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HomePublic LifeCitizen Albee and why a billionaire wants to become mayor of Sugarlandia's...

Citizen Albee and why a billionaire wants to become mayor of Sugarlandia’s capital (First of three parts)

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EDITORS NOTE: Since summer of 2021, Bacolod City was swept in a frenzy over the anticipated battle royale between its longest-serving mayor, Evelio Leonardia, and Alfredo Abelardo “Albee” Benitez, former solon and arguably the richest man in Negros island.

At this point, only Benitez has confirmed that he is running for the mayoral post of the highly-urbanized city. Leonardia has yet to announce his plans for 2022.

In this first part, Perspective, DNX Executive Editor Julius D Mariveles writes about the genesis of Albee’s decision to run based on the one on one interview with him last week, the first granted by Benitez to a local press outlet after he made his announcement on 19 July.

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The succeeding parts – Part Two: Roots – will look into Albee’s background as a legislator and his declared sources of wealth and why he was listed as one of the richest legislator in the country.

Part 3: Match will present the public service records of Benitez and Leonardia.

Part 1: Perspective

Alfredo Abelardo Benitez stepped into the DNX office ten minutes before his scheduled 2pm interview and paused.

He adjusted his surgical mask and looked around, his small retinue of supporters stopping behind him.

One-on-one interview with DNX executive editor Julius Mariveles and former 3rd district Congressman Albee Benitez. | DNX file photo.
One-on-one interview with DNX executive editor Julius Mariveles and former 3rd district Congressman Albee Benitez. | DNX file photo.

As he stepped inside, they started filling in, settling themselves in seemingly pre-arranged spots inside the office – his videographer right beside the door, unlocking his tripod with a camera on it to better capture the goings on from a wide angle while Patrick Lacson, a former board member, was his usual bright and sprightly self, greeting everyone with “maayong hapon” and fist bumping those in the room.

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Three others found themselves seats, some on monobloc chairs, others on the wicker sofa.

What looked like security men waited outside where his hulking black SUV was parked.

His seasoned publicist who arrived at least an hour before him, talked to this reporter about the media and public relations industry, much of it unrelated to the client, mostly about local journalists who have already passed on.

Like a running obituary.

Stephen Paduano aka Carapali Luwalhati, former rebel, now a congressman, bantered with everyone. He was dressed in shorts and a white collared shirt, like a golfer with John Lennon style glasses.

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Tea shades.

His political ally, Albee Benitez (who he once called many years ago the saint of the impossible) was similarly dressed but wearing a pair of black denims.

And black tennis shoes.

Albee did not look jovial and friendly at first, his greeting of “good afternoon” (if he did say it at all) was barely audible to this writer.

He even looked aloof.

The niceties were brief and he soon settled into the grey oversized highback chair for the interview.

As Banjo and Rodney locked focus and sound, Albee was the first to throw questions about business, models, and revenue streams to this reporter.

“Do you do this every day? What are your shows?” were some of the questions he asked as he stretched and adjusted his white collared shirt.

“Daw ka daku na gid sang buy-on ko (It seems my belly is big),” he says as he took off his mask, revealing a smile.

It was his first one on one sitdown with a local reporter after his declaration on 19 July 2021 that he will be seeking the mayoral post of Bacolod City, putting him on a collision course with sitting Mayor Evelio Leonardia.

In his own words in 19 July, shortly after attending a hearing on the complaint filed against his transfer as a voter, he had seen and heard enough and saw the clamor of the people.

Ten days later, the body hearing the complaint dismissed it and affirmed Albee’s transfer.

“Bacolod, here I come,” he said in a statement sent by his publicist.

To put it in perspective, he says, he had no plan as far back as January, this year.

Even in February.

Lakawon Island Resorts. | Photo from Lakawon Islan Resorts Facebook page.
Lakawon Island Resorts. | Photo from Lakawon Islan Resorts Facebook page.

Until he went on vacation in Lakawon Island, a private resort in Cadiz City owned by businessman Vladimir Gonzales, who ran but lost several times for different positions in Bacolod and who is now one of his political backers.

“Cong. Caraps was there, Patrick Lacson, Vladi,” he says recalling the day when the three whom he called “political leaders” came with some village chiefs in tow.

Village chiefs, called kapitans in Hiligaynon, are elected leaders of localities called barangays in the Philippines, the smallest political unit created by then President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. under whose term Albee’s father, Conrado or “Jolly,” served as a housing minister.

Jose Conrado "Jolly" Benitez. With grandson, Javi. | Photo from Albee Benitez twitter account.
Jose Conrado “Jolly” Benitez. With grandson, Javi. | Photo from Albee Benitez twitter account.

The kapitans asked him to run, seeing what he has done for the Third District of the province, he surmised.

His answer to their urgings: No.

The kapitans took his word for it but asked one thing: that he should not deny for two weeks that he is running as mayor.

“We will float your name,” he says, recalling what the kapitanes

The kapitans took his word for it but asked one thing: that he should not deny for two weeks that he is running as mayor.

“We will float your name,” he says, recalling what the kapitanes told him.

And that was when the calls for him to run came, seemingly spontaneous, seemingly coming from ordinary people.

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manoy
Julius D. Mariveles
An amateur cook who has a mean version of humba, the author has recently tried to make mole negra, the Mexican sauce he learned by watching shows of master chef Rick Bayless. A journalist since 19, he has worked in the newsrooms of radio, local papers, and Manila-based news organizations. A stroke survivor, he now serves as executive editor of DNX.

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