By Harvey S. Keh
Aside from the Presidential derby that seems to be in full swing already, many local politicians in Quezon City and Nueva Ecija have also started preparing for their own bids for local government positions in their respective areas.
When one passes by Quezon City, it would be next to impossible for a person not to notice the many tarpaulin banners put up by those who are planning to run in the 2010 elections. Quezon City’s progressive Mayor Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. will be finishing his last term and has already endorsed his current Vice-Mayor Herbert “Bistek” Bautista as his heir apparent. Bistek’s runningmate will be Belmonte’s only daughter, Joy Belmonte-Alimurung, who is known for her advocacies in education, youth and culture. Not many people know that upon graduating from college at the Ateneo de Manila University, Joy chose to be part of the Jesuit Volunteer Philippines’ program and spent one year teaching children in rural communities in Bukidnon. Aside from these, she is also the current President of the Quezon City Ladies Foundation that has delivered several anti-poverty programs in the poorest areas in Quezon City. Incumbent 4th District Congresswoman Nanette Daza seems to also be eyeing the mayoral post while current councilors, Janet Malaya, Bernadette Herrera, Aiko Melendez and Dante de Guzman are considering to challenge Joy for the Vice-Mayoral post. Whoever will turn up the winner in Quezon City, let us hope that they will continue or even improve on what Mayor Belmonte has done in terms of making the city one of the most business-friendly cities in the country today.
Aside from the race for mayor and vice-mayor, another local fight in Quezon City worth following is the battle for the 3rd Congressional District which is known to be the bailiwick of the Defensors, who are one of the staunchest supporters of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. For the upcoming elections, incumbent Congressman Matias Defensor (father of former Sec. Mike Defensor) will be up against current Councilor Bolet Banal, who garnered the most number of votes among the councilors of the 3rd District during the last elections. Councilor Banal has delivered good programs in uplifting the standard of public education in his district and is one of the young turks of the Liberal Party, whose leaders are identified with the opposition. For him to stand a chance of winning against the massive political machinery of the Defensors, he should be able to make sure that people in his area know that their current Congressman was the one who always shot down the impeachment of President Arroyo and more recently, supported the recent passing of the Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) resolution.
In Nueva Ecija where a spate of political killings have always marked the coming of the elections, people might be left with no other choice than to choose between an Umali-Umali or a Joson-Joson team-up for the Gubernatorial and Vice-Gubernatorial race. It seems that these two political families are intent on making the provincial capitol their own family business and aim to perpetuate further their respective political dynasties. This is the reason why civil society groups together with some Church organizations in the province are now seriously thinking of creating a third force similar to what happened in Pampanga where despite not having enough resources, priest turned Governor Eddie Panlilio ran and won against then incumbent Gov. Mark Lapid and then incumbent Board Member Lilia Pineda. Both Pineda and Lapid are also very close allies of President Arroyo. One name that has always come up in these conversations of fielding an alternative candidate for Governor is current San Isidro, Nueva Ecija Mayor Sonia Lorenzo, who is also one of the founding members of the good governance movement, Kaya Natin. Mayor Lorenzo is known have transformed San Isidro from a sleepy 4th class municipality to a thriving 2nd class municipality in less than 5 years! She is also known to have very strong bridging leadership skills as evidenced by her ability to bring in different prestigious private organizations such as Gawad Kalinga, the Ateneo Center for Educational Development and the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) to help in delivering programs in her municipality. Just last month, Mayor Lorenzo was given the unique honor of delivering a lecture on effective governance practices at the prestigious Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. It remains to be seen though whether Mayor Lorenzo will actually consider to run for higher office and whether these groups will still have enough time to organize and put up a strong challenge against these two political giants in Nueva Ecija.
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Harvey S. Keh is Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo School of Government.