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SOUTHERN LEYTE, Philippines – It will be a battle between the Pacific towns of the east and the western towns of Southern Leyte on May 9.
The influential Mercado clan which has been holding the capital city of Maasin for several years now is challenged by incumbent Vice Governor Sheffered Lino Tan.
Tan served for 3 terms as mayor of Sogod town, Southern Leyte’s commerce and trade hub. He bolted from the Liberal Party (LP) and transferred to the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) of Vice President Jejomar Binay at the last minute even if a local coalition was being brokered to unify the provincial candidates for the 2016 polls.
“Actually we had an agreement before with Oging together with Secretary Mar Roxas that we will have a unified party in the province. Now since we don’t trust each other and that the Mercados filled our supposed positions with opponents so the original members of LP bolted out. I just sympathized with my friends because they were not given nominations by Governor Oging,” said Vice Governor Tan.
The incumbent Vice Governor told Rappler he was disappointed that the national leadership of LP did nothing about it, but instead favored the Mercados only to fill up the LP provincial slate with family members of Oging.
Oging Mercado is the present governor of Southern Leyte and is now switching places with his brother Congressman Damian Mercado because of rules on term limits. Oging’s son and provincial board member Nico Mercado wants to become the next mayor of Maasin City.
Joining Tan in the UNA slate are former LP members Rico Rentuza who lost to Damian Mercado in the congressional race, Albert Esclamado, who is now running as vice governor, and Miguel Maamo, who is seeking reelection as board member of the first district.
Rentuza is on his second consecutive attempt in the congressional race but this time he is going against Oging Mercado. He is an accomplished mayor of St Bernard town because of his disaster risk reduction and management initiatives intended to help in the rehabilitation and recovery of victims of the Guinsaugon landslide in 2006.
Platform of change
In an interview, Rentuza said they are counting on victory this election because they have consolidated the Pacific towns located in the Sogod Bay area along with the Panaon Island towns. This block of towns compose the second administrative district of Southern Leyte which covers more or less 140,000 voters as compared to the 120,000-plus voters of the first district being held by the Mercados.
“Strategically we are confident of our numbers. And yes we are able to consolidate the votes from the second district. What is interesting is that people from some towns in the first district like in Macrohon, Bontoc, and Limasawa are delighted by our cause and have accepted our platform of change. We are beginning to see a bandwagon for change not only in district 2, but also in district 1 which is a known bailiwick of the Mercados.”
However, Rentuza admitted that Maasin City, which is the provincial capital remains to be a challenge for UNA candidates because this has been a stronghold of the Mercado clan in the previous elections.
Vice Governor Tan said that even if this is the case, he is counting on the good programs that he initiated for the benefit of Maasin City residents.
“I know that Maasinhon will not vote only because of place of origin. They will support change if there’s a need for it. We live in the same province. We all love Southern Leyte even if you are from Sogod or from Maasin City. It will largely depend on the platform of government being advocated by each candidate so the place of origin will not really matter for the people,” Tan explained.
For their part, the Mercados are denying that their opponents have solidified their support base in the second district. Oging Mercado claimed they are still the strongest group in the province as they hold 17 out of 18 municipal mayors, along with almost all barangay chairmen in 500 barangays of Southern Leyte.
“You see, they only have one mayor with them and that is the wife of Sheffered Tan who is based in Sogod. As far as I am concerned, the whole of Southern Leyte is backing the Liberal Party and it will be difficult for them to win if that is the case,” Oging Mercado said. – Rappler.com