Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Race in Pangasinan

Can JDV defend the Party Flag and his Post?

Patrick Patiño
Institute for Popular Democracy
April 23, 2007

Pangasinan is 'salt country' as its name denotes in the vernacular. And salty may aptly characterize the competition among political parties of the administration coalition in the May 14, 2007. It is also rough sailing in salty for Speaker Jose de Venecia, – both as the President of Lakas-CMD and as reelectionist representative of the 4th district of Pangasinan. The rough sailing may also shake the Team Unity campaign in the province, as JDV forecasts, “We will try...but I think we can make it.”

For an astute politician like JDV, who has not been able to move out from his niche in the House of Representatives since 1969, has every reason to doubt the 12-0 victory of Team Unity senatoriables in the province. One reason is that, the main political parties associated with the Arroyo administration are slugging against each other in the province. Second, de Venecia, unlike his previous campaigns, has his own battle to attend to in his congressional fortress. To preserve the Speaker position in the House of Representatives, JDV must make it sure that Lakas-CMD remains the dominant party in the administration coalition after the elections and must show a convincing win in his reelection bid in the fourth district of Pangasinan.

Defending the Party Flag

Pangasinan, the home province of Lakas founder and former President Fidel Ramos and Speaker Jose de Venecia, is classified as a free zone after the arbitration panel, which was composed of representatives from the six political groups comprising the administration coalition, failed to come up with common candidates, except in some areas.

The Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats remains dominant among the administration political parties in Pangasinan with 24 candidates in the mayoralty race in the province's 48 cities and towns, compared to 19 and 15 candidates of Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC) and of the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (KAMPI) respectively. There were originally 31 incumbent Mayors identified with Lakas-CMD.

The Biskeg na Pangasinan (Strength of Pangasinan), another administration party based in Pangasinan, is supporting 30 mayoral candidates but has three mayoral candidates running solely under the party.

Mayoral candidates


Challenged by

Congressional Candidates





7-Kampi and 5 NPC






5-Lakas and 2 Kampi






2 - NPC










The administration coalition is split at the provincial level, with the NPC and Kampi on one side and Lakas-CMD on the other. The split emerged after the NPC and Kampi fielded Rep. Amado Espino Jr. as the official candidate for governor in the May 14 elections. Espino is pitted against two Lakas-CMD candidates – Dr. Jamie Agbayani and Vice-Governor Oscar Lambino. Jamie Agbayani is the wife of out-going Governor Victor Agbayani. Lambino, a former mayor of Malasiqui, is the provincial chair of Lakas-CMD, but this does not give him an edge over Agbayani and Espino Jr. because of the free-zone policy. The free-zone policy down to most of the municipalities and cities will also mean that mayoral candidates of Lakas, Kampi and NPC could cross bridges among the major gubernatorial candidates. Meaning Lambino and even JDV doesn't have direct command to the disposition of local candidates with regards the gubernatorial race – mainly between Agbayani and Espino Jr.

Former Sto. Tomas Mayor Tomas 'kuyang' Villar, the Chairman of the Biskeg na Pangasinan, and the powerful Iglesia ni Kristo have crucial influence in tilting the balance of strength among competing candidates. To probe his leadership strength and loyalty to GMA in the 2004 elections, the Sto. Tomas votes in the presidential elections, had 5,470 in favor of GMA against zero to all the other presidentiables. The wife of 'kuyang' is the reelectionist mayor of the town.

Indicators show that a classic showdown among allies is afoot in the congressional race, except the fourth district of de Venecia and in other two districts where Representatives Mark Cojuangco (NPC) of fifth district and Conrado Estrella III (NPC) of sixth district are running for reelectionist unopposed.

In the first district, third-termer Representative Arthur Celeste (Kampi) is challenged by another Arroyo ally, former Southern Command chief Lt. Gen. Alberto Braganza (Lakas). Celeste was a Lakas stalwart since 2001 until he switched to Kampi late last year, when Braganza got the support of JDV and Ramos for his candidacy. Braganza, poses a strong fight against Celeste, with the support of his nephew reelectionist Mayor Hernani Braganza of Alaminos City (having the largest voting population in the district) and Malacanang by being a former senior aide of President Arroyo. On the other hand, the political base of Celeste is Bolinao and local officials in the other municipalities and barangay benefitting from his alleged control of the jueteng network in the district. Most reelectionist municipal mayors in the district joined Celeste affiliating with Kampi.

The post in the second district, vacated by Rep. Amado Espino, who is gunning the gubernatorial seat, is contested by Gov. Victor Agbayani (Lakas-CMD); Kim Lokin (NPC) and Jose Bengzon III (Kampi). The Agbayani clan is deeply rooted in the district which, serves as main political base in provincial politics. Jose Bengzon III is the son of former Rep. Antonio Bengzon.

Expect a highly competitive race in the third district. Third and last-termer Representative Generoso Tulagan fielded his son Generoso Tulagan Jr. (Kampi) against Rachel Arenas (Lakas), Gallant Soriano (PDSP) and Leocadio de Vera (NPC). It will be a battle of vote-rich areas between San Carlos City (where Tulagan Jr. and Soriano hail) and Bayambang (de Vera). Tulagan will have an edge in San Carlos if the Resuellos throw their hat on him. De Vera, the out-going Mayor of Bayambang with his brother Gerardo de Vera (Kampi) seeking for his seat, will be the first candidate from the municipality to pose a strong challenge to San Carlos City that have controlled the legislative seat for more than a decade.

In February, the panel of arbitrators rejected the proposal of former President Ramos for the coalition to anoint Arenas as its common congressional candidate. Arenas, the daughter of socialite Baby Arenas, a long-time Ramos friend, is said to be showing a strong fight since she started her capital-intensive campaign mid-last year. The young Gallant Soriano, whose father is making a mayoral comeback in San Carlos City, is expected to break the jinx of his grandfather, father and uncle's loses in the past congressional races.

The General is Besieged

JDV, the President of Lakas-CMD is challenged in the homefront. For the first time in the last decade, the district post of the Speaker is contended by two-termer Mayor Benjamin Lim (PDP-Laban) of Dagupan City. Lim is the Lakas-CMD stalwart in the city until 2005 when he joined the call for GMA's resignation. The contest between JDV and Lim has all the signs of an uneven match, but the Speaker is leaving nothing to chance. Why? Because, the defeat of JDV in the district elections is an automatic lose of the Speakership and potential weakening of the Party stewardship. More importantly, it is a lose of building his strategic political agenda – to revise the Constitution and becoming Prime Minister.

In 1998, Lim won the congressional seat of district 4 when JDV vacated it to run for the national presidential race. Lim defeated Tessie de Venecia (JDV's sister and Chief of Staff). There was a near- skirmish between Lim and JDV in 2001 when the Speaker returned to the district to regain the congressional seat being occupied by Lim. Lim did not budge in the beginning, but in the end, was prevailed by Ramos not to seek reelection and run for Mayor of Dagupan City.

The key if not the decisive factor that will decide the JDV-Lim race will be Dagupan City. Against Tessie de Venecia, Lim won only in Dagupan City. But his lead here of about 15,000 votes was more than enough to offset the lead then that Tessie got in Mangaldan, Manaoag, San Jacinto and San Fabian. It is estimated that in the coming elections, Dagupan voters comprised 40% of the total voters in the district.

Lim has consolidated his political and electoral base in Dagupan by being city mayor since 2001 and may reenact how the city voters brought him to Congress in 1998. But it might not be as simple as that since Immigration Commissioner and former Mayor Alipio Fernandez is making a comeback in the city post against Lim's son, Brian. Fernandez, who was then mayor of the city in 1998, was key supporter of Lim's congressional bid. But between Lim and JDV, Fernandez will throw his hat with the latter.

The exchanges between the two camps of charges of vote-buying and dole-outs; the proliferation of campaign materials; and Lim's mass work at the grassroots levels in Dagupan City and in the towns of Manaoag, San Jacinto, Mangaldan and San Fabian against JDV's loyal leaders and followers among municipal and barangay officials, certainly show a fight to the finish.

Except in Dagupan City, the reelectionist Mayors in the District are all identified with JDV but expect that opposition candidates will align with Lim, including the challenger-mayoral candidate of Kampi in San Fabian.

Being an experienced political negotiator, JDV has the advantage of gathering support from key influentials in the district like the Manaois, Perez, Maramba, and Fernandez. On the other hand, Lim will try to expand his support base from religious, civic and business networks involved in the national campaigns the past three years. Lim has been identified as the silent supporter of FPJ in the 2004 elections; was among the incumbent political leaders to ask for GMA's resignation; and actively involved in the anti-cha cha/con ass campaign in Pangasinan last year.

Team Unity versus Genuine Opposition

In an interview with regards his assessment of a 12-0 Team Unity win in Pangasinan, de Venecia said, “There are no opposition candidates here in Pangasinan. Almost all our local candidates here come from the administration. So how can they (Genuine Opposition) win.” Such comments is usual of de Venecia when he opens his mouth to the media.

At the ground level, there are mayoral candidates from Aksyon Demokratiko, Liberal Party and PDP-Laban. These candidates might be relatively weak against the mostly re-electionist candidates identified with Lakas-CMD, NPC and Kampi, but surely the challengers will carry the torch of the Genuine Opposition as their electoral capital.

And there are 19 cities and municipalities where candidates from Lakas-CMD, NPC and Kampi are getting at each others throat. It would be unlikely for competing mayoral candidates having a straight Team Unity ticket as this would not give added-value for their own vote gathering-delivery campaign.

In the 2004 senatorial race in Pangasinan, the opposition grouping KNP or Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino won 7 candidates against 5 from the administration coalition K4 or Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan sa Kinabukasan. Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a reelectionist this election, was third-placer in the province's 2004 presidential race. The late Fernando Poe Jr. won over GMA in the province. The Pangasinense voting behaviour with regards the national elections shows majority support to the ticket of a national candidate identified with the province. This was manifested in 1992 when Ramos run for the presidency, in 1995 under the Ramos administration, in 1998 when JDV run for President, and in 2004 with FPJ.###

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