If there is one thing that marked the recent final campaign rally of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD administration party in Lianga which was held the other night at the community stage inside the municipal park, it was the surprising level of vituperation and invective that emanated from the lips of one of the party stalwarts that spoke onstage. And all of it was directed at the leading lights of the Liberal Party which is mounting the only viable opposition to the Lakas party's iron grip on political power in the province of Surigao del Sur.
Lakas which, as a national political machine, has kept President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in power for more than half a decade now has also been the means by which the powerful Pimentel-Ty clan have dominated provincial politics here for the past nine years. It has elected and returned to power Gov. Vicente Pimentel Jr. since 2001 and now his brother, Johnny Pimentel, the current provincial administrator, is eyeing to inherit the office that the current governor is prohibited by law from occupying for more than three consecutive terms.
The Pimentel-Ty clan is closely allied with Rep. Philip Pichay who represents the province's first district in Congress. Philip is the brother of Prospero "Butch" Pichay, the Malacañang confidant, former congressman, 2007 senatorial candidate and incumbent presidential adviser on political affairs who is also currently chairman of the Local Water Utilities Administration. The political partnership between the Pichays and the Pimentel-Ty clan had been the engine that originally powered that clan to power in the province and the Pichays are counting on the Pimentel-Ty political machine to insure a second term for the re-electionist Philip whose congressional district happens to include Lianga.
Lakas is endorsing in Lianga the re-election bids of incumbent Mayor Roy Sarmen and Vice-Mayor Jun Lala. Its rally the other night was intended to be a show of strength and a flexing of the political muscles for the ruling party which has always considered this town as opposition country. Lianga used to be a political bailiwick of the once dominant Murillo political clan in the 1990's when Dr. Primo Murillo trampled all political opposition to become provincial governor for three terms. Gov. Vicente Pimentel did win in Lianga in the 2007 local polls but Philip Pichay lost here and only managed to win a seat in Congress by garnering a majority in the other parts of his district.
The Liberal Party whose presidential candidate Sen. Benigno S. Aquino III together with vice-presidential candidate Sen. Mar Roxas are dominating the public opinion polls in the national elections is fielding Percito "Boylo" Lozada, a former customs official and businessman as a gubernatorial candidate against Johnny Pimentel in what many see here as a David and Goliath contest. Running with Lozada is Glen Plaza, a young neophyte politician who paradoxically is related to the Pichays by blood and yet has joined the opposition. Plaza is pitted against Manuel Alameda, the municipal mayor of San Agustin town and several other veteran politicos.
The opposition, however, is counting on Dr. Greg Murillo who is running for Congress against Philip Pichay to give them a fighting chance at wresting power in the province from the Pimentels and Pichays. Murillo is the younger brother of former Gov. Primo Murillo and himself a former mayor of Tago town. Both Primo and Greg are sons of the late Dr. Gregorio Murillo Sr. who had served as congressman and provincial governor in the 1960's until the early 1980's. The Liberal Party is counting on the lingering appeal of the Murillo name and legacy to persuade voters here to vote for a change in the political dispensation in the province.
The Liberal Party is supporting the mayoralty bid of Felino Pantaleon Jr., a veteran politician who has served a couple of terms as municipal mayor of Lianga several times already in the past. He and Sarmen are locked in a close electoral contest and many here are saying that the fight may go either way. Both are also well connected by blood and affinity to many of the town's leading families which makes predicting a probable winner rather difficult in a culture where many voters consider voting for politicians who are relatives as a matter of duty.
The opposition party had earlier held its own rally at the same venue over a week ago. In that affair, opposition candidates had lambasted Gov. Pimentel, Rep. Pichay and the other provincial officials for what they say is rampant and widespread graft and corruption at the provincial capitol in Tandag, for the environmental degradation brought about by uncontrolled mining operations in the north of the province and for the long string of extra-judicial killings happening mostly in the provincal capital area. Lozada, Plaza and Murillo have placed the blame squarely on the Pimentels, Ty's and the Pichays.
If the Lakas rally the other night was intended to answer the issues raised in the earlier Liberal Party gathering then it clearly did not fullfill that very purpose. Instead Gov. Pimentel used his time onstage to rave and rant about his political enemies and badmouth them in a diatribe spiced with expletives and ungentlemanly language. In accomplishment of what apparently was his role as the "hitman" for the evening, the governor lambasted Murillo and Lozada in a speech laced with personal attacks and non sequiturs that caught many here, even loyal party supporters, by surprise who had expected a sober refutation of the issues raised against him and his brother, Johnny.
In fairness, most of the other Lakas candidates like Pichay and Alameda did not follow the governor's example and restricted themselves to their standard campaign spiels. Their restraint, however, merely highlighted what in my view was a rather stark example of the new lows to which political rhetoric here have fallen and how the calm and sane discussion of political issues that should be the norm in political forums in supposedly civilized democratic societies have been set aside in favor of foul language, traditional mudslinging and character assassination.
It has been my belief that in politics, as well as in life in general, a person's accomplishments as a ordinary person or as a public official will always speak for themselves. Propaganda can accentuate or even exaggerate them but it cannot create something that does not exist. Nor can one's successes or failures in public life be highlighted or mitigated, as the case may be, by resorting to the conscious and wilful attempt to muddle the real issues through demagoguery and unfounded personal attacks on one's detractors or political opponents.
I would have loved to hear the good governor explain his take on the issues and controversies raised against him and his party in the course of the campaign. After all, he is the incumbent chief executive of this province and he and his allies possessed the strategic as well as the tactical high ground, if you will, as far as the campaign for local posts in the coming elections is concerned.
He could have campaigned solely on the issues and platforms of his party. He could have also soberly refuted point by point whatever issues were hurled against him by his opponents. It would have marked him as a man to be respected and admired even from across the vast chasm that spans the political divide among the contending political forces here.
Yet he did not do so and debased not only himself but even more so the office he has held on so firmly the past nine years. It also reflected negatively, to some extent, on the party he leads, political personalities whose candidacies he has endorsed and party faithful who have gathered to support his candidates under his banner.
Whether his conduct in the other night's rally would have any effect on his brother Johnny's candidacy is debatable but it certainly disappointed many of the Lianga electorate who attended the affair and who expected much from the supposed father of their province but have to leave for home after his antics with a bad taste in the mouth .