(First of two parts)
BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – The presumed mayoral candidacy of billionaire businessman Alfredo Abelardo “Albee” Benitez against sitting Mayor Evelio Leonardia is already being billed as a “battle royale” in this highly-urbanized city of more than half a million people, the economic and political center of Sugarlandia.
Provincial Gov. Eugenio Jose Lacson even called it a “super battle royale” – the first in recent years that to observers would pose a serious challenge to Leonardia and Grupo Progreso, the political monolith he now leads.
Benitez stirred political noise when he registered as a voter here recently accompanied by local government officials who expressed their support for him should he run as a mayoral candidate.
Benitez had also been going to public markets, visits that were greeted by cheering and shrieking residents that to his supporters show the public’s thirst for change.
In this two-part report, DNX takes a look at the “battle royale” phenomena and what it is exactly against the current context.
When was the last so-called “battle royale” in Bacolod?
The most recent mayoral race that was dubbed a battle royale was in 2004 when a comebacking Leonardia faced off with the incumbent, Luzviminda “Joy” Valdez, the only woman mayor so far of the city.
Valdez had an elaborate political and propaganda machineries including the support of at least 58 of 61 village heads.
She lost to Leonardia.
What are the elements for a political fray to be labelled as such?
What does it indicate about the psyche of voters in the city?
Would it lead to better governance?
But first. Will Albee really run against Bing? If he does, will Bing run against him?
Lone opposition Councilor Wilson “Jun” Gamboa thinks nothing is certain yet.
To him, everything is in flux. Fluid.
In fact, Gamboa believes the political stirrings are all “posturings.”
He said 2022 is a presidential election and political alignments or realignments here or in other localities would largely depend on what happens “at the top.”
Gamboa is the only candidate of the opposition Magbinuligay Kita Sa Kauswagan (MKK) headed by former Cong. Monico Puentevella who won a seat in the local council.
Benitez supported former Sen. Grace Poe during the 2016 presidential polls while Leonardia backed Liberal Party standard bearer Manuel Roxas III whose mother, an Araneta, hails from the province.
It remains unclear who will run for the presidency.
As of now, Vice-President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo appears to be the opposition’s standard bearer while President Duterte’s party, PDP-Laban, has yet to choose its presidential candidate.
Among the possible choices are Sen. Lawrence “Bong” Go, a close associate of Mr. Duterte, Sen. Manuel “Manny” Pacquiao, and presidential daughter Sara Duterte, the sitting mayor of Davao City, hometown of the Dutertes.
But why is Bacolod important to politicians?
“From an economic perspective, despite its political separation, Bacolod City remains the key to the development of Negros Occidental. In fact, as the hub of economic enterprise, the city remains central to setting the direction of growth for the province, as it was during the sugar industry heydays,” economist and political analyst Edgar Billones told DNX.
Billones noted that when the city became highly urbanized,” post-sugar era administrations put on the attitude of non-involvement, even trivializing relations with the province, in general, and other cities and municipalities in particular. Consequently, by isolating itself from the province that provides it economic sustenance, Bacolod has for some time now, suffered from an ambivalence of direction.”
Indeed, the question is: how will a battle royale affect the body politic?
Will it lead to better platforms and programs of government?
Lawyer Lyndon Caña does not think so.
A former city councilor who won successive terms as an independent, Caña told DNX the talk on the ground is already about the pricing of votes on D Day or on the day of the polls.
“There is talk that it will go up to P3,000 from P1,000,” he said.
And that is for starters.
To be continued