Brothers-in-law clash over Iloilo City mayoralty seat

Rhick Lars Vladimer Albay
Brothers-in-law clash over Iloilo City mayoralty seat
With ex-mayor Jed Mabilog out of the picture, former political allies Rep. Jerry Treñas and incumbent Mayor Jose Espinosa III are vying for the post of local chief executive

ILOILO CITY, Philippines – They are former allies, having previously run on the same slate, and they are brothers-in-law. Now, Representative Jerry Treñas of the lone district of Iloilo City and incumbent Mayor Jose Espinosa III are running against each other for the mayoralty post.

Mayor Espinosa’s wife Gina Sarabia is the sister of Rosalie Sarabia, who is married to Congressman Treñas. The women come from the family of jewelers and hoteliers in Iloilo.

Their rivalry started when their common ally, Iloilo City Mayor Jed Mabilog, had to leave the country, following death threats made by no less than President Rodrigo Duterte himself. 

‘Uswag, Sulong, Arangka’

In the past 3 elections, Espinosa and Treñas have won together – as vice mayor and congressman, respectively – under the “Uswag, Sulong, Arangka” banner. (READ: Old names rule: LP bets dominate Iloilo City polls

“Uswag, Sulong, Arangka” – Hiligaynon words that mean “to move or change” in some way – was the official slogan of their then-undefeated lineup. Each word corresponds to a candidate: “Uswag Iloilo” was claimed by Treñas, “Arangka Iloilo” was Espinosa’s, and “Sulong Iloilo” was espoused by former Iloilo City mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog.

The trio won their positions in 3 consecutive local elections – in 2010, 2013, and 2016. The alliance was formed despite Espinosa running under the Nacionalista Party (NP) and Treñas and Mabilog then belonging to the Liberal Party (LP). The in-laws’ relationship held the alliance together. 

The 3 officials were poised for a shuffle in their positions in the 2019 elections, after serving their maxing out 3 consecutive terms in their respective seats. The congressman even dropped hints he was mulling political retirement.

Before that could happen, however, Rodrigo Duterte won as president in 2016, and caused the collapse of the Liberal Party in Iloilo – a place largely seen as “yellow country” and an LP bailiwick.

‘You’re next’

Career politicians in Iloilo began shifting their allegiance to Duterte’s PDP-Laban. Treñas was among them, trading in LP’s “Laban” sign for Duterte’s signature fist gesture. (Treñas has since left PDP-Laban for the National Unity Party.)

In August 2016, Duterte released his now-infamous “narco list,” naming more than 100 public officials allegedly involved in the drug trade. Among those labeled as alleged “narco mayor” was then-Iloilo City mayor Mabilog, who was caught off-guard by the accusation, and largely denied it. 

What followed was a series of thinly-veiled threats from the President, targeting Mabilog, even calling Iloilo the most “shabulized” province in the country. (READ: Most ‘shabulized’ province?: Ilonggos shocked over Duterte’s claim)

After the deaths of alleged drug lords Melvin Odicta Sr. and his wife Meriam in August 2016 and Richard Prevendido in September 2017, and with several alleged “narco-politicians” killed in a series of police operations around the country, Duterte admonished Mabilog: “You’re next.”

“The mayor of Iloilo City, I identified him. This was broadcast. I said, ‘You are next. You’re next,’” said the President, alluding to Mabilog in a speech in Malacañang in October 2017.

Mabilog fled the country in late 2017, fearing for his life, leaving the seat of Iloilo City mayor open. The former mayor’s wife and children have also left the country. Mabilog has remained incommunicado and off the radar for nearly two years now, only his wife being occasionally vocal on social media.

Falling Out

Espinosa was officially sworn in as the new mayor of Iloilo City in October 2017, after the Department of the Interior and Local Government served a dismissal order against Mabilog from the Office of the Ombudsman, for serious dishonesty related to his alleged unexplained wealth.

In March 2018, Treñas set aside his intentions to retire, expressing interest in the mayoral seat vacated by Mabilog. Before he was elected representative of the lone district of Iloilo City in 2010, Treñas had served as city mayor for 3 terms starting 2001.

Treñas courted Espinosa to run alongside him as his congressman, but the incumbent mayor declined. 

The brother-in-laws have grown cold and distant toward each other since, only occasionally trading jabs in the media.

Their squabble reached a crescendo in August 2018 after the office of the city mayor allegedly cut off the power to congressman Treñas’ office along Macario Peralta Street in Iloilo City proper.

The office of the congressman shares its building with the City Agriculture’s Office, which has since been transferred to the ground floor of the Kerr & Company Building along Ortiz Street.

Espinosa has denied deliberately shutting off the power to antagonize his new political rival, explaining that, with the agriculture office no longer occupying the building, they had to terminate the meter. The mayor suggested that the congressman may have been tapping the line of the City Agriculture’s Office. – 

Rhick Lars Vladimer Albay is a Rappler Mover based in Iloilo. He reports mostly on the local cultural community and art scene.


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