With still two years before the next local and national elections, the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) has consolidated its position in Cebu’s political landscape by now officially bringing into its fold majority of its elected officials.
While key local political leaders such as Cebu Gov. Hilaro Davide III, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña and cousin Toledo City Mayor John Henry ”Sonny” Osmeña, and the Durano-led bloc in Cebu’s fifth district have opted not to affiliate with the administration party, many elected officials who used to be their allies have jumped ship in favor of PDP-Laban.
The mass exodus to PDP-Laban by local officials now placed practically all the congressional districts in Cebu City and province within the political embrace of the administration, giving rise to what Toledo City Mayor Osmeña described as the “one party regime” that, he warned, would be a “threat to democracy.”
Raising their left hand instead of their right, about 50,000 Cebu officials and their supporters took their oath as members of PDP-Laban yesterday afternoon at the Plaza Independencia in downtown Cebu City.
These included at least 12 mayors from the erstwhile dominant Liberal Party (LP), 300 vice mayors and councilors and around a thousand village officials.
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, also the national secretary general of PDP-Laban, administered the oath and thanked Cebuanos for supporting President Rodrigo Duterte.
“Nagpasalamat ko ninyo sa inyong pagpakita og padayon nga suporta sa atong President paagi sa pag-uban ug pag-apil ninyo sa partido PDP-Laban. Nagsugod pa lang ang laban sa atong Presidente. Ubay-ubay na ang nahimo sa atong Presidente pero di pa gyud kini mao.
(I’m thankful for your show of support to our President through joining PDP-Laban. Our President’s fight has just started. He’s done quite a lot but this is still not it),” Alvarez said.
He then asked the officials and the crowd to raise their left hands for the oath-taking, saying that “ang PDP-Laban walhon (PDP-Laban is leftist/left-handed).”
He even asked the crowd to shake hands with the person beside them using their left hands afterwards.
Alvarez explained that a basic membership seminar was supposed to be done first before the new members could take oath but since Cebu gave the President a huge majority among his rivals in the last elections, he said they decided to hold the seminar at a later date.
The new ‘leftists’
Also among those who formally took their oath of office were Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia and her local party, One Cebu, as well as members of Cebu City’s local opposition party, Barug Team Rama led by Vice Mayor Edgardo Labella.
Also with them were Mandaue City Mayor Luigi Quisumbing, Liloan Mayor Christina Frasco, Alegria Mayor Verna Magallon, Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Paz Radaza, Lapu-Lapu City Rep. Aileen Radaza, Cebu fourth district Rep. Benhur Salimbangon, Cebu sixth district Rep. Jonas Cortes; Provincial Board Members Sun Shimura (4th district), Yolanda Daan (1st district), Edsel Galeos (2nd district), and Glen Bercede (6th district); and Cebu City Councilors Raymond Garcia, Jose Daluz III, Joel Garganera, and Jocelyn Pesquera.
Other officials present were Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Dino, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Presidential Adviser Francis Tolentino, PDP-Laban Cebu Provincial President Jojo Dizon, and Representatives Karlo Nograles of Davao City, Geraldine Roman of Bataan, and Albee Benitez of Negros Occidental.
In a speech, Representative Garcia said she hoped Cebu will “become number one again” with the show of support of local officials for President Duterte.
With the addition of 12 more Cebu mayors from the Liberal Party transferring to PDP-Laban, this brings the number of mayors in the province that are now allied with PDP-Laban to 34. (Cebu province has 44 town mayors and six component city mayors. Three cities, Mandaue, Lapu-Lapu and Cebu, are independent from the province. )
Alvarez to Rama: ‘Keep Trying’
Ironically, the head of Barug Team Rama – former Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama – was not invited to join the ruling party after he was named by President Duterte as among the narco-politicians in the country.
Rama had been trying to seek audience with President Duterte in a bid to clear his name.
“Keep trying,” was Alvarez’ advice to Rama.
Speaking to reporters in a press conference prior to the oath taking ceremony, Alvarez said that those in the list of alleged drug protectors like Rama would have to clear their names first before being able to join the party. This includes being cleared by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), among others.
Alvarez, meanwhile, welcomed the offer of coalition by Davide and Bakud.
“For me, those who are not members of PDP, or you belong to the other party and yet you’re willing to help the administration of the President, it’s very welcome,” he said.
“Ako lang hangyo, total layo pa ang election, dili sa nato hatagan og prioridad ang politika kundi ang pagtabang sa Presidente para makadeliver og serbisyo sa katawhan (My request, since the election is still far, let us not give priority to politics but instead help the President in delivering services to the people),” he said.
One party regime
But Toledo City Mayor Osmeña, in a statement he posted on his official Facebook account, called out Davide for giving former LP mayor the go-signal to switch to PDP-Laban.
“It was ill-advised of the governor to give them his clearance. The effect of this, is that the governor has shed himself of the political support of this elected official in this forth coming 2019 local elections,” said Osmeña, who ran under Team ALAGAD against Rudy Espinosa (LP) in the May 2016 elections.
“The unification of all political personalities and party list in Cebu at least is a dangerous development that threatens democracy and is headed for a one party regime,” he added.
Osmeña also challenged Cebu Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale and her co-members in Barug Alang sa Kauswagan ug Demokrasya (Bakud), a local party led by the Durano clan, to express their opinion on the matter.
“Vice Governor Agnes Magpale of BAKUD has not (been) heard from. And it would be interesting to know if she will attend the Garcia-sponsored PDP-Laban event along with her BAKUD party members,” he added.
Bakud, through its chairperson Danao City Mayor Ramon ‘Nito’ Durano III, has earlier said that while they decided to against joining PDP-Laban, they are open to forge an alliance with the administration party.
Davide, on the other hand, had said he was not bothered when 12 LP mayors in the southern towns of Cebu moved to PDP-Laban. He said these mayors have promised to continue supporting his administration, thus, making him open to the possibility of a coalition between the Cebu chapter of LP, which he heads, and PDP-Laban.
But for Osmeña, Davide’s attitude seemed to show he has lost interest in politics: “Are we to understand that Governor Davide isn’t running anymore? Or is this simply an indication of his well known timidity,” said Osmeña.
“I am urging the freedom-loving Cebuanos to stand up for democracy and those who were elected as Liberals not withstanding the biggest permission should resist this threat to democracy,” Osmena added.
Davide, in response, said: “This is a free country. I respect what Mayor Sonny has to say, and I’m not the type of person who will force his people to do this and that. If I choose to leave LP, I can do so. But I choose to stay. And with due respect to Mayor Sonny, (this) has nothing to do with leadership,” said Davide.
The governor, who is now serving his second consecutive term in office, has not revealed any details yet to determine whether or not he will seek reelection in 2019.
Mayor Osmeña, on the other hand, denied rumors he lobbied for his party, Bando Osmeña-Pundok Kauswagan (BOPK), to become the President’s official party in Cebu City. “No, I did not lobby at all. The other side is paranoid. They think they will win by getting the support of Duterte,” said Osmeña, referring to his political nemesis, the Barug Team Rama, which is now officially allied with PD-Laban.
Osmeña stressed BOPK remains independent, adding that it is only because of its “sentimental value” that his party remains associated with the erstwhile dominant LP.
“There is no hard core loyalty because I don’t even know exactly what Liberal Party stands for except that my father is Liberal. That is why there is sentimental value but it doesn’t matter,” he said. He also noted that he was a close friend of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, husband of Vice President Leni Robredo, who is the nominal leader of LP. Osmeña said he would not stop BOPK members who would want to join PDP-Laban. “They can join anything they want. They can even join the Communist Party of the Philippines. I don’t care. Our agenda is not a national agenda,” he said.
The event caused heavy traffic congestion along major roads of Cebu City yesterday, said Cebu City Councilor David Tumulak.
“The whole city was affected by the traffic,” Tumulak said, particularly between 3 p.m. to 6 p.m, with all the areas surrounding Plaza Indepedencia blocked off from the regular commuting public, affecting public utility jeeps and other vehicles traveling from downtown Cebu City to the southern part of the city and into the southern cities and towns of Cebu.
He said the heavy build up of vehicles were seen along M.J. Cuenco Ave., South Road properties and S. Osmeña Street (North Reclamation Area).
About 20 personnel from Cebu City Transportation Office (CCTO) were deployed to manage traffic especially around Plaza Indepedencia, said CCTO operations chief Francisco Ouano.
Ouano said they had expected the heavy traffic knowing that there were at least 157 buses that were used to ferry the participants to the event.
Meanwhile, Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) director Senior Supt. Joel Doria said the mass oath taking, which was attended by about 50,000 people, was generally peaceful. “No untoward incident happened before, during and after the event,” Doria said.
About 300 policemen and volunteers were deployed to ensure the safety of the public during the event. /with NESTLE L. SEMILLA, INNA GIAN MEJIA