Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Biding Time

Vice-Mayor Robert "Jun" Lala is arguably, by what is considered the norm in Lianga politics, an unsettling aberration.  Firstly he is just barely forty years old and therefore unseemly and irresponsibly young for a seasoned politician and senior municipal official in a political culture where the prevalence and dominance of stodgy and grizzled politicos have always been seen as both sacrosanct and inevitable.

He is also considered as exceedingly brash, too impatient, excessively energetic and a tad too eager perhaps to prove himself in a political milieu which frowns upon anyone who rocks the boat too much and too fast, where extreme caution and the search for the broadest consensus (the illusive win-win option) has always been the key to political survival and where new ideas and new ways of doing things have always floundered in the face of the extreme conservatism that has always characterized the nature of governance in this part of the world.

To his credit, he is considered, even by his detractors, as a popular and even charismatic leader.  Ever since he first became a municipal councilor in 2007 and municipal vice-mayor a year later, he has managed to build up a substantial political following among the local electorate drawn to his populist image and rhetoric.  Gifted with an engaging and boisterously affable personality, his appeal is said to reach across socio-economic, political and religious divisions.

His admirers point to his go-get-something-done attitude as his biggest asset.  They say that he has helped rejuvenate, in many ways, the staid and somewhat moribund state of affairs at the LIanga municipal hall and has acquired, in just a span of just a few years, a reputation as one of this province's more visibly aggressive and proactive young leaders.

It does not hurt, of course, that he is well connected politically.  On his mother's side he closely linked to the Murillo political clan that used to dominate Surigao del Sur provincial politics.  Through his father, he is part Layno and, therefore, a scion of one of Lianga's oldest political families.  His elder brother, Ronnie, in fact, has previously occupied for a term the same office he now holds.

There are many here in Lianga who had been salivating at the prospect of a one on one showdown between him and Lianga's incumbent mayor, Roy Sarmen in next year's local and national polls. Lala and Sarmen have been wary political allies since 2008 when both first assumed their present posts yet both have demonstrated a rare capacity for working together.  But even until last October 5 which saw the expiration of the deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy for next year's polls, a move from the vice-mayor to challenge Sarmen for the top municipal post in the coming May 2013 elections seemed not only inevitable but a forgone conclusion.

Why Jun Lala chose to hold off and agree to maintain the status quo is, of course, a matter of conjecture.  But that decision did seem strange and totally unexpected for someone seemingly in a great rush to make his mark in local politics.  Is it not true that the consensus among most political pundits here is Lianga is that he could have been a formidable foe for Mayor Sarmen, one that even the good mayor may be ill advised to go against head to head?

His detractors say that the decision of the vice-mayor to play it safe next year and merely run for re-election instead of heeding the call for him to contest the mayoralty seat is an indication that he has simply lost his nerve and may have realized that he may not yet have the requisite political momentum, the critical resources and the degree of electoral support needed to win a high-spending and closely contested run for the top job at the municipal hall.

They opine that that the vice-mayor after abandoning his mayoralty bid had counted on getting reelected unopposed and that the sudden, last minute entry of Ernie Layno, an incumbent municipal councilor and paradoxically a close relative of Lala, into the vice-mayoralty race had caught the vice-mayor entirely by surprise. Now, Lala, according to his critics, is faced instead with a daunting and perplexing challenge he may not be ready for or prepared to face in the first place.

I personally feel that the true reasons for the vice-mayor's choice to run for reelection and not run for the mayorship of Lianga may not be as simplistic or straightforward as his critics would like to think it is.  It could simply be a decision motivated by many other unknown factors, the most plausible among which could be the question of proper timing.

After all, in Lianga as it is elsewhere in this country today, the reasons why one runs for public office are not merely dictated by personal choice or ambition.  It is also one influenced greatly by larger political realities and must be weighed and considered in the light of the political dynamics that are playing out not only in Lianga but also in the whole province of Surigao del Sur and all over the country in general.

The truth in my view, is that Jun Lala, young and recklessly brash and impatient he may seem to be, is by dint of hard earned experience if not by genetics and breeding, a politician to his very core. He should know that success or victory whether in politics or in any field of human endeavor is not only the product of ambition, thorough preparation, hard work.  It, most importantly, also requires the critical knowledge of the optimum time and opportunity to strike and make the decisive move.

In the game of chess as in the bigger game of politics, the victor is often he who learns to be patient and husband his resources in anticipation of the all important and critical thrust.  To ultimately win, one must, with prudence and patience, learn to bide one's time, to even lose and sacrifice the temporary initiative in anticipation of the more crucial and decisive endgame.

In this sense, Jun Lala is indeed acting contrary to popular expectations here in choosing to step back and wait for what he would determine to be as the more proper time for him to run for mayor of Lianga.  Whether he is ultimately right or wrong in the long run can only be left to the judgement of history and the future.

On one hand, he may eventually be slammed for having wasted a golden opportunity to seize the proverbial bull by the horns and make history by becoming next year the youngest mayor Lianga ever had.  Or he could be judged later to have done the farsighted thing for deciding, on the basis of a political maturity he has not been exactly known for, to forsake rashness and impatience in favor of a more deliberate, more calculated and far surer campaign for the top post at the municipal hall in the near future.

In politics as in life, being relatively young can be a distinct advantage indeed.  In Jun Lala's case, his political future does remain limitless and full of possibilities despite everything that has happened.  In the final analysis, whether right or wrong, he can, unlike many of his contemporaries, afford to wait and bide his time.


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