Central Mindanao politics (part two): Politics is thicker than blood
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Central Mindanao politics (part two): Politics is thicker than blood

We have seen it before. We are seeing it now. In politics, as they say, there are no permanent allies and enemies. Not even blood relations could belie that political adage.

General Santos City mayor Pedro ‘Jun’ Acharon Jr will carry a lot of political baggage when he runs for a seat in the House of Representatives next year. His younger brother is running for mayor and a nephew is aiming at the vice-mayoralty.

That should not be a problem, eh? Unfortunately, it is.

Lawyer Loreto ‘Tonton’ Acharon, the mayor’s younger brother, has reaffirmed his intention to run for mayor against Darlene Magnolia Antonino-Custodio who will be swapping positions with Jun.

As awkward as it may be, local politics in General Santos is threatening to become an exclusive affair of the Antoninos and the Acharons. Since 1971, only four people have occupied the mayoralty through elections: the late Antonio ‘Toning’ Acharon, Rosalita Nuñez, Adelbert Antonino and Jun Acharon.

Antonino owed the Acharons, particularly Toning, one big political debt. It was Toning, who was ousted from the mayoralty following the 1986 Edsa Revolt, who gave life to the fledgling political career of Adel. By the time elections were held in 1987, he was already a spent politician, sick and slowly slipping out. Adel made a pact with Toning in the Congressional elections the following year in exchange for financial support and promise of getting Acharon back into political influence and position if the latter supported his congressional bid.

Adel has repaid that debt many times over after winning a seat in the House of Representatives in the 1987 elections. He is now undoubtedly the acknowledged political kingpin in the city. Except for an aberration in the 1995 elections when complacency got the better of him and he lost to Nuñez in the mayoral race, Adel has reigned supreme in the city.

In fact, the two times an Antonino lost in the city were both to Nuñez. In 1988, where another Acharon, Jose Orlando ‘Odyok’ Acharon, also ran for mayor, Adel’s wife Lualhati lost against then OIC mayor Nuñez and in 1995 when Antonino’s overconfidence allowed Nuñez to reclaim city hall.

Antonino is known as a vindictive politician. When Nuñez spurned overtures for a political merger with Antonino in 1988, he challenged and defeated her in 1992. In 2001, after determining that Nuñez could no longer make a comeback, Adel resigned as mayor barely three months before the elections. He was replaced by Jun who was then his vice-mayor. His daughter also ran for the seat in Congress his wife Lualhati was then vacating.

So why is next year’s political exercise threatening to break up the powerful local political alliance of the Achievement with Integrity Movement (AIM).

For one, Tonton, the maverick that he is, is defying his older brother. He felt that they do not owe it to the Antoninos to be bullied around. In private, he is also telling friends that he was promised the position when Jun completes his three terms. And that will be in 2010.

Tonton showed signs early on that he will not toe the line of AIM. When Jun first won as mayor, he tried to organize a local political movement to which Adel did not take too kindly. Since then, Tonton has distanced himself from his brother’s shadow and completely turned his back on Adel. Thrice at least, he reportedly refused to meet Adel.

Meanwhile, Vice Mayor Florentina Congson has announced she will run for mayor next year. Congson, like Jun and Darlene, belongs to the same party. With age catching up with her, Congson will try to go out of politics in style – by winning the mayoralty. Like Tonton, Congson feels it is time to challenge the Antoninos.

Of course, there is still Nuñez who is again throwing her hat into the ring. That will make the mayoralty race a four-cornered fight.

While Jun still has to find a viable opponent in his bid for a seat in Congress, he could find himself looking at his back.

Adel will likely not take Tonton’s defiance lightly. He could also torpedo Odyok’s attempt to become vice-mayor.

As monolithic as the AIM appears to be, four of the incumbent councillors whose terms will expire next year are also contesting the vice-mayoralty, Odyok included.

Although Odyok enjoys the advantage of garnering the highest number of votes in the 2007 elections therefore making him a logical choice for that position, Tonton’s gambit could spell disaster to the Acharon political clan.

There is no preventing Adel from shooting them all down (Jun, Tonton and Odyok) in a worst-case scenario. Or he could employ the time-tested war strategy of dividing and conquering the Acharons whose unity could spell disaster for the Antoninos themselves.

It is worth watching what will happen in the next few weeks when candidates start filing their certificates. We can only wait with bated breath.