political dynasties

Political Dynasties 2022: Amid controversies, Pinedas of Pampanga expand reach

Joann Manabat, Inday Espina-Varona
Political Dynasties 2022: Amid controversies, Pinedas of Pampanga expand reach
Decades of dispensing largesse have given the Pineda clan and local party Kambilan a cloak of invincibility despite reports on illegal gambling links

Editor’s Note: Political dynasties currently occupy 29% of local posts, up from only 19% in 1988. They hold 80% of the country’s gubernatorial posts, compared to only 57% in 2004. In Congress, they now control about 67% of seats from 48% in 2004. 

This means that most of our provinces are governed by leaders who come from families or clans that have dominated local politics for years, and the country’s laws, which citizens are subjected to, are mostly crafted by them. 

In this series on political dynasties in 2022, Rappler takes a close look at the persons and families who wield tremendous power and continue to have a firm grip on their respective localities. Their brand of politics and exercise of their political clout influence not only the outcome of local elections but also the choice of our national leaders.

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Political Dynasties 2022: Whether Red or Pink wins, families rule the regions

Political Dynasties 2022: Whether Red or Pink wins, families rule the regions

PAMPANGA, Philippines – Unlike most of the country’s traditional dynasties, whose rise and fall can be tracked with key events in history, the Pineda clan of Pampanga clawed its way out of the underbelly of development amid a series of natural disasters that hastened a shift in the province’s economy.

Rising out of Lubao, hometown of two former presidents – Diosdado Macapagal and his daughter, Gloria Arroyo – the clan has held power for the last three decades.

Its first political actor, incumbent Vice Governor Lilia “Nanay Baby” Pineda, debuted in politics when she won the mayoralty of Lubao in 1992, shortly after the catastrophic eruption of Mount Pinatubo.

A second generation of Pinedas has expanded the family’s clout, interchanging posts on a steady march to dominance in the country’s 10th most vote-rich province.

Lilia’s son Dennis, commonly called “Delta,” is now governor of the province. A daughter, Mylyn Pineda-Cayabyab, represents their 2nd district in the provincial board. Another daughter, Esmeralda, is the incumbent Lubao mayor.

Lilia and Esmeralda are running unopposed like their good friend and patron, Arroyo, former speaker of the House of Representatives, who is returning to her 2nd district congressional seat after a one-term break. 

Delta’s challenger in the 2022 gubernatorial race, former Candaba mayor Danilo Baylon, also represents a political clan. His wife Aniway is running in their hometown’s mayoralty race. 

Mylyn is facing three opponents.

While the clan and Arroyo campaign for two other offspring of presidents, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte, the shadow of Pineda patriarch, Rodolfo, nicknamed “Bong,” looms over the province’s socio-economic landscape.

Bong has lately been described as a businessman involved in land development, real estate property, and resort management. He is all that. But he is probably more well known as a gambling lord. 

In 2021, his name was dragged into the deadly e-sabong controversy by rival gambling magnate Atong Ang. 

Ang and Pineda’s legitimate, legal gambling firms have licenses to operate e-sabong. But in 2018, Senator Panfilo Lacson started a probe into a Camarines Sur company that, he claimed, was a front for the illegal numbers game, jueteng, and secretly owned by Pineda, a Kapampangan. 

The Pineda patriarch earlier featured into ousted president Joseph Estrada’s corruption scandal, with tales of bags of money delivered into the national leader’s San Juan home.

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CLARK GREEN CITY. A 2015 artist’s rendition of the Bases Conversion Development Authority’s vision for Clark Green City. Image courtesy of BCDA

The entry of the Pinedas to politics coincided with a great economic leap in the province’s economy. 

The former US air force base in Clark is now an economic zone and major investment destination, with a big demographic of upwardly mobile young people working in tech-related companies. 

The once perennially flooded rice plains of Pampanga have given way to subdivision tracts, malls, and mixed-use estates. 

In his 2012 report for the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt, “Mafia-style Domination: The Philippine Province of Pampanga,” Peter Kreuzer noted that the municipal income in Mabalacat, host to the Clark Economic Zone, grew by nearly 500% from 2001 to 2011.

This was just after Lilia completed three terms as mayor of Lubao from 1992 to 2001, ceding the position to Delta, who held it until 2010. 

The son then passed it to sister Mylyn, who ran unopposed until her three terms ended in 2019. Mylyn passed on Lubao’s top post to sister Emmie while she ran and won a seat in the provincial board.

Delta’s wife, Yoly Miranda, was former mayor of Sta. Rita town, also in Pampanga, from 2010 to 2013.

The year 2001 – when Lilia completed her term – was a watershed year for the province. Arroyo, then Estrada’s vice president, assumed the presidency after his ouster. 

From 2004-2007, Lilia served in the provincial board then lost her first attempt for the governor’s post in 2007. But after a recount, she was declared winner in February 2010 – months before the next election, with just some 2,000 votes over former priest Ed Panlilio.

Lilia won the 2010 elections with more than 200,000 votes over Panlilio and held the post until 2019. Then she and Delta, who had served as vice governor since 2013, exchanged posts.

The Pinedas in 2016 surprised many by supporting the Liberal Party (LP) tandem of Mar Roxas and then Camarines Sur representative Leni Robredo, who would win the vice presidency. 

The endorsement – and acceptance – was controversial. The LP’s “Daang Matuwid” brand was seen as incompatible with persistent reports linking Bong Pineda to illegal and legal gambling. 

Both Roxas and Robredo were almost dismissive of the criticism and praised Lilia as a model local government leader.

But the powerful family failed to deliver the votes. Roxas ended up fourth in their hometown, where Duterte secured the top spot. Although the LP bet was second in the province, his votes were barely a third of Duterte’s.

Robredo also lost to Marcos, getting around two-thirds of his votes.

STILL FRIENDS. Vice President Leni Robredo greets Pampanga Vice Governor Lilia Pineda during a courtesy call on April 9 before a grand rally staged by Kakampink volunteers. Pineda, then governor, endorsed Robredo and Liberal Party standard-bearer Mar Roxas in the 2016 national polls but failed to deliver the votes. Photo courtesy of Pampanga PIO

Duterte certainly hasn’t shown the Pinedas any of his trademark spite for opponents.

Since 2016, Pampanga has been beneficiary of several big-ticket programs approved by the National Economic and Development Authority.

Among these: the P873.6-billion North-South Commuter Railway System Project connecting Mabalacat, Pampanga and Calamba, Laguna; and the P15.4-billion Clark International Airport New Passenger Terminal Building, completed in September 2020. 

In November 2020, Duterte appointed Arroyo presidential adviser on Clark programs and projects.

In 2022, Arroyo managed to convince Sara to join her Lakas-CMD and run for the vice presidency, joining Marcos in the Uniteam. On her birthday, April 5, she forecast “a landslide” for her bets.

A win for Marcos and Duterte would make Arroyo perhaps the second most powerful woman in the land. For those who remember Martial Law, Arroyo enabling Marcos’ presidential run is ironic – her father, the late president Diosdado Macapagal, had warned the Americans against “coddling our dictator.”

POWER BROKER. Pampanga 2nd District Representative Mikey Arroyo and vice presidential candidate and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte cheer for former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during an April 4 rally to celebrate her 75th birthday.

Arroyo has proven herself a canny survivor of scandals, including her family’s links to at least 14 foundations that reportedly received funds meant for farmers’ fertilizer aid. 

Her son, Mikey, who took over the 2nd district Congress seat after she completed three terms, was the subject of a Vera Files investigative report on an undeclared $1.32-million or P63.7-million beachfront property in the San Francisco Bay Area in California. 

Mikey managed to get elected to Congress in 2010 as nominee of the Ang Galing Pinoy party-list group that purportedly represented security guards. 

The Comelec disqualified Ang Galing Pinoy in 2013 with a stinging rebuke on Mikey’s laziness or lack of empathy: he had sponsored only one bill on the welfare of security guards.

‘The people want us’

The Pinedas’ 2016 poor showing in backing national leaders faces scrutiny following the mammoth 220,000-strong Pampanga grand rally for Robredo and her running mate Kiko Pangilinan.

Delta told Rappler in March that he would not force his political views and choices on constituents.

‘Yung sa mga showboats nakalagay sila (Uniteam), umiikot, ‘pag postering, ‘yun na muna initial na ginagawa natin. Respetuhan tayo ng desisyon kung sino iboboto natin,” he said. (The showboats show Uniteam and they go around and are used in postering; those are our initial activities. Let’s respect each other’s choices.)

SHOWBOAT. Uniteam banner is displayed on a showboat Governor Delta Pineda used during the campaign kickoff motorcade for the 2022 elections. Screenshot from CLTV36/reporter Paulo Gee Santos

Delta chafes at the tag of political dynasty heir, saying the family is just responding to the people’s clamor.

“Please don’t call us a political dynasty because it’s the people urging us to run, and they vote for us. We do not force ourselves on them,” the governor said in Filipino.

Lilia, he said, “used politics and governance to help people with their needs in health, education, livelihood and agriculture.”

Delta said public service is paying back the kindness of those who helped Pampanga survive during the eruption of Mount Pinatubo and its aftermath.

“I can lead during crises. Helping people during disasters is a form of paying back. Kapampangans would have vanished if other people didn’t help us. So it is right for us to help our people now,” he said in Filipino.

He said Pampanga can be a progressive province with a vibrant economy, quality education, and a healthy environment, but added that it will take time and continuity to establish this dream.

Dark underbelly

While the Pinedas have presided over a period of great growth for Pampanga, the province retains some vestiges of the wild and wooly era when American troops were still honored guests and patrons of vice.

In the first year of Duterte’s rule, Pampanga earned lurid headlines following the kidnapping of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo, who was later found dead within Camp Crame, headquarters of the Philippine National Police. 

The chief of the PNP’s anti-kidnapping unit later told a Senate probe panel that rogue cops killed the businessman to “silence” him on police extortion of Koreans in Angeles City.

October 2019 brought the scandal of “ninja” cops – police who recycle seized narcotics for resale. 

In 2021, the Sandiganbayan passed a guilty verdict on two Duterte fraternity brothers and a retired cop for a P50-million shakedown involving gambling tycoon Jack Lam and over 1,300 Chinese citizens illegally working at Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino in the Clark Special Economic Zone.

In January 2022, eight police officers were arrested for robbing seven Chinese men.

Despite the controversy and death surrounding e-sabong, and the fulminations of former top cop Senator Ronald dela Rosa, Duterte has refused to scuttle an industry that provides a monthly average revenue of P640 million.

CAMPAIGN. Supporters of Pampanga’s Pineda political dynasty cheer as a campaign motorcade passes during kickoff rites for the May 2022 elections. Photo courtesy of Pampanga PIO

Decades of dispensing largesse have given the Pineda clan and their local party Kapanalig at Kambilan ding Memalen Pampanga (Kambilan) a cloak of invincibility.

The political dynasty can count on the majority of provincial board members, mayors, vice mayors, and councilors in Pampanga and Angeles City.

Delta credits his mother for the strength of their alliance, citing her generosity in expanding the reach of programs in infrastructure, health, and social services – and her skill in channeling their loyal base’s votes for national candidates.

The coming elections in May will see if 2016 was a fluke loss for Lilia’s bets or the start of a series of bad decisions. – Rappler.com

Joann Manabat is a Luzon-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.

Read the other stories in our Political Dynasties 2022 series: 

Luzon

Visayas

Mindanao

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