2022 PH local races

Bacolod City Mayor Leonardia seeks reelection

Inday Espina-Varona
Bacolod City Mayor Leonardia seeks reelection

TOGETHER. Team Grupo Progreso of incumbent Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia at a press briefing before filing their certificates of candidacy.

Courtesy of Mayor Evelio Leonardia's office

A challenge for Mayor Evelio Leonardia is the unity coalition forged among the province's biggest political groups

Bacolod City Mayor Evelio “Bing” Leonardia filed his certificate of candidacy for a third term on Wednesday afternoon, October 6, at the city Comelec Bay Center office.

Leonardia and Vice Mayor El Cid Familiaran are gunning for their third and final terms in 2022.

Before filing, Leonardia’s Grupo Progreso coalition held a press briefing. The mayor urged Bacolod residents “not to change horses” midway, noting that the city was in the grip of a surge in COVID-19 cases.

His City Administrator Em Ang, a former councilor, has resigned to run for a council seat. She remains in the public-private Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

The full Grupo Progreso council slate includes Ang, incumbents Carl Lopez, Archie Baribar, Renecito Novero, Dino Ramos, Israel Salanga, and Cindy Rojas.

The other members of the slate are former councilor Ed Guillem, Cash Montalvo, Marlon Solidum, and Chris Sorongon, Ang’s deputy at the EOC.

Biggest challenge

Leonardia’s political career has faced many challenges since he started as a city councilor in 1988, then as vice mayor in 1992, before getting his first term as mayor in 1995. 

He is Bacolod’s longest serving chief executive, with a total of six terms: 1995 to 1998, 2004 to 2007, 2007 to 2010, 2010 to 2013, 2016 to 2019, up to the present.

But Leonardia has also known defeat, losing the 1998 mayoral race to the late Oscar Verdeflor, a political outlier known for his colorful language.

Leonardia has faced graft charges and a dismissal order by former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales in 2017, eventually getting the Sandiganbayan to dismiss the case the following year.

In the May 2022 polls, Leonardia faces his biggest challenge. He is running against a billionaire, former 3rd District representative Alfredo Abelardo “Albee” Benitez.

The 2022 race is also unique in that the Bacolod mayor faces an entire coalition of powerful Negros Occidental mayors who are all backing Benitez’s candidacy.

Leonardia has enjoyed the support of President Rodrigo Duterte since the 2016 elections. He is the lone representative of local governments to sit in the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council. 

His skill at forging ties across provincial and regional borders made him national president of the League of Cities of the Philippines. Before that, he was twice the league’s deputy secretary general for the Visayas, its national executive vice president from 2010 to 2013, and its national vice chairman from 2007 to 2010.

A challenge for Leonardia is the unity coalition forged among the province’s biggest political groups. This allows many incumbents to run sans challengers.

The mayor’s camp has accused other local government unit heads of sending out-of-towners to register as Bacolod voters to improve Benitez’s chances of winning. This would not only free politicians to aid Benitez but also attract the attention of national officials, a disadvantage for the chief executive of a city with only a third of the rest of the province’s population. 

What Leonardia has, however, are decades of immersion among the city’s grassroots communities and, according to his local political allies and even Benitez’s supporters, a solid base among the D and E classes. – Rappler.com