BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – For the first time in recent years, residents of this urban capital of more than half a million are expecting a battle royale for the mayoral race as former solon and wealthy businessman Alfredo Abelardo “Albee” Benitez is expected to clash with longest-sitting Mayor Evelio “Bing” Leonardia in the 2022 polls.
To the more than 300,000 voters here as of 2016, it is still unclear who will compose the slates of both candidates as the filing of certificates of candidacy set by the poll body opens a month from now, 1 to 8 October.
Leonardia has yet to announce his official lineup and has refused to comment on politics, repeatedly stressing that he is focused on fighting COVID that he has described as a “fulltime job.”
His party, Grupo Progreso (Group for Progress), dominates City Hall, winning 14 of 15 elective posts in 2016.
Benitez, meanwhile, has announced through his publicist last week that he has yet to pick the members of his slate.
“The official lineup of candidates for my 2022 slate is still being considered. I will announce my decision before the end of September,” Benitez was quoted to have said in a photo quote sent reporters here.
Benitez, the former representative of the province’s Third District, had transferred his voter’s residence here recently, had already announced his plan to seek the mayoral post to “save the city” he claims had been “drowning in corruption.”
He has allied himself with the Mag-Isa Kita Sa Kauswagan (Let’s Unite for Development) coalition of former mayor and solon Monico Puentevella, Leonardia’s erstwhile ally and major protagonist.
He is also backed by Cong. Stephen Paduano, a former rebel leader, and representative for Abang Lingkod (Brother Servant) partylist.
Despite Benitez’ pronouncement, businessman Vladimir Gonzalez had earlier told DNX those being considered for the slate to run as councilors are himself, former Vice-Mayor Jude Thaddeus Sayson, former councilors Claudio Jesus “Kalaw” Puentevella and Homer Bais, and former board member Patrick Lacson.
It is not yet clear who will be Albee’s congressional and vice mayoral candidates.
Lone opposition Councilor Wilson “Jun” Gamboa Jr., however, had confirmed he is willing to become the running mate of Benitez if he is picked by the former solon.
Social media, on the other hand, is abuzz with talks that Cong. Greg Gasataya and Vice Mayor El Cid Familiaran, both Grupo Progreso stalwarts, will run under the ticket of Benitez.
Familiaran did not give any comment when asked by DNX about the development while Gasataya has yet to respond to questions sent by this reporter.
In the city council, Grupo Progreso is dominant with 11 of its members sitting as incumbents out of 12 elective seats.
One GP councilor, Elmer T. Sy, died this year and his seat remains vacant although the Nationalist People’s Coalition is expected to name a replacement for him soon.
The other GP councilors ranked according to the highest number of votes received are: Cindy T. Rojas, Renecito S. Novero, Simplicia Z. Distrito, Carlos Jose V. Lopez, Al Victor A. Espino, Archie S. Baribar, Israel P. Salanga, Dindo C. Ramos, Bartolome N. Orola, Sr., Ana Marie V. Palermo, and Elmer T. Sy.
Gamboa, Jr. came in last.
Sy died in office this year and his seat remains vacant but the Nationalist People’s Coalition is expected to name a replacement for him soon.
The two ex-officio members – Lady Gles Gonzales-Pallen who represents the Liga ng Mga Barangay or the association of village chiefs, and youth representative Ayesha Joy. Y. Villaflor – are allies of the ruling party.
Gonzalez also said other former councilors who they might consider to field include lawyers Lyndon Caña and Sonya Verdeflor, civic leaders Jocelle Batapa-Sigue and Celia Flor.
Caña had earlier told DNX he is not planning to run in the 2022 polls.