The local elections next year are still full seven months ahead and yet the election fever had already caught up with this once dusty city.
On Friday, Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio formalized her re-election bid in what is shaping up to be the most expensive election race ever in General Santos.
Clad in khaki slacks and white T-shirt, Antonino-Custodio and her partymates came in full force accompanied by her mother Lualhati and Dr. Rose Acharon, wife of Rep. Pedro Acharon Jr., who is also running for re-election for congressman in the first district of South Cotabato and General Santos City.
The re-electionist mayor has never been defeated in an election since coming in as a 27-year old candidate for congresswoman in 2001, a feat she can hold against her father and mother who both lost, at one time or another, to former city mayor Rosalita Nuñez.
Nuñez is now running for councilor under the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) slate of Custodio rival Ronel Rivera who filed his own certificate of candidacy Thursday.
Antonino-Custodio took former city councilor Eduardo ‘Boyet’ Leyson III as her running mate and comebacking former city councilor Minardo Avila and Fatima village chief Cerilo Frones to complete her slate for the city council.
The ten incumbent city councilors under the Achievers with Integrity Movement (AIM), a local party founded by Custodio’s father Adelbert Antonino, also filed their COCs Thrusday.
They are councilors Eduardo ‘Ed’ Leyson IV, Margareth Rose Santos, Elizabeth Bagonoc, Vivencio Dinopol, Richard Atendido, Nepthale Natividad, Dante Vicente, Virginia Llido, Marius Orlando Oco and Remus de Claro.
After filing their COCs at the Comelec office in Gensan, the entourage immediately motored to Koronadal City where Acharon filed his COC.
Both Acharon and Antonino-Custodio are seeking second terms after swapping positions in 2010.
Acharon will be up against Rogelio ‘Roel’ Pacquiao, brother of boxing icon and Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao.
Like Custodio, Acharon will try to keep a streak of winning in all elections he participated since 1992.
In February 2001, while vice mayor, he succeeded then Mayor Adelbert Antonino who resigned due to poor health. He ran and won in the elections that same year and served for three consecutive 3-year terms.
Both Acharon and Antonino-Custodio came from political clans. Acharon’s father Pedro Sr and brother Antonio also served as mayors of the city.
The two are also facing their most serious challenge so far with Rivera and the Pacquiaos reportedly willing to match their resources.
Rep. Pacquiao was reported to have spent more than P120 million in his 2007 failed bid to unseat then congresswoman Darlene Antonino-Custodio. Pacquiao also himself reportedly spent more than US$6.6 million (at the time the exchange rate was P51 to a dollar) for his 2010 victory in Sarangani.
The Sarangani representative is said to be willing to cover the campaign needs of brother Roel and will match whatever resources the Riveras will bring to their joint campaign machinery.
The Antoninos however also belong to the old rich families in the country who built their fortunes on logging in Mindanao. The Antoninos also own prime real estate property in Metro Manila and Davao City.
It is said that when Adelbert Antonino divested himself from RCBC when he won for congressman in 1987, he reportedly sold more than P500 million worth stocks representing his share alone in the family’s stakes at the bank.
Under the old election rules, candidates are only allowed to spend P5 per registered voter.
In 2010, the city only had a little more than 181,000 registered voters.