Central Mindanao politics (Part 3): Old and newBy Edwin Espejo Nov 04, 2009 10:44AM UTC
With the exception of the presidential race, no other electoral contest next year will be scrutinized and given attention more than the lone congressional district in Sarangani.
The coastal province, one of the poorest in the country, is where Manny Pacquiao has chosen to launch his political comeback after a resounding and costly defeat at the hands of Darlene Antonino-Custodio in 2007.
Manny has always made it known he wants to become a member of the House of Representative.
That 2007 debacle, although it hurt Manny’s pride and pocket, cemented even further his resolve to achieve that dream.
Pacquiao knows he is at the apex of his popularity and wants to translate that into votes while he still is enjoying it.
The victory of his friend and protégé Malungon mayor Reynaldo Constantino against the vaunted machinery of the Chiongbians and Dominguez’s in 2007 and the success of his younger brother Rogel who won as village chair of Apopong in General Santos City, probably convinced Manny that it is just a matter of time until voters begin to think he deserves a place in Philippine politics.
Trouble is, Filipinos considered him an icon that should be above partisan politics.
In a country desperate for a rallying point and a figure to idolize, Manny’s ascension to sports fame and international celebrity status are matters of pride for the country.
No one, at the moment, wants to pull him down from that pedestal and virtually everybody wants him to continue his first-ballot-worthy and still flourishing Hall of Fame boxing career. Except those who want to cash in on his popularity and money.
If in 2007 Manny spent over P100 million (roughly over US$ 2 million at the prevailing forex rate then) to bankroll his candidacy and complete slates in one city and three towns for the first congressional district of South Cotabato, he will have to dig even deeper into his pockets when he runs in Sarangani next year.
Not only will he spend tens of millions for his own candidacy, he will have also to underwrite a ticket that will include full complement for the provincial slate and in seven other towns that comprise Sarangani.
Manny tried but failed to warm his way into the political camp of his declared opponent Roy Chiongbian, younger brother of incumbent Rep. Erwin Chiongbian via his friend Gov. Miguel Rene Dominguez.
In December last year, before taking a well-deserved Christmas break right after his birthday, Manny paid Dominguez a visit and expressed his intention to run for Congress in the province.
Dominguez made no commitment and advised Manny to pursue his studies.
Manny took it as a rebuff. He began looking for allies. Eventually, he decided to go against Dominguez, who is just a year older than him and is also a popular political figure in Sarangani.
Where before Manny is intent on running and fielding candidates in the seven towns of Sarangani and leaving the gubernatorial contest open in deference to his friend, his political party has decided to field Juan Domino against Dominguez.
Domino, once the nemesis of the Chiongbians, is a staunch supporter of convicted President Joseph Estrada.
With him, Manny will be walking on the tightrope. Domino is a former rival of Mayor Constantino’s late father and former Vice Governor Felipe Constantino, who is in turn a former close ally of the Chiongbians before he had a political falling out in 2004 due to charges of massive corruption.
The Chiongbians are the equivalent of the Antoninos in General Santos.
In fact, no other politician has carved so many legislations for the region in Congress than the late patriarch of the old political clan, former Rep. James Chiongbian. It was James who sponsored the bill creating General Santos in 1968 and the province of Sarangani in 1992. The Chiongbians have been almost permanent fixtures in Sarangani politics. Since the creation of the province 18 years ago, at least one Chiongbian has held an elective post.
The Chiongbian’s political reign dates back to pre-martial law days. James was member of the House of Representatives before Marcos clamped down Congress. He resurrected his career in politics after a brief hiatus during martial law and won as a seat in the re-established Congress in 1987 until he retired in 1998 to give way to his daughter Lucille Chiongbian Solon who ran against Domino but lost in the counting.
Domino was however disqualified for lack of residency, leaving the province without a representative in Congress.
But his wife, Priscilla, was the first governor of Sarangani until 2001 when she also retired to give way to understudy and Vice Governor Miguel Escobar. Her son Erwin was elected to Congress in the same year.
A crack in the Chiongbian dynasty however occurred in 2004 when Escobar and his vice governor where accused of plundering the coffers of the province.
The Chiongbians eventually tossed Dominguez, then 27, to challenge Escobar. Dominguez won by a landslide.
But the troubles of the Chiongbians did not end there. In 2007, Erwin’s daughter, then Vice Governor Bridgette Chiongbian-Huang, almost ran for governor against Governor Dominguez. Erwin virtually disowned his own daughter by sticking with Dominguez, a party mate, and supporting his nephew Steve Chiongbian Solon who ran and won for vice governor. Erwin’s daughter defied him by running again for vice governor despite pressures from the family and the party to withdraw from the race. Solon won by a wide margin.
It also did not help that during the last two terms of Erwin he was hardly seen in the province and has not made any significant legislation that benefited his constituents. With an ailing kidney which was later operated on, Erwin made himself scarce and inaccessible.
Pacquiao saw a window of opportunity in the events and development that unfolded in the Chiongbian dynasty. Erwin no longer wields the political influence that his father and mother once held. It was passed on to Dominguez, whose youth belies his political seasoning.
Pacquiao may have his millions to aspend again but the Chiongbians are no strangers to wealth. They belonged to the old-rich landed families with extensive businesses in paper manufacturing, shipping real estate and agriculture. Dominguez himself is a scion of the richer Alcantara family.
Any liquid cash Manny has, the Chiongbians and the Alcantaras can top it down. With the money issue canceling itself out, Manny’s dream of becoming a ‘Congressman’ will be decided by political machinery which the Chiongbians and, now, Dominguez have formidably built over the years.
Manny may yet suffer his second defeat, just as he was knocked out for the second time in his boxing career by Medgoen Singsurat 10 years ago, if he pursues his political ambition.