The office of the local election officer in Lianga recently released the list of candidates who filed their certificates of candidacy for local positions in the May 2010 general elections. All of them had managed to file their COC's before the deadline which expired at midnight last December 1 and will, unless disqualified by the Commission on Elections, be eligible to run in the coming local polls.
Except for one or two minor surprises, the public response to the names on the list was decidedly lukewarm and matter-0f-fact at best. The list was just as the local folks had expected it to be, nothing more and nothing less. Ho-hum.
Incumbent municipal mayor, Roy Hegino Sarmen will be slugging it out, one on one, with Felino Pantaleon Jr who is a veteran of Lianga politics. Pantaleon has been a fixture in local politics for decades and has served several terms as mayor of Lianga himself in the past. Sarmen, while considerably younger than his opponent, is no political neophyte either. He has been a barangay captain, a municipal councilor and has served one term as a provincial board member representing the federation of barangay captains all over the province.
Sarmen actually won election as vice-mayor in 2007 and only took over as the town's chief executive when Mayor Vicente "Belos" Predrozo passed away after a sudden illness last year. He will be heading the Lakas-Kampi-CMD municipal ticket while Pantaleon will be carrying the banner (or torch, if you will) of the Liberal Party.
Both, however, share a relaxed, laid-back, consensus-driven and non-assertive leadership style as mayors, something many local critics here say is not exactly what the town urgently needs nowadays. Their similarity in leadership and management styles coupled with the widespread observation that both may lack the necessary vision and a clear program of development for the future of Lianga may lead to the possibility that the coming mayoralty contest will be one that will be won not on issues and political platforms but by the candidate with the bigger campaign purse and the larger network of blood and family relations.
The vice-mayor's seat in the municipal council will be up for grabs between Robert Lala Jr. (Lakas-Kampi-CMD) and Mansueto Pantaleon, who is running as an independent candidate. Lala, the top ranking member of the council in the 2007 elections, became vice-mayor last year when Roy Sarmen moved on to the mayorship and will be seeking his first full term as presiding officer of the municipal council. He is heavily favored to win in next year's local elections over Pantaleon who unexpectedly entered the vice-mayoralty race at the very last minute.
Prior to Pantaleon's late entry into the race, the young and popular Lala had been expected to run unopposed. Who and what convinced Pantaleon to oppose him next year is the subject of a lot of speculation among political observers here. The man has tried his hand at politics in the past and had been resoundingly unsuccessful so his candidacy this time is more than a bit surprising to many here.
Lala may be a strong candidate but he is also young and unproven. He has yet to make his mark and the year or so he has spent as head of the municipal council although promising has not been long enough for him to prove his mettle and his character. The question as to whether he has the potential to make a difference in Lianga in the near future remains yet to be answered.
Of the incumbent municipal councilors who assumed office in 2007, two are not seeking reelection. These include Fe Dumlao and Enrique "Elgie" Layno. The rest composed of Carlos Bala-an (Ind.), Esmeralda Elimanco (Lakas), Hernando Layno Jr. (Lakas), Leon Montilla Jr. (Ind.), and Richie Yves Mosquera (Lakas) are all gunning for another three-year term. Raymundo Moreno who was appointed to fill the vacancy in the council last year is also seeking a mandate for a new term. (Those interested to see the complete list of candidates for local positions in Lianga in the 2010 general elections can go here....)
If there is a lack of a semblance of general excitement or outpouring of enthusiasm over the identities of those who could be taking charge of affairs at the town hall after next year's elections, it can be put down to one overriding reason.
There is the general feeling among the local folks here that Lianga deserves more than the current crop of politicians who have been sitting behind the office desks at the town hall. This is not to say, of course, that all of the town's current officials have been entirely useless during their last three-year stint in office. But neither have they, except for an exception or two, been exactly model public servants either. None of them have also been able to provide that spark of exemplary leadership and visionary insight that Lianga so desperately needs in these difficult and challenging times.
On the other hand, those who have signified their willingness to challenge the current officialdom in next year's polls are either largely unknown and unproven talents or, worse, recycled politicians who have been so much a part of the local political landscape here for so long that they have become essentially identified with the worst aspects of local politics, one that is still dominated by old-style political clans and family loyalties and where force and intimidation, vote-buying and electoral cheating are the norm rather than the exception.
The lack of a dynamic, "proactive" (a favorite term among local pundits) and credible leadership also does not speak well of the level of political maturity of the electorate in Lianga. While there is clearly here a growing demand and desire for change in the traditionally dirty way politics has always been played here, this desire has not been adequately articulated or expressed in a way that has encouraged the entry of new, more idealistic and reformist leaders who have the guts to battle the status quo. Nor has it led to the development of an outspoken and assertive citizenry that can fearlessly and effectively challenge and expose the rot and apathy that still predominates at the town hall.
Inevitably, the degree to which the people of Lianga will individually and collectively respond to the growing demand for better leaders for their government and how effectively they will be motivated to speak out and act on that desire will determine the future of local politics and the quality of the governance they will get in the near future. The point that must be stressed here is that local folks here can not ask and demand for change and yet remain passive, apathetic and hesitant about becoming directly involved in the political process themselves.
In the end, those of us here in Lianga and elsewhere who care for this town and its future must be willing to get our hands dirty in suggesting, initiating and supporting the changes we want and envision for it. Time to put the fate of the town in our hands and time to start doing something concrete rather than just bitching and griping about how oppressed and misled we have been in the past.
To win the national lottery we must invest our hard-earned money and ourselves in what is, most assuredly, an uncertain outcome. To win as a people in the politics of democracy, we must also be willing invest our precious time, effort, and resources in the political process, however uncertain it may also be. Otherwise, we have no right to criticize the the venality and mediocrity of the leaders we have now who, in our apathy and hardheadedness, we have allowed to abuse, mislead and plunder us for so long.