THERE are no permanent friends or enemies in politics, only permanent interests.
This is indeed evident in Cebu’s political landscape that changed colors from yellow to red after Rodrigo Duterte swept the 2016 presidential elections in a landslide victory, garnering 16 million votes, one million of which was contributed by Cebu.
As Mr. Duterte’s popularity soared sky high, elected officials in Cebu immediately rolled over to the President’s party, the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) and took their oath of loyalty.
It didn’t matter that months before that, they were part of another party where th ey had pledged their allegiance to.
Today, only Gov. Hilario Davide III and Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña have remained allied with the erstwhile dominant Liberal Party (LP), but they too have been supportive of the Duterte administration’s pronouncements and policies.
During the campaign, most of the local officials in Cebu ran under LP, the party of then-president Benigno Simon Aquino III. But the Cebu City mayor at that time, Mike Rama, and his party, Team Rama, supported the presidential bid of then–vice president Jejomar Binay of the United Nationalist Alliance. While only a few local officials supported Mr. Duterte, the Davao City mayor won in Cebu, while LP’s bet Mar Roxas placed only second.
Less than three months after the elections, more than 300 elected officials moved to PDP-Laban. Among them were Mandaue City Mayor Luigi Quisumbing, Vice Mayor Carlo Fortuna and all of the city’s councilors.
The Team Rama members, except for Rama, also joined the ruling party. The former mayor, who founded Team Rama, was barred from joining PDP-Laban after his name was included in the list of alleged narco-politicians in the country. Rama denied the allegation and had been seeking audience with President Duterte to clear his name but to no avail.
But unlike in previous administrations, the Duterte administration appears not keen on political persecution.
Instead of running after those who didn’t support him, he is focused on the campaign against illegal drugs.
“The administration of President Duterte has instilled and inculcated into the grassroots, particularly the barangay level, the importance of fighting illegal drugs; making barangays aware. Look around us, barangay officials are conducting symposiums, even personally joining drug raids,” Cebu City Vice Mayor Edgardo Labella of Team Rama said.
Philip Zafra, president of the Association of Barangay Councils (ABC) in Cebu City and member of Team Rama, said the city’s 80 barangays were supportive of the administration. “As I see things right now, this administration is fair to all,” Zafra said.
Drug war takes precedence over politics
Fortuna said partisan politics is not the priority of President Duterte but the fight against drugs.
“In the local level, no distinction is made between party mates and non-party mates in these campaigns (against drugs and corruption),” he said.
Cebu City Councilor Raymond Alvin Garcia, a new member of the PDP-Laban from Team Rama, said President Duterte was more “attuned” to the problems of the provinces since he didn’t come from Manila.
The President also assigned a presidential assistant from Cebu — businessman Michael Dino — to be his alter ego in the Visayas, Garcia noted.
“Although his (Dino’s) scope is the entire Visayas, his main focus or even 60 percent of his time and attention is focused in Cebu,” Garcia said.
Garcia said several projects have been lined up for Cebu with the help of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (OPAV). One of these is the P50-billion Metro Cebu Expressway, a 74-km. highland road mixed with subway that will snake across much of Metro Cebu, from Naga City in the south to Danao City in the north.
The project, which is expected to break ground next year, will be the most expensive infrastructure project since the Marcelo Fernan Bridge, the second bridge that connects mainland Cebu to Mactan Island that was built during the Ramos administration in the 1990s. Labella said the national government has lined up projects regardless of political affiliation.
Although he chose to remain with LP, Mayor Osmeña is an open admirer of Mr. Duterte, with whom he has been friends since their early days as city mayors.
Osmeña, who heads Bando Osmeña-Pundok Kauswagan (BO-PK), has met with the President several times during his visits to Cebu. President Duterte himself publicly acknowledged Osmeña as a friend during the groundbreaking of the Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway (CCLEX) project groundbreaking last March.
BRT vs LRT
City Councilor Joy Augustus Young said nothing much has changed in the political dynamics with the Duterte administration.
“We, the BO-PK, are a local party. We affiliated with the LP but our party is really BO-PK, so we’re not moving here as LP. We helped them (in the last elections), but the national party is not important now. We are more concerned with running the city,” Young said.
He, however, admitted that in the previous administration, BO-PK officials had a direct line to President Aquino.
While Osmeña is friends with President Duterte, he doesn’t get along with his presidential assistant for the Visayas, clashing over a number of issues, the latest of which involved the transport system that could best solve the traffic problem in Metro Cebu.
Osmeña initiated the P10-billion Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), which aims to replace passenger jeepneys with buses as mode of public transportation in the city’s major thoroughfares.
But just as the city government has started to implement the BRT project, Dino declared he wanted it canceled and replaced by Light Rail Transit (LRT) system to decongest Metro Cebu’s traffic. And only last Friday, Dino announced that the P50-billion LRT project will break ground next year.
President Duterte is aware of the public feud between the two officials.
In his opening speech during the CCLEX groundbreaking in March, he asked Dino in jest: “Unya nagtagad na mo ni Tomas (Have you now exchanged pleasantries with Tomas)?”
Both Dino and Osmeña were sitting on stage although they were seats apart.
Still, the President doesn’t intervene in the feud. Well, not publicly.
Councilor Garcia said the President makes decisions with the public’s general welfare in mind.
“The President does not owe his position to any politician or businessman. In that sense, his vision is for the betterment of the Philippines, whatever is good,” said Garcia, who is himself politically at odds with Osmeña.
While the local officials appear loyal to the present administration, a lot of things can still happen in the remaining five years that President Duterte will be in office.
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