral race in General Santos would be embarrassing for the president.

Rivera is running under Sarangani Rep Manny Pacquiao’s People’s Champ Movement which is capitalizing on the daily seven-hour power outages to criticize Mayor Antonino-Custodio. The opposition is blaming the city mayor for her alleged failure to anticipate the effects of the power supply problem that was already predicted as early as 2007.

The Antoninos have kept a tight grip on the city’s political landscape, keeping the congressional seat for the first district of South Cotabato from 1987 until 2010 when their political ally former City Mayor Pedro Acharon Jr traded positions with Darlene.

Adelbert Antonino, father of Darlene, was the first elected congressman of the first district of South Cotabato when Congress was restored in 1987. Adelbert ran for city mayor in the 1992 elections, beating then re-electionist Mayor Rosalita Nuñez.

Adelbert’s wife Lualhati ran for congress in the same year and served in the House of Representatives until 2001.

It was then Darlene’s turn to run for congress in the same district in 2001.

Darlene has never been beaten in an election, unlike her father who lost to Nuñez in 1995 and her mother who also lost in the mayoral race against Nuñez in 1988. Darlene, however, is facing her most difficult challenge yet against Rivera who can match and even outspend the Antoninos.

The Riveras are the city’s richest family with a conglomerate anchored on their vast fishing business. They are also into banking, real estate, hotel and hardware chains, lending and pawnshop business, printing, canning and scores of other businesses.

Ronnel Rivera has also forged an alliance with Filipino boxing great Pacquiao whose brother is running for congress against Acharon.