Negros Occidental billionaire and former lawmaker Albee Benitez confirmed on Monday, February 7 that he was backing the candidacy of presidential aspirant Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., as a pro-Marcos public group claimed on Sunday, February 6.
The BBM2022Vlogs, a public group pushing video messages for Marcos Jr. showed Benitez, who is contesting the mayoralty race in Bacolod City, among local political bigwigs endorsing the namesake of the late deposed Philippine dictator.
“Will come out with a statement soon,” Benitez initially told Rappler in text message without denying the Marcos camp’s claim.
Benitez released a statement late afternoon.
Instead of listing his reasons for endorsing Marcos, Benitez explained that he would not force anyone on his Bacolod slate to adopt his presidential bet.
In fact, his statement did not mention Marcos.
The two men are good friends. Albee is the son of Jose Conrado “Jolly” Benitez, former first lady Imelda Marcos’ deputy at the ministry of human settlements.
Digicast Negros, a news outfit Benitez partly owns, quoted him as saying that he and 22 other members of the PDP-Laban in the province signed a manifesto of support for Marcos, Jr.
He did not release the document, Digicast told Rappler.
Bacolod sees a tight race between Benitez and incumbent mayor Evelio Leonardia.
But swinging for Marcos Jr in a city fiercely opposed to his family could cost the challenger votes.
“My personal choice is mine alone. I have never and will never impose upon my local party mates and on others as well,” Benitez said.
“At the start, we have always agreed that we will not support one common national candidate. Each is free to support his/her national candidate because we RESPECT each other’s choices,” he added.
He said his ASENSO team remains committed to effecting a vision of change for a better Bacolod.
Celia Flor, one of Benitez’s council bets told Rappler that before joining his slate, she told the former lawmaker, “Leni is my bet.”
“He told me he respected that,” Flor said. “When we do our sorties, I still openly campaign for Leni. It’s okay with Albee. He respects my choice. He doesn’t stop me when I campaign for Leni among our leaders.”
“In fact, many of our leaders are for Leni,” Flor said.
Despite the family ties to Marcos, a close friend and political ally of Benitez said the move was rooted more in his affiliation with PDP-Laban.
The friend, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not given leave to speak, said “some very close relatives of Albee are for Leni, so it’s rather awkward for him.”
The party, which is loyal to President Rodrigo Duterte has “adopted” Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte as vice presidential partner.
Sara, who has spurned PDP-Laban to remain independent, joined the Lakas-CMD on invitation by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Lakas-CMD has adopted Marcos as its presidential bet. The PDP-Laban has not yet officially pronounced Marcos as bet.
Benitez was the second richest member of Congress in 2018 at the end of his three terms, next only to 1-Pacman Representative Mikee Romero. His wealth largely comes from the gaming industry, where he owns casinos, horse racing and bingo businesses. – Rappler