BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – This urban capital of 600,000 woke up to a new mayor-elect as more than half of voters here chose to bring Albee Benitez, accused by rivals as a “stranger” and a “has been billionaire,” to City Hall.
They also picked familiar faces for the local council and gave an overwhelming lead to re-electionist solon Greg Gasataya.
Voters here did not also vote for political blocs, ignoring calls for a 15-0 and 16-0 and elected a mix, almost split down the middle, of officials from two rival parties.
Only Vice-Mayor El Cid Familiaran from ruling party Grupo Progreso dominated his Team Asenso rival, Caesar Distrito with a commanding lead even as his running mate, sitting Mayor Evelio Leonardia floundered.
Businessman Dan Atayde, who ran as an independent but was sworn into Grupo Progreso mid campaign, was practically trounced by Gasataya with a lead of more than 100,000 votes in what could be the highest advantage won by a candidate over a closest rival.
Benitez, a former representative of the Third District, the closest neighbor north of here, ran and won on a platform headlined “change,” and on a promise to save a city that he had earlier described as “drowning” in corruption.
Benitez got 171,893 of the total votes cast by Bacolodnons based on COMELEC data in the historic 9 May polls, the first to be held under pandemic conditions. Leonardia, meanwhile, a mayor for 18 years, got 107,447.
A three-term solon for nine years, Benitez was hounded by allegations that he is a pangayaw (stranger) to the city, a tag that Grupo Progreso used to rally their supporters by claiming that unlike Benitez, Leonardia is a tumandok or native of the city.