Florentina Congson

Like GMA, 27 others seek lower posts to stay in power

Like GMA, 27 others seek lower posts to stay in power
Written by Jesus F. Llanto
Newsbreak

For politicians with limited options, demotion is preferable to retirement.

MANILA, Philippines – President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s formula to remain influential after stepping down from office—seek a lower post—has become a practice in Philippine politics since term limits were imposed by the 1987 Constitution. The common career path is to go up, but for politicians with limited options, demotion is preferable to retirement.

President Arroyo is running for congresswoman in the 2nd district of Pampanga. She is barred by the Constitution from seeking a new term. (She is not the first Philippine president to slide down. In 1951, former President Jose Laurel, who served as chief executive of the Japanese-sponsored government during the Second World War, sought and won a Senate seat.)

Newsbreak research shows that 27 other politicians, including a senator and a former Supreme Court associate justice, will also join the upcoming local elections to seek lower posts.

The list also includes 10 congressmen running for mayors, 13 governors vying to become vice-governors, congressmen, or mayors, and 2 mayors seeking demotion as vice-mayors.

Newsbreak counted only the politicians who are running for positions with smaller constituencies than their present posts. The number doesn’t include governors running for congressmen of provinces with lone congressional seats.

Questionable Motives

The politicians claim it’s their constituents who begged them to run, but political analysts interviewed by Newsbreak said track record shows that most of these politicians are more concerned about holding on to power than public service.

Running for lower posts supposedly allows the politicians to continue the projects they started in their local communities.

“I’ve been in Congress for quite some time. This position will allow me to continue my projects during my 9 years as governor,” Bukidnon Gov. Jose Maria Zubiri Jr. told Newsbreak about his decision to run for vice-governor of the same province.

But political analysts Prospero de Vera and Benito Lim scoffed at the practice, saying it is a way to go around term limits. As long as there’s no law prohibiting it, well-entrenched politicians will continue to rule over their territories for a long time.

“It’s like what President Arroyo is doing right now. They want to hold on to power after they finish their terms. It’s a scheme to stay in power and to circumvent the legal provision on term limits,” said Lim, a political science professor at the Ateneo de Manila University.

Often, these politicians back a relative or an ally to replace them so they can easily take back their posts when the term limits no longer apply, added De Vera, a professor at the University of the Philippines National College of Public Administration and Governance.

“There may be change in positions but not of political power,” he said.

Example: North Cotabato

De Vera cited the case of North Cotabato in 2007 when former Governor Manny Piñol and former Vice-Governor Jesus Sacdalan switched positions. Sacdalan took over the reins of the provincial government after Piñol’s third and last term.

In 2008, the province found itself at the center of protests against a proposed peace agreement that sought to expand the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao by including some villages in nearby provinces, including North Cotabato. Piñol led a petition before the Supreme Court to declare the agreement unconstitutional.

“During the height of the issue of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), it was still Piñol who spoke as the governor of the province. He was the one taking the cudgels for the local officials,” de Vera said.

An outgoing politician also risks losing control over the local economy. Incumbent officials are given tremendous economic powers, De Vera said. They can advance their interests by simply controlling the granting of licenses and issuance of business permits.

“Political power pre-determines economic power especially in the local level…These people who have power are extremely reluctant to give it up. If they are out [of power], then the power will be transferred to somebody else, like their rival,” De Vera added.

In some instances, De Vera said the official who slides down to a lower post can still yield so much power in local governments because he was able to appoint a lot of key officials during his term.

But Zubiri said he is a different politician. “I don’t think the people of Bukidnon think that way. Eh kung ganyan ang iniisip ko, sana nilagay ko na lang ang anak ko…I chose to support the vice governor because he has the experience,” he said.

“Hindi mawawala ang ganyang impression, but I am not worried because in the end, it’s still the voters who will decide [my fate],” added South Cotabato Rep. Darlene Antonino-Custodio.

After serving three terms in the House of Representatives, Antonino-Custodio is now seeking to become the next mayor of General Santos City. She will face incumbent General Santos City vice-mayor Florentina Congson as well as the incumbent mayor’s brother, Loreto Acharon.

Custodio said she cannot run for governor of South Cotabato because she is a resident of General Santos, whose voters do not vote for the provincial positions. (General Santos City is a highly-urbanized city and independent of South Cotabato).
Exciting races

Other curious demotions involve Senator Rodolfo Biazon, former Supreme Court associate justice Dante Tinga, and House Speaker Prospero Nograles.

The senator seeks to switch places with his son, Muntinlupa Rep. Rozzano Rufino Biazon, who is in the Liberal Party senatorial slate.

Both Biazons are on their last terms in their current posts. The 1987 Constitution only allows 2 consecutive 6-year terms for senators and 3 consecutive 3-year terms for congressmen.

The older Biazon will be facing former ABS-CBN news anchor Ricardo Puno, who was defeated by the younger Biazon in 2007.

Tinga, on the other hand, is also seeking to replace his son, Sigfrido Tinga, as Taguig City mayor. His foray into local politics is expected to revive the rivalry between the city’s two main rival political families—the Tingas and the Cayetanos. He will face incumbent Taguig City Rep. Laarni Cayetano—the wife of Senator Alan Peter Cayetano—and local personalities Arthur Clavo and John Rarang.

Before joining the Supreme Court in 2003, Tinga served three terms—from 1987 to 1998—as representative of the lone congressional district of Taguig-Pateros. He retired from the Supreme Court in May last year.

Also on his third and last term, House Speaker Prospero Nograles is seeking to become the next mayor of Davao City, a post long held by his political foe Rodrigo Duterte.

Nograles will slug it out against Duterte’s daughter, incumbent city vice-mayor Sara Duterte.

What is more exciting about the Davao City local elections is Duterte himself is on his last term. He gave up earlier plans to seek a congressional seat—against Nograles’ son, Karlo. He will instead run for vice mayor.

The mayoralty race is not going to be easy for Nograles. But there’s a possibility that the two arch rivals will share City Hall. (Newsbreak)