The troika of Vice Mayor Shirlyn Bañas-Nograles, Councilor Ronnel Rivera and Apopong village chair Rogelio ‘Roel’ Pacquiao is finally coy no more.
Friday, they were captured on television together where they announced they will soon bare a lineup that will challenge the political reign of the Antoninos and the Acharons in General Santos City in the southern Philippines.
This was not totally unexpected as many have seen telltale signs Rivera was really interested in capturing the city’s top executive post. Topping the 2010 race for councilors was just his first step.
Rivera and his band of young political upstarts are up against the well-oiled Antonino machinery and a still potent old political family in the Acharons.
While the Antoninos only became a political force in the city after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship, the Acharons pre-dated the late President Ferdinand Marcos in politics, albeit in the local variety, when the city was then known as the town of Buayan. Rep. Pedro ‘Jun’ Acharon Jr’s father and namesake Pedro Sr was once also the mayor of Buayan town, while half-brother Antonio was the first elected mayor of General Santos after it was proclaimed a chartered city in 1967. The Antoninos and the Acharons were known allies of the late dictator who benefited from Martial Law either economically or politically.
With his recent pronouncement, Rivera has fully embraced the opposition tag.
But there is not much political history or opposition blood in him except that elder brother Ryan once ran against but lost to incumbent Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio in 2001 for a seat then in the House of Representatives.
Roel Pacquiao, of course, is the younger brother of Rep. Manny Pacquiao who likewise lost to Custodio in the 2007 congressional race in the city.
Unlike Rivera and Pacquiao, whose opposition label is both nascent and recent, Vice Mayor Shirlyn Bañas traces her roots to her late uncle Rufino Bañas, a lawyer, who once served in the defunct Batasang Pambansa by winning as member of the Marcos opposition group Mindanao Alliance in the 1984 elections.
Before she joined the opposition, Shirlyn however once ran under the Achievement with Integrity Movement of the Antoninos and topped the local legislative race in 2004. She severed her ties with the Antoninos soon thereafter and ran for mayor in 2007. She lost. In 2010, she made a political comeback by winning as vice mayor over Jose Orlando Acharon, nephew of Jun and the running mate of Darlene.
Since 1998, however, the Antoninos and the Acharons have held sway over the city’s political scene with both Jun Acharon and Darlene Antonino-Custodio serving as mayor and representative respectively for the first time in 2001. In 2010, the two traded places after handily winning all their two re-election bids.
With the exception of the mid-’90s when there was a vibrant opposition in the city council when Adelbert Antonino was mayor of the city, rival political groups have practically abandoned their causes and only emerged and become active a couple of months or so before the elections. Previous opposition groups likewise did not have the consistency, credibility and commitment to be able to rally the voters. In addition, they did not have the eloquence and charisma needed to dislodge the Antonino-Acharon combination. Not even the fledgling popularity of Manny Pacquiao, and his tens of millions, was able to unseat them in 2007. Not Jun’s younger brother Loreto Acharon who ran against Darlene in 2010.
Rivera however presents a new challenge to the Antoninos. He is young, scion of one of the richest, probably the richest, businessmen in the city. Ronnel has struck a political alliance with Rep. Manny Pacquiao (of nearby Sarangani Province) who is said to have declared that the political contest in the city next year will be decided on who has the most resources.
Pacquiao is by no means a spendthrift. He reportedly spent more than US$6.6 million a month prior to the 2010 elections. This is not including perhaps more than US$3 million the year in the run-up to his victory as “ground preparations.” A victory by his brother over his former nemesis in the city will give him a different political high, perhaps even sweeter than his own 2010 triumph. In short, this is Manny’s proxy war.
The combined resources of Pacquiao and the Riveras can even help one get elected to the Philippine senate.
But can Rivera and his clique erase the stigma of ‘one day opposition’?
We have yet to hear what they have to say on the major issues that affect all residents in the city. And they have yet to present what difference they have and will make compared to the Antoninos and the Acharons.
Or will they again fall into the money trap and go the traditional politicians’ way?
Are the Antoninos and the Acharons really unbeatable or is their time already up?