Farmer defeats 30-year-old dynasty in Palawan town

PALAWAN, Philippines (Updated) – It was a David versus Goliath victory for a humble farmer who dared to challenge the political dynasty that has ruled his town for decades.

Gerandy Danao is the new mayor of Narra in Palawan, a small agricultural town about a hundred kilometers away from Puerto Princesa City. It is the main rice producer of the island province. 

Danao ended the 30-year rule of the Demaala political family with the support of 15,062 voters. Reelectionist Mayor Lucena Demaala fell short by a narrow margin of 1,033 votes. She got 14,029 votes. 

“I thank all the people who helped and supported me in my candidacy,” Danao said in a text message sent to Rappler Wednesday, May 15.

Danao campaigned on a platform of developing the agri-business potential of the town. He promised to construct farm-to-market roads and provide the people the necessary farm machineries. 

Danao knew what he's talking about. His main livelihood is goat farming. He is also a fisherman like many of his neighbors who live by the sea.

Demaala accepted her defeat. "I will step down with a firm resolve that no matter what, I was lucky to [have been] given the chance to serve Narra with all my best,” she told Rappler on Tuesday, May 14, after Danao's electoral victory was proclaimed. 

The town knew no other mayor than Demaala and her husband Clarito in the past three decades. Clarito first served as mayor in 1986 and held on to the post until 1998. Lucena took over and served as mayor for 9 years before Clarito took the post again in 2007. Lucena returned to the municipal hall in 2013 and seemed set for another 3 terms.

But in the 2019 elections, Danao challenged his townmates to "rise up for change." 

It was no easy feat. The incumbent mayor had the backing of Palawan's ruling political party, Partido Pagbabago ng Palawan (PPP), which was also affiliated with President Rodrigo Duterte’s Partido Demokratiko Pilipino Lakas ng Bayan. 

The fall of the Demaala political dynasty came in the wake of Lucena's conviction for graft charges. In December 2017, the Sandiganbayan ruled she was guilty of 14 counts of graft charges. She was slapped with a jail term of 85 to 140 years and barred from assuming public office.

The case stemmed from the municipal government’s alleged anomalous purchase in 2000 of office and sports supplies amounting to P93,512 from the company of her own daughter Arleen Diaz Barquilla-Cabando.

Lucena was able to run for office again because the anti-graft court overturned her conviction a year later.

The campaign turned violent on the eve of election day. Based on a police report, the new mayor's brother Fred Danao exchanged gunfire with a supporter of Demaala in the middle of a heated argument. Both sustained gunshot wounds and were rushed to the hospital. 

The Demaala political clan has one family member left in politics. Lucena's son, reelectionist councilor Prince Demaala, topped the race with 13,489 votes.

This early, Narra voters expect Prince to one day try to take the mayoral seat back for his family. – Rappler.com

Follow Rappler's full coverage of the 2019 Philippine elections here.