Reporter’s Notebook: Bukidnon politics: still a family affair
By H. Marcos C. Mordeno / MindaNewsMALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/3 Apr) – As in other parts of the
archipelago, this year’s contest for the top electoral posts in
Bukidnon indicates mutual efforts of prominent political families to
entrench themselves as the indisputable powerbrokers in the province.
Observers are particularly keen on what promises to be a battle royal
between incumbent Gov. Jose Maria R. Zubiri Jr. and third-term First
District Rep. Nereus Acosta.
Providing an interesting, if comic, sidelight to the Acosta-Zubiri
power play is the attempt of Valencia City Mayor Jose Galario Jr. to
enlarge his own domain in local politics. His plan, though, might have
already failed from the start after he committed one lapse in judgment
after another. And the governor himself is determined to deliver the
coup de grace against Galario, who in 2001, surprised everyone by
giving former governor Carlos O. Fortich his first taste of political
defeat in a three-cornered fight for city mayor.
Zubiri is not only keen in ousting Galario. He is also determined to
cement his hold on local politics.The governor is seeking a third term. His son and third-term Third
District Rep. Juan Miguel is running for the Senate under the
administration’s Team Unity ticket. Another son, Jose Maria Zubiri
III, is eyeing the House seat which Juan Miguel will vacate on June
30. A nephew, Ignacio Zubiri, will serve his second term as vice mayor
of Malaybalay if he wins against Nicolas Jurolan, a former city mayor
who used to be an ally.
The Acostas harbor parallel ambitions of maintaining, if not
expanding, their political niche. Nereus is challenging the elder
Zubiri’s hold on the governorship. His sister, Maria Lourdes, is
running as representative of the first district. Their mother, Socorro
O. Acosta, whom Nereus succeeded in 1998 as representative, is seeking
a third term as mayor of Manolo Fortich, their home turf.
In previous elections, Zubiri had to be content with waging a proxy
war against the Acostas. In 1998, he tried but failed to thwart
Nereus’ first bid for Congress by fielding former Manolo Fortich mayor
Johnny Albarece. But he succeeded then in frustrating the former
congresswoman’s desire to return to her old post as mayor. She lost to
another Zubiri protégé, Benjamin Albarece, a brother of Johnny’s.
The Albareces and Acostas resumed their rivalry for the same positions
in 2001. This time, both Nereus and his mother won. In 2004, Benjamin
engaged Socorro in a rematch, only to lose again.
In the same election, Zubiri handpicked former provincial board member
Candido Pancrudo to run against Nereus. The votes from other towns [in
the first district] showed Pancrudo leading by a slim margin. The
results in Manolo Fortich, however, reversed the tide enabling Nereus
to enjoy a third term.
Pancrudo is running again this year, this time against Nereus’ sister
Maria Lourdes “Malou” Acosta and controversial former election
commissioner Virgilio Garcillano who was involved in the “Hello Garci”
scandal that has cast doubts on the legitimacy of the Arroyo
Either opponent makes victory harder for Pancrudo despite the
governor’s backing. Malou would be riding on his brother’s name. On
the other hand, Garcillano, though running as an “independent”, enjoys
the support of Malacañang – for reasons everybody knows. Moreover,
people in this landlocked province are not that concerned, if
interested, over the implications of the plot that supposedly enabled
Arroyo to grab victory in the 2004 presidential polls. Casual
conversations with some of Garcillano’s town mates in Baungon revealed
that they would vote for the former election official because he is
For the second district, Gov. Zubiri has opted to pick a neophyte,
though moneyed, candidate for the House. Roderico Bioco, a native of
Misamis Oriental, owns Mindanao Grains, reputed to be the country’s
biggest corn processing facility located in Barangay Aglayan here.
Despite his resources, however, Bioco’s chances rest largely on how
far Zubiri’s vaunted charisma will influence the voters. The lessons
of 2004 should still be fresh in the governor’s mind, when his bet and
close ally, former three-term congressman Reginaldo Tilanduca, lost to
Teofisto Guingona III. It was actually a three-cornered fight with
former congressman Berthobal Ancheta, who was then seeking a second
Another thing going against Bioco – and Zubiri for that matter – is
the entry of another neophyte. Glen Galario, son of Mayor Galario, may
not be popular in the district level and his father’s rift with the
governor may affect his chances. Still, many barangay officials in
Valencia have remained loyal to Galario, putting in question Bioco’s
chances of getting sizeable votes there.
Valencia has the most number of voters in the province. Given its
voters’ traditional preference for resident candidates, this author
estimates that Glen Galario can corner between 30-35 percent of votes
cast for representative. The remaining 65-70 percent will be shared
between Bioco, Guingona and former governor Ernesto N. Tabios. The
name of the fifth candidate, Marlo Artacho, does not ring a bell.
Galario, however, is likely to fare poorly in Malaybalay, where his
father’s unflattering image has preceded him, no thanks to the closure
by the mayor of two radio stations and the case filed against him by
the city budget officer whom she unceremoniously transferred to
another office. Tabios, too, despite being a native of Malaybalay, is
handicapped by lack of machinery and resources and for coming late
into the fray. Most of the votes therefore will go to either Guingona
Interestingly, Zubiri can no longer use against Guingona the issue of
residency since Bioco is also a relative newcomer to the province. The
governor needs to find a better tack against the opposition lawmaker,
who appears to have maintained a strong rapport with local and
In the third district, Zubiri’s son faces no tough challenge from his
only opponent, lawyer Fabian Gardones. The district has always been
the sugar baron’s bailiwick since the time that he became assemblyman
during the martial law era. The rise of his political star owed in
large part to his close connections in the sugar industry. He served
as executive vice president of the Bukidnon Sugar Company (BUSCO) from
Therefore, Zubiri’s real areas of concerns are the first and third
districts where his bets for Congress are anything but assured of
victory. Furthermore, his desire to make them win could be hampered by
his own preoccupation with the most serious threat to his post since
2001 – Rep. Acosta.
For some reasons, local observers have always doubted Acosta’s chances
against Zubiri. They would point out the congressman’s lack of
networks and alliances among local and barangay officials. They also
think that Zubiri has more money and resources to splurge, in addition
to his built-in advantage as an administration candidate.
But some factors should not be overlooked. For instance, Acosta has
direct contact with the grassroots, particularly in his own district,
through non-government organizations and people’s organizations formed
by family members. MindaNews learned that most members of these POs
are women or mothers. Furthermore, the Liberal Party is serious in
supporting the congressman’s gubernatorial bid. As early as two years
ago, Senator Franklin Drilon had declared the party would field Acosta
Acosta knows his politics, too. Apparently, he is trying to play his
cards well in pivotal areas, particularly the province’s two component
cities. His party has fielded a slate in Malaybalay minus the
candidate for mayor. Aware that City Mayor Florencio T. Flores Jr. is
enjoying immense public support, the congressman offered to make him a
common candidate. Obviously, the gesture was a subtle request to
Flores to at least go easy [on Acosta] during the campaign.
In Valencia, Acosta has reportedly struck a modus vivendi with
Galario, an erstwhile Zubiri ally. LP’s standard bearer in the
province has no other choice. Another strong contender for city mayor,
former vice mayor Leandro Jose Catarata, is now with Zubiri. Catarata
lost to Galario in 2001 in an election which the former claimed to be
attended by irregularities even before the actual voting took place.
Ancheta is also running for mayor, a post he held from 1988 to 2001.
But his vote-getting ability at present is doubtful.
Acosta and Galario had met with Flores in Malaybalay, although it was
not clear whether they came up with some arrangements.
A source confirmed the meeting between Galario, Flores and Acosta did
occur. He, however, clarified that it was not a clandestine meeting
and that Flores’ partymates, including the governor, knew about it. He
surmised that no compromise was reached and that on the part of
Flores, it was just a gesture of courtesy to Acosta and Galario.
Meanwhile, neither of the two candidates for governor has thrown a
major issue against the other. But as the campaign heats up, Zubiri
will predictably revive, among others, accusations that Acosta poured
congressional funds into family-run NGOs. Acosta, on the other hand,
will likely capitalize on the Zubiris’ proposal to divide the province
as a self-serving move that will ensure their continued hegemony.
For obvious reasons, neither camp can or will raise the issue of
political dynasty, a fact of life that will confront the people of
Bukidnon regardless of who shall emerge victorious on May 14, 2007.
(H. Marcos C. Mordeno / MindaNews)