ON Nov. 16 last year, close to 50,000 elected Cebu officials and their supporters took their oath as PDP-Laban members in Plaza Independencia. In terms of number, the mass defection was unprecedented in the political history of the province.
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who was and still is the PDP-Laban secretary-general, administered the oath of the new members who, at Alvarez’s behest, raised their left, instead of their right, hand while being sworn in.
Buoyed by the massive attendance, party leaders were quick to claim dominance of Cebu politics even if some established leaders with significant followings like Gov. Hilario Davide III, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña, his cousin Toledo City Mayor Sonny, the Duranos of the fifth and the Martinezes of the fourth districts of the province refused to join the bandwagon.
Even without them, the turnout was still impressive as even bitter political rivals showed up to manifest their support for and, unity with, the president. Old enmities were temporarily set aside and the affair had the air of a gathering of one happy family.
The show of unity was superficial, of course, and cracks are now beginning to show as the May 2019 election season approaches and politicians scramble for advantage over all others. All politics is local, former US House Speaker Tip O’Neill once said, and although the quip was made in reference to a different factual setting, it is just as true when applied to Philippine politics.
It may be understandable that those who arranged the 2016 massive show of force chose to sweep obvious problems under the rug instead of dealing with them head-on because they didn’t have the time. But the lack of follow-through is unexplainable except perhaps that the people behind the show were political amateurs. What is even more ironic is that the task of arbitrating old conflicts among supposedly new allies cannot be trusted to them.
There are many such potential conflicts. In the province’s third congressional district, for example, Tuburan Mayor Aljun Diamante, who is on his last term, is being goaded to run for congressman. If he gives in, it would put him in a direct collision course with the Garcias. Diamante was a Liberal Party (LP) member before Nov. 16, 2017, the same day the Garcias also formally swore their allegiance to the PDP-Laban (they supported Rodrigo Duterte in the elections).
A different challenge awaits the party in Cebu City’s south district. Congressman Rodrigo Abellanosa was elected under the Bando Osmeña-Pundok Kauswagan (BOPK) but has since joined the president’s party. If, as expected, Osmeña runs for reelection and the PDP-Laban fields its own slate, likely bannered by Vice Mayor Edgar Labella, will the party crack its whip to compel Abellanosa to turn his back on his political mentor?
The conflict between “old” and “new” Duterte supporters is not peculiar to Cebu. It is common all over the country. Settling them is like walking on a minefield. Could it be because of this that Alvarez wants the 2019 elections cancelled?