Clash between old and new for CamSur’s 3rd congressional seat
NAGA CITY, Philippines - Political dynasties. Pork barrel. Poverty in Camarines Sur.
These were some of the key issues that were debated upon by the two candidates running for Camarines Sur’s 3rd congressional district on Tuesday, April 12, during the first leg of Harampangan 2016, a local debate series organized by church and civil society groups.
It was a battle between old and new. On one side was former representative Luis Villafuerte of the Nationalist People’s Coaltion (NPC), a veteran local politician who is part of a political dynasty in the province. On the other was former Naga City vice mayor Gabriel Bordado Jr of the Liberal Party (LP), who is running for Congress for the first time.
The two candidates had heated discussions on different issues. While Villafuerte banked on his decades of experience serving the province, Bordado promoted continuity from the previous administration.
The Anti-Political Dynasty Bill was the first issue to come up in the debate. Bordado was asked if he will push for the bill should he win the congressional seat.
“I fully support the bill. The point is that a certain, single family cannot dominate the political arena. What is saddening, however, is that Congress is dominated by members of political dynasties. I will do my best to push for this bill,” Bordado said.
The question targeted Villafuerte, the patriarch of a political clan that had a falling out during the 2013 elections. His grandson, incumbent CamSur Governor Miguel Villafuerte, beat him in the 2013 polls. His son Luis Raymond Villafuerte was also a governor of the province from 2004 to 2013.
“There is still no law that defines a dynasty. The problem with definition is that dynasty should cover both appointive and elective. Dynasty should be intergenerational,” Villafuerte said.
He added: “In the case of our family, where members are vying for different provinces, is that dynasty? We should define dynasty so we will know what we’re avoiding.”
Bordado replied his own definition of political dynasty by giving Villafuerte a direct blow.
“My belief is that only one person per family should serve. In your case, let Migz govern. There’s no need for you to join the scheme in our place. People should be given a chance. Let your grandson govern. You’ve served so many years already,” Bordado said.
Villafuerte fired back the same rhetoric, “There is no dynasty of one or dynasty of two. The beginning of a dynasty is the 3rd to 5th generations. The current bill has ridiculous provisions. You cannot overcome the vote of the people by a raffle.”
He added: “Why should I let Migz go? Does Migz have his own dynasty now? If only one person in power, is it a dynasty already?”
The candidates were asked how they will ensure that the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel will no longer be included in the national budget.
Villafuerte said that while PDAF has been declared unconstitutional, the national government has ways of using it discreetly.
“The budget is only being released now during election season. Isn’t that a disguised PDAF, a violation of the election code? Bottom-up budgeting (BUB) is a form of pork barrel. PDAF is surfacing again. They are just disguising it but it’s the same. This is what I will guard - the return of DAP and PDAF in hidden ways,” Villafuerte said.
Bordado defended BUB, saying the aim is for the public to participate in governance through anti-poverty programs and a process of planning.
“There are also abuses. But this is a step toward the right direction. I will ensure that the pork barrel abuses will never happen again. I will make sure that public funds will not be mishandled should I win the congressional seat,” Bordado said.
Bordado was asked how independent he is from the ruling party LP. The former vice mayor is a protege of the late Interior and Local Secretary and former Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo.
LP vice presidential bet and incumbent Camarines Sur 3rd district representative Leni Robredo also gave Bordado her blessing.
“I have my decisions and own stances. Even during the time of Jesse, we had clashes and we argued about our differences. Leni pushed for change. It is my responsibility to continue this. She gave voice to the people of this district. The ultimate goal is to give power back to the people who gave us power in the first place,” Bordado said.
Villafuerte said Bordado was only freeloading on the Robredos, pushing aside his opponent’s plans on empowerment and transparency.
“He is dependent on the Robredos. He has no stance on his own. He only plans to continue what they’re doing. Siya ay tatak Robredo, ako tatak Villafuerte. I am the original,” the veteran politician said. (He carries the Robredo brand. I am the Villafuerte brand of leadership.)
Bordado retorted: “I will push for my own programs and platforms. But why should I not continue what the Robredos are doing? They have a good legacy of service. Maybe you should follow them.”
The most heated topic was poverty in the province. Villafuerte, who also served governor from 1995 to 2004, was asked why Camarines Sur is still poor despite his many years in office.
“Poverty is an issue that is dependent on the national government program. The local government cannot solve it alone because we have no livelihood programs. It should be a coordinated effort between the national and local,” the former governor said.
Adding fuel to the flame, Bordado added that according to the Philippine Statistics Authority, at the end of Villafuerte’s term in Congress, poverty was widespread in his district.
“You can’t say that local governments cannot do it because look at Naga and Pili. We should look at the urban poor as partners. We do not fool them like you do. At the end of your term, there were still too much poverty. What were you doing in office?” Bordado said.
Villafuerte dodged the allegations, saying that poverty worsened nationwide and not just in Camarines Sur. He added that solving poverty was not part of his mandate in Congress, boasting of the number of schools, roads, and scholarships he was able to provide during his term.
“Ask the people, ask the beneficiaries. We have the right programs for the poor in Naga. It’s a work in progress that started at the time of Jesse. Naga is doing what the province should be doing,” Bordado replied.
Sought after seat
Robredo’s run for the vice presidency left the province’s 3rd district open to clashing political clans in the province. The younger Villafuertes had hoped Robredo would go for reelection in the position to prevent the older Villafuerte from retaking it. (READ: Political realignments start in Robredo’s Camarines Sur)
In his closing remarks, Villafuerte urged the public to choose leaders with experience.
“Vote for those with concrete and not generic plans. When I come back to Congress, I’ll be a veteran. For sure, I will be chairman of key committees,” he added, boasting of how he brought P6 billion in his district during his 3 years.
To which Bordado replied: “In your 9 years, you brought P6 billion to your district? Leni in, one term, almost topped that.”
“My commitment is that I will continuously watch out for the poor and marginalized in my district. My administration will be one that is anchored on justice and the practice of good governance,” Bordado concluded.
The debate series was organized by Lente, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), and some local media. The next debate will see the province’s 3 gubernatorial candidates face to face.
Watch the full debate below: