The path ahead
The five-year reign of two of Cebu’s most influential political figures is about to end as the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections draw near.
As a new set of barangay officials will be elected tomorrow, May 14, so there will be a new officers of the Association of Barangay Councils (ABC) when the federation later gathers its members to elect its new leaders.
ABC is the country’s largest organization of local government units with over 50,000 members, composed of elected barangay officials.
In Cebu province, Celestino “Tining” Martinez III is the incumbent ABC president while in Cebu City, it is Philip Zafra.
Both Martinez and Zafra held the post for five uninterrupted years after the village polls were postponed multiple times in the past.
Martinez, the village chief of Cayang, Bogo City leads 1,066 barangay captains of Cebu province.
While Zafra, the barangay captain of Tisa, leads Cebu City’s 80 village chiefs.
As ABC presidents, Martinez and Zafra both sit as ex officio members of the Provincial Board and the Cebu City Council respectively.
“We have a saying: At the barangay, it is where everything starts. Barangay officials have to deal with everyday challenges and are the frontliners of government,” said Martinez who is seeking reelection on Monday.
According to Martinez, if he had not entered politics, he would have become a doctor or a businessman.
However, fate led him to follow the footsteps of his father, former Bogo City mayor Celestino “Junie” Martinez Jr, he said.
“I have always seen him active in public service, always with people and helping others,” said Martinez who first entered politics when he was 21 years old as councilor of what was then the town of Bogo, now a chartered city.
In 1998, he ran and won as mayor of Bogo.
“Towards the end of my term, we fulfilled a longtime dream,” he said referring to the declaration of Bogo as a city on June 16, 2007.
Bogo City, located 98.5 kilometers north of Cebu City, has a population of over 80,000.
Martinez, now 46, has been involved in politics for about 25 years.
“Controversies and accusations will always surround you while you are in politics,” he said.
Among the controversies which involved Martinez was the graft charges filed against him, his mother former fourth district representative Clavel Asas-Martinez and other respondents in 2002 for allegedly misusing a 15 million budget intended for the Girl Scouts of the Philippines (GSP).
Despite his years of experience in public office, Martinez said he still feels nervous during elections.
“You always get a little nervous, a little anxious and a bit emotional. The reason is that elections set the path of things to come,” he said.
Zafra, who first entered politics in 2007, was thrust into the limelight in 2010 when he served as chief of staff of former Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama.
“I first entered politics in 2007 when I decided to run as barangay councilor in Tisa. But I lost. I guess the exposure I got when I became the chief of staff of Mayor Mike Rama led me to where I am now,” said Zafra.
Zafra is seeking reelection as Tisa barangay captain but he does not discount the possibility that he may no longer be the next ABC Cebu City president.
“I’m open to the possibility of whoever will replace me,” he said.
Five years as the ABC president was enough time for Zafra to see the political landscape of Cebu City change.
His previous victory as ABC federation president was largely attributed to his closeness with then Mayor Rama who held majority of the city’s 80 barangay captains.
At present, while only 15 barangay captains are allied with Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña, that too may change on Monday’s elections.
Osmeña has been very vocal in his intentions to secure a majority in the city council.
“That’s understandable on the part of the mayor. He wants the majority and I respect his views,” said Zafra.
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