2022 PH local races

Political Dynasties 2022: Clashing families spring from Dongkoy Emano

Herbie Gomez, Froilan Gallardo
Political Dynasties 2022: Clashing families spring from Dongkoy Emano
Except for the Rodriguezes, none of the warring political families in Cagayan de Oro and Misamis Oriental politics today can claim to have started independently from Dongkoy Emano – they used to be his followers or enablers of his dynasty

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 in 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

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Nearly all of the biggest names in Misamis Oriental and Cagayan de Oro politics today trace their roots to PaDayon Pilipino, a spin-off of the once anti-Marcos Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) merger of the political parties of the late Senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. and assassinated opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. 

Padayon Pilipino (Onward Filipino) was merely an oft-repeated catchphrase used by the late former Cagayan de Oro mayor Vicente “Dongkoy” Emano to end his radio interviews in the early ’90s.

He started as a town mayor in Misamis Oriental, and then rose to become governor of the province and subsequently mayor of Cagayan de Oro City in a colorful career that spanned 33 years.

When he had a falling out with his allies in PDP-Laban in the ’90s, he left the group, and turned his favorite catchphrase into his party’s name.

Except for the Rodriguezes, none of the political families and smaller dynasties in Cagayan de Oro and Misamis Oriental politics today can claim to have started independently from Emano’s PaDayon Pilipino. Their leaders used to be Emano’s followers, enablers of his dynasty, or financiers of his political battles.

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Moreno’s beginnings

Although he has not built a political dynasty of his own in his 24-year political career, Cagayan de Oro Mayor Oscar “Oca” Moreno’s political beginnings can be traced to Emano’s party. He was the candidate for congressman in Misamis Oriental’s 1st District under Emano’s group in 1995. 

Moreno, a corporate lawyer who became a vice president and chief legal counsel of the Ayala group’s BPI Capital Corporation, failed in his first attempt but won the congressional seat three years later after a falling out with PaDayon Pilipino, and without Emano’s help.

BACK TO MISOR. Cagayan de Oro Mayor Oscar Moreno is seeking his old gubernatorial post in Misamis Oriental, and for the first time, he is fielding one of his children – Imee Moreno Lapuz – as a candidate for city councilor in the city.

But the two found themselves briefly reuniting again in 2004, when Oca and Dongkoy’s son, Yevgeny Vincente “Bambi” Emano, ran together under an alliance ticket. 

That year, Moreno unseated Emano’s estranged political ally Antonio Calingin – a former Misamis Oriental governor now serving time for graft – while Bambi was elected representative of the province’s 2nd District.

The 2004 Emano-Moreno alliance was short-lived and, nine years later, the then-local political kingpin lost the mayoral post of Cagayan de Oro to Moreno.

Dongkoy never recovered from that crushing political defeat in 2013 despite his attempts, and he died of pneumonia while running for Cagayan de Oro vice mayor a week before the 2019 elections. He was 76. 

There were unsuccessful attempts by Moreno’s siblings to follow in his footsteps. His brothers Emeterio Jr. and Reynaldo ran for the congressional post in Misamis Oriental’s 1st District on separate occasions, but lost in the elections.

Emeterio, a lawyer, is a former assistant secretary for legal affairs of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). He is serving as a consultant at the Manila city hall.

Another Moreno brother, Reynaldo, ran without Mayor Moreno’s support under the Emano-led PaDayon Pilipino. Reynaldo, a physician, subsequently died.

Klarex’s dynasty

Now serving his third and final term as Cagayan de Oro mayor and seeking his old gubernatorial post, Moreno is supporting the bid of his long-time ally and supporter, Representative Rolando “Klarex” Uy of the city’s 1st District, to succeed him in city hall.

For the first time, too, Oca has fielded one of his children, Imee Moreno-Lapuz, as a candidate for a city council seat under Klarex’s ticket.

Klarex, a soft-spoken and inarticulate politician, has been a loyal ally and supporter of the Moreno administration. He has been described as a “silent operator” who shuns media interviews, but has been tested time and again to deliver the needed votes from his district.

He heads one of the political dynasties in the city – his son Reineir Joaquin “Kikang” Uy is the vice mayor, and his wife Lorna is the barangay chairperson of Carmen, the village with the biggest voting population among the city’s 80 barangays. Carmen alone accounts for some 11% of Cagayan de Oro’s population.

Still serving his first term as vice mayor, Kikang is now aspiring to replace his father in Congress.

FATHER, WIFE, AND SON. Cagayan de Oro 1st District Representative Rolando “Klarex” Uy (left) is running for mayor while his son, Vice Mayor Reineir Joaquin or Kikang, is aspiring to succeed him in Congress. Klarex’s wife Lorna is the barangay chairperson of Carmen, Cagayan de Oro’s most populous village.

His elder brother, Roland Sherwin “Tawee” Uy, was a Carmen barangay councilor who was murdered by still unidentified gunmen at his quarry site in Barangay Pagatpat on November 11, 2021. 

The case remains unsolved to this day, but Tawee and his aide’s deaths by shooting raised serious questions about the Uy family’s interest in quarrying in a city that saw killer floods blamed on a typhoon and environmental degradation 10 years ago.

Klarex and his son Kikang are seen as the politicians to beat in the May elections in Cagayan de Oro.

Klarex is being challenged by Jose Gabriel “Pompee” La Viña, former social media director of the successful presidential campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016. La Viña has yet to win an election.

It would be the second attempt of the outspoken and social media savvy La Viña, who held various positions in the Duterte administration, to snatch the mayoral post. 

In the 2019 mayoral race, La Viña failed to translate the social media noise he created against Moreno into actual votes. He ranked a poor second to Moreno, who depended much on the votes from villages in Klarex’s district. La Viña lost by some 68,000 votes that year despite the support of two local political dynasties – the influential Emano and Rodriguez families.

Like Moreno and most of the big names in local politics today, Klarex Uy started too as a member of Emano’s PaDayon Pilipino.

When Dongkoy Emano first ran for Cagayan de Oro mayor in 1998, Uy was the barangay chairman of Carmen, and one of the few village chiefs who supported his successful mayoral bid.

Uy was elected congressman in 2007 without Emano’s support, and then challenged and nearly unseated the mayor in the 2010 elections with the help of the then-governor Moreno. Uy lost by a slim margin of more than 2,000 votes.

Rodriguez dynasty

Uy narrowly missed what would have been a more hotly-contested and exciting showdown in this year’s May elections with Deputy House Speaker and Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez, the head of another political dynasty in Cagayan de Oro and the leader of the Centrist Democratic Party (CDP). 

Until last October, Rodriguez was rumored to be planning on running for mayor. But he opted to seek reelection instead and support La Viña’s mayoral bid again.

His younger sister Jocelyn, a former barangay chairperson of Nazareth, is a city councilor and now La Viña’s running mate.

Rodriguez and his brother Maximo Jr., or Maxie, used to serve in the House of Representatives together. Maxie was a representative of their party-list group Abante Mindanao (Abamin) until 2016.

When Rufus severed his political ties with Moreno and Klarex to challenge the mayor’s reelection bid in 2016, Maxie ran for congressman in the 2nd District and won a third term in the Lower House. Rufus lost to Moreno that year, but was elected to his old congressional post again in 2019.

Maxie’s son and namesake Maximo III is now the barangay chairman of Nazareth, the political bailiwick of the Rodriguezes.

THE RODRIGUEZES. Deputy Speaker and Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez (2nd from right) is seeking reelection, and has fielded his councilor sister Jocelyn (right) for the city’s vice mayorship. Another Rodriguez sibling, Maxie (2nd from left), once served in Congress with his brother as representative of the Abante Mindanao party-list and, later, Cagayan de Oro. Maxie’s son Jonjon (left) is the barangay chairman of vote-rich Nazareth, Cagayan de Oro.

The Rodriguez siblings’ father Maximo Sr. was a prominent lawyer and prosecutor who also served as a member of the Misamis Oriental provincial board.

Rufus followed in his father’s footsteps, starting as a young politician in Misamis Oriental during the Marcos years. He was elected member of Misamis Oriental’s legislature in 1980 while he was still in law school and rose to become vice governor in 1984 by way of automatic succession.

The 1986 EDSA revolution interrupted his political career, but after years of lawyering and serving as the dean of the San Sebastian College of Law, Rufus reinvented himself and staged a political comeback in 2007. He was first elected as one of Cagayan de Oro’s congressmen that year.

He supported Moreno’s first mayoral campaign against Emano in Cagayan de Oro in 2013, became a rival of the two in a three-cornered fight for the mayoralty in 2016, and reunited with Emano in 2019.

The other Uy dynasty

In his bid to reclaim his old Misamis Oriental post, Oca Moreno has found a serious and determined rival in another Uy, the province’s 2nd District congresswoman. (The Uys of Cagayan de Oro and Misamis Oriental are unrelated.)

Representative Juliette Uy’s husband Julio, head of the political family, served as a vice governor during the governorship of Moreno. 

Julio established a political bailiwick in the town of Villanueva, where he, his wife Juliette, and daughter Jennie Uy-Mendez have taken turns in serving as mayor.

Now Julio is seeking the congressional seat that would be left vacant this year by his wife, a post he failed to win in the past.

Juliette is running for governor, a position that would be vacated by Emano’s son Bambi. Like the congresswoman, Bambi is also serving the last of his three consecutive office terms.

The Uy couple’s daughter Jennie is seeking reelection as mayor of the vote-rich Villanueva town.

THE UYS OF MISOR. Julio Uy, a former vice governor, is running for congressman in the 2nd District of Misamis Oriental while his congresswoman wife Juliette has set her eyes on the gubernatorial post. Their daughter Jennie Uy-Mendez is seeking reelection as mayor of vote-rich Villanueva town. The three have taken turns in serving as Villanueva’s mayor.

Julio, a lawyer-businessman, used to be one of Misamis Oriental town mayors who supported Dongkoy Emano for years. He later severed his ties with PaDayon Pilipino, complaining that the group did not reciprocate his substantial contributions to them.

In local political circles, talk has it that the couple has never been as financially prepared in their bid to expand their leadership and dominate politics in the province as they are today. They have become the go-to family for town mayors in need of money to borrow, and several of the local chief executives are said to owe them to this day.

The Uys are also known for their generosity toward their political supporters, especially those who have the potential to deliver votes.

Unabia dynasty

In the province’s 1st District, another formidable and financially-prepared gubernatorial hopeful is also working to succeed Bambi Emano in the capitol.

Gingoog City Vice Mayor Peter Unabia, a former representative of the province’s 1st District, enjoys the support of the powerful Emano family.

Just like the heads of the two Uy political dynasties in Cagayan de Oro and Misamis Oriental, Unabia started as a supporter of the late governor and mayor.

FATHER AND SONS. Former Misamis Oriental 1st District representative and now Gingoog City Vice Mayor Peter Unabia (center) is running for governor of the province. His sons Christian (right) and Aaron (left) are seeking reelection, respectively, as congressman and mayor of Balingoan town.

Unabia’s business success is a rags-to-riches story. He struck gold with his Ang Lechon Manok ni Señor Pedro business, mass-producing and supplying broiled chickens for his hundreds of retail outlets in Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao.

He became involved in local politics and supported Emano and the late vice governor and 1st District congressman Danilo Lagbas.

Years later, Unabia ran for a seat in the provincial board and won. He was subsequently elected as a congressman and served as the 1st District’s representative for three consecutive terms.

Unable to seek reelection in 2019, he fielded one of his sons to replace him while he sought Gingoog’s vice mayoral post.

That year, Unabia and his standard-bearer Erick Cañosa snatched the city’s leadership from the family of former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. The former vice president’s mayor-daughter Marie ran for vice mayor against Unabia while his wife Ruthie sought the mayorship against Cañosa.

Unabia too has started to build a political dynasty of his own in the eastern part of Misamis Oriental. His son Christian is serving his first term as the district’s representative to the Lower House and is seeking a second term.

Another Unabia son, Aaron Paul, is the mayor of Balingoan town, Misamis Oriental’s gateway to the island province of Camiguin.

Unabia’s gubernatorial bid would serve as a test to the Emano family’s ability to influence the outcome of the elections without the founder of PaDayon Pilipino who undeniably left his mark in local politics.

The Emano family, after all, is the biggest and oldest surviving political dynasty in Misamis Oriental. Rappler.com

Herbie Gomez is Rappler’s Mindanao Bureau coordinator, and Froilan Gallardo is a Mindanao-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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