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Volume 2, Number 22              July 7 - 13,  2002                   Quezon City, Philippines

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Unseating the Vilafuertes:
Camarines Sur’s Political Cliques Remain Divided

The starting line for the 2004 elections has been drawn. Who will rule the province of Camarines Sur, nobody can tell. One thing is sure, though: as long as the four kingpins in the four districts are divided the Villafuertes will rule the province forever.

Kaiba News and Features - Bicol (re-posted by Bulatlat.com)

Like in the national scene, the stage for the 2004 elections in Camarines Sur is being prepared. Everyone can see election in a politician's body language and calendar posters. Like what is happening in Malacañang's political clique, each political camp in the province is getting ready for a bumper harvest.

There are five major political camps in Camarines Sur -- each with its own fiefdom. The first district is controlled by the Andayas; the second district is being ruled by two big names -- Roco and Robredo; the Fuentebellas are running the third district like an independent province with its own development authority office; and, the Alfelors, for decades, reign in the fourth district.

Although there is a recognized kingpin in each district, the reign of power in the province is in the hands of the Villafuertes. Among the five camps, the Villafuertes are the most problematic, however. Gov. Luis Villafuerte's three-term will end in 2004.

No Villafuerte heir

There is no strong Villafuerte heir for a smooth turnover of power among the family. How many times did the old man let his son, Bong Villafuerte, run for congress in the 2nd district? Bong even had a movie with Judy Ann Santos, a soap opera princess, but still lost.

Another son, LRey Villafuerte, ran for mayor in Naga City in 1998. He too did not make it. LRey was not a bad choice. It was just that his opponent, Jesse Robredo, a Ramon Magsaysay awardee, was untouchable. Not even a Jose Rizal could beat him in the mayorship of Naga City in 1998.

The other political camps have no problem in managing their kingdom. Rolando Andaya Sr. and Noli Fuentebella (House speaker during the Estrada impeachment) are no longer in congress but their sons are in the seats that they used to occupy: Noynoy Andaya in the first district and Wempee Fuentebella in the third district.

In the fourth district, congressman Ciriaco "Boboy" Alfelor was replaced by his brother Felix "Nansing" Alfelor, Jr. Sulpicio "Cholo" Roco, Jr. of the second district is the brother of former senator and now the secretary of the Department of Education Raul Roco. Before he became senator, Secretary Roco used to be the congressman of the second district.

Like in the other provinces, the control of one or two families in Camarines Sur shows how political dynasties are being preserved. Since the time of Aguinaldo – or for a century - old politicos in the province would almost always be replaced by their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, or other members of their family.

Villafuerte vs. everybody

Luis Villafuerte is a political survivor. He can tackle the other four big political camps who, from time to time, form a loose alliance against him. Although almost all of his congressional candidates lost in past elections, he always emerges as the run-away winner to be crowned ruler of the province. He can make a political giant like "Boboy" Alfelor and a movie goddess like Nora Aunor as punching bags in the electoral arena.

The problem with the governor’s political rivals is that although they hate the governor they do not want anyone from the other district hold the political power of the province. Each has his own political turf and power. And they want this situation to remain.

Running for governor, Boboy Alfelor easily won in the fourth district – his bailiwick - but he lost in the other districts. Many Bicolanos are asking, "Did the political kingpins in the other districts support Alfelor? Are they afraid that Alfelor might be the new political king of the province and be like a powerful Villafuerte at their disadvantage?”

In the Philippine political rat-race questions like this make sense. In the last 2001 elections, many Bicolano politicians were just too happy to let Nora Aunor, a neophyte and without a territorial stake, fight the Villafuertes. That way, while waiting for the right time in future elections, they conserve their energy and hold on to their resources. They were not ready to face the political sword of the Villafuertes.

But without the support of the four districts’ kingpins, Nora could not survive a single round with Villafuerte in the electoral ring. The showbiz superstar who was adored by many Filipinos throughout the country lost badly in her own province.

Running for governor

The political territories of Camarines Sur are always in the hands of the elite, everybody knows that; but who, among the elite, will emerge as the winner in the 2004 elections to rule the province? Many guess that Jesse Robredo, the incumbent Mayor of Naga, will run for governor. This is an old rumor but it might just happen in 2004. If this is true, the charisma of Robredo will be put into test outside Naga and particularly in the second district.

But can Robredo withstand the political sword of the Villafuertes? In addition, he might also have a problem with the residence requirement. Will the Andayas, Fuentebellas, and Alfelor support Robredo? The hard question for these political kingpins is that, "If Robredo wins, can he be trusted to support their political and economic interest?"

Many of them know that trust is a questionable virtue in Philippine politics; politicians need each other for the votes and not for their political principles. Expectedly, the Rocos will support Robredo as they are in the same political party. Looking at their partnership in the last decade, it shows that their loyalty to each other holds.

Weaker Villafuerte camp

Today is a different ballgame for the Villafuertes compared to when former President Estrada was still around -- Villafuerte was the point-person of Estrada in Bicol. The Villafuerte camp has weakened from the time People Power II removed Estrada from Malacañang.

Of course, it is always an advantage if a politician is with the President. The Villafuertes are not in the same party as with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. They can not expect the administration's golds and muscles to pour this time. In addition to a weakened clout, there is no strong contender with a Villafuerte surname.

There are also speculations that LRey Villafuerte will run as governor. But he might not make it. What his father did to their opponents the Roco-Robredo tandem did to him -- a political punching bag. If only for the reason that their patriarch is the incumbent, the Villafuertes might just have a slight advantage.

One alternative strategy for the Villafuerte camp is to let Imelda Papin, the vice-governor, to run as governor and LRey as vice-governor. This can just be a good combination: showbiz popularity and an old politician's name. If they make it, LRey can run for governor in 2007. By that time, he can be a matured Villafuerte to be a very strong claimant to the governorship of Camarines Sur.

As for Governor Villafuerte, he can go back to Congress and vie for the speakership of the house. He has the qualifications: a former minister of the Marcos administration and head of the Presidential Commission for Government Reorganization under the Aquino transition government.

The starting line for the 2004 elections has been drawn. Who will rule the province of Camarines Sur, nobody can tell. One thing is sure, though: as long as the four kingpins in the four districts are divided the Villafuertes will rule Camarines Sur forever. (Kaiba News and Features, email: pcalara@edsamail.com.ph, URL: http://www.kaiba.cjb.net/) Re-posted by Bulatlat.com

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