SPECIAL REPORT: Zubiri vs. Acosta: Two faces of a campaign
By H. Marcos C. Mordeno / MindaNews
MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/16 May) — Contrary to expectations, the
election for the governorship of Bukidnon turned out to be a lopsided
contest between the incumbent, Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr., and Juan Romeo
Nereus O. Acosta, the three-term representative of the province’s
first district. As of today (May 16), initial results of the counting
that trickled in from different municipalities indicated that Zubiri
is well on his way to a third term. In some precincts in the third
district, the governor’s bailiwick, Acosta even failed to get a single
The congressman’s mother, Mayor Socorro Acosta, reports said, was also
struggling, although no figures were available as of this writing. The
only bright side to the Acosta family’s electoral bid is the impending
victory of Maria Lourdes Acosta as successor to her brother’s current
position. Her closest rival, controversial former elections
commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, has conceded.
Congressman Acosta’s defeat, his first since becoming a provincial
board member in 1995, has cast doubts on his family’s ability to
influence the future of politics in the province. It could even be
that their primary concern now is just to consolidate their continued
hold of the first district, if only to contain Zubiri’s plan to efface
their names from the political map.
But whatever plans the Acostas may have drawn after May 14, the fact
remains that Nereus only has himself to blame for his debacle at the
polls. He was mentally prepared for the skirmish, but his troops were
in disarray and unable to match the opponent’s well-oiled machinery
and seasoned foot soldiers. He also forged the wrong alliances with
the wrong people (for example, Valencia City Mayor Jose Galario Jr.
who is being portrayed by his detractors as a rogue chief executive),
a factor which Zubiri exploited to the hilt. The net effect was that
the lawmaker was forced to play a defensive game despite a string of
issues he had lined up against the governor.
Acosta started his campaign by projecting himself as a serious
reformist. He promised to bring about changes to a provincial
government which he claimed to have mismanaged and squandered public
funds allegedly resulting in huge loans and deficits. He cited in
particular the buyout three years ago of the foreclosed Bukidnon
Resource Company, a tomato paste processing plant in Manolo Fortich
town. The plant has remained idle until now, he stressed.
The legislator also claimed that Bukidnon has accumulated big deficits
forcing it to obtain loans which have reportedly reached 600 million
pesos. Zubiri countered that the province’s outstanding loan is only
around 200 million pesos. He added it is being used to build big,
state-of-the-art hospitals and that it is being paid regularly.
Acosta further accused Zubiri of afflicting the people of Bukidnon
with the “cancer of money politics.” The former was referring to the
governor’s reputation of being a lavish spender during elections.
Zubiri merely shrugged off the charge, saying the law allows
candidates to spend up to a certain limit.
The lawmaker also criticized as self-serving Zubiri’s manner of
implementing the health care system under PhilHealth. He pointed out
that the PhilHealth cards distributed to indigent beneficiaries bear
the image of the governor. “Klaro nga gigamit sa pamolitika,” (It’s a
clear case of politicking) he would tell his audience during campaign
Moreover, Acosta never failed to use the proposal to divide Bukidnon
into two provinces (House Bill 3312) as a political weapon against
Zubiri. He always emphasized it as a design to strengthen the sugar
magnate’s control of local politics. “Dili kontento sa usa ka
gingharian, magtukod pa gyud og laing gingharian.” (Not content with
one kingdom, he wants to build another.)
His strong opposition to the proposed division of Bukidnon earned for
Acosta the support of BUTRIDCE (Bukidnon Unified Tribal Development
Council of Elders), an organization that claims membership from the
seven tribes of the province. The same group actively campaigned for
his gubernatorial bid.
Zubiri responded by enlisting the support of the Indigenous Peoples’
Provincial Consultative Body, which is composed of known tribal
leaders. He also enumerated the scholarships and other good deeds he
has done for the Lumad.
The governor did not stop at parrying Acosta’s blows. He took the
offensive by citing charges of graft and corruption filed against his
opponent. As expected, he mentioned the alleged transfer of
congressional funds to NGOs purportedly controlled by the Acostas. He
also accused the lawmaker of having benefited from the fertilizer fund
scam which implicated former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn
“Jocjoc” Bolante. Acosta refuted both charges.
Zubiri added that Acosta has no decent infrastructure projects to show
off in his nine years as congressman. The latter denied the governor’s
allegation. Aside from citing certain physical projects that he had
implemented, he claimed that a good portion of his “pork barrel” went
to scholarships in order to build “social capital,” a statement that
made Zubiri blurt out a sarcastic “what do you mean social capital?”
Zubiri intensified his attacks against Acosta by insinuating that the
latter might have stashed congressional funds in Thailand. The
congressman is married to a Thai national.
Indeed, the campaign has so degenerated into exchanges of accusations
and counter-accusations that both candidates eventually found
themselves resorting to name calling and mudslinging. In the confusion
of battle, however, it is difficult to determine who started what.
The charges hurled by both protagonists against each other may have
some truths in them. But what mattered in the end was the level and
reach of machinery, which is vital in local elections. Clearly, Acosta
was at a disadvantage in this aspect. Zubiri has the support of most
mayors and other local officials and fielded a complete lineup for all
positions at stake.
In addition, observers say Acosta’s cerebral style of campaigning
could have worked against him. Even a source close to him confided
that he would often remind the congressman to adjust the content of
his speeches so as not to alienate his mostly “masa” audience. Most
people also find him too formal and academic. While these are not
essentially negative traits, they do not conform to the Filipino
voters’ traditional perception of a politician.
Acosta’s style is in direct contrast to Zubiri’s gift of common touch.
By design or habit, the governor finds it easy to blend with all kinds
of people he comes in contact with. He walks or travels without
bodyguards, eats in carenderias, and gives anybody a friendly tap on
the shoulder or a hug.
Of course, issues should be the primary considerations in electing
leaders. But in the absence of a politically mature electorate – and
mature politicians – that would be asking for the moon. (H. Marcos C.
Mordeno / MindaNews)