BEING the host of his 61st birthday party, Chester Cokaliong had the license to say what he wanted to say to his guests.

As a businessman who wields influence in the political community in Cebu City, he announced with joviality who his preferred candidates in the May 2022 elections are.

He enumerated his choices for councilors, regardless of district, and for mayor, which is Michael Rama, who was seated at the table in front of the lectern on stage where the chief executive officer and president of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. was giving his 22-minute speech.

He named two senatorial bets, “only two of 12,” and his presidential aspirant. He said his friendship with former Vice President Jejomar Binay and former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, who both greeted him in recorded video messages, runs deep. Cokaliong said he is supporting Bongbong Marcos because of his “closeness” with his sister Imee Marcos. Binay, Roque, and Imee had been VVIP guests in Cokaliong’s milestone events.

Seating

Most of the Cebu City elected officials he invited to the party on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022 were from Rama’s Barug party. He also invited two from Bando Osmeña Pundok Kauswagan (BOPK) -- Rachel “Cutie” del Mar, who is running for Congress representing the north district, and Franklyn Ong, who is running for vice mayor.

Del Mar and Ong were seated at the table with the Cokaliong family. Del Mar is the daughter of the late Cebu City Congressman Raul del Mar, “a very good friend” Cokaliong said he misses.

Ong is the father of the girlfriend of Chaz, Cokaliong’s youngest son for whom the party was also being thrown belatedly. Chaz graduated from naval architecture with honors at the University of Tasmania in New Zealand in December 2021.

Two tables away, there was Raymond Garcia with his Barug party mates.

Lawyer Garcia, 45, and businessman Ong, 55, are incumbent councilors who are racing to be elected vice mayor of Cebu City on May 9, 2022.

Cokaliong was quick to reveal his choices among the Cebu City candidates but dangled his pick for vice mayor before his masked guests at the ballroom of Summit Galleria Cebu. Not all present were Cebu City voters.

History

If Ong wins, Cokaliong said, he will be the first Chinese-Filipino to be elected vice mayor and the first one who is not from a political family. Ong and his family run businesses that include car dealerships.

Throwing in history, Cokaliong said that in 1986, Chinese-Filipino businessman Augusto Go became vice mayor of Cebu City by President Corazon Aquino’s appointment. Go, founder of University of Cebu, ran for the same post in the 1988 local elections but lost, Cokaliong went on to say.

Turning to Garcia, Cokaliong said, “My relationship with Raymond goes back to his father more than 25 years ago.”

Garcia’s father, Alvin, served as vice mayor in 1988-1995 with Tomas Osmeña as mayor, and then as mayor in 1995-2001. Cokaliong sailed his first ship in 1989.

Friendship

“Alvin is my good friend. Many of you don’t know the reason why the other mayor does not like me. It’s not because of my close friendship with Mike Rama but it’s my friendship with Raymond’s father.”

The “other mayor” refers to former mayor Tomas Osmeña. His wife, Margot, is running for mayor under BOPK.

Back in the day, Tomas Osmeña and Alvin Garcia were close and formidable political allies until they had a fallout from disagreements both personal and political. To this day, the Osmeñas and Garcias do not spark joy in each other’s lives.

Cokaliong said, “Raymond’s father is still my good friend even until now and Raymond is still my good friend just like Franklyn will be my future... what do I call it, ‘Pre? Unsay iningles ana, ‘Pre, ‘in-law’?”

From the looks on their faces, Garcia and Ong were enjoying the speech of Cokaliong.

“This is a very touchy topic so I will not dwell on it anymore. Makasa nya ta (I might offend someone). May the best man win,” Cokaliong said.

Loyalty

The shipping magnate also revealed his support for Rama, with whom he has been friends for more than 25 years.

“I have a very strong bond with Mike Rama. My loyalty to him is unbreakable, just like the loyalty of Franklyn to Tommy Osmeña.” Guests laughed.

“Franklyn knows what loyalty means. He is very loyal to the Osmeñas and I am very loyal to the Ramas.” Guests clapped.

When Cokaliong came down from the stage, he called Ong and Garcia, positioned himself between them, and raised their hands. Whether Cokaliong goes for friend Garcia or for family Ong will be resolved on May 8, eve of the election day.