He has been a city councilor, vice mayor, and three-term congressman, but outgoing Caloocan City 2nd District Representative Edgar Erice is taking one last shot for a dream that has remained hard-to-reach in his four decades of public service – taking control of city hall.
“I have decided, this will be my final try in politics,” Erice told Rappler in a Zoom interview on Monday, October 18. “It’s no longer an ambition but a sense of duty.”
In 2004, Erice, who was then a first-term congressman, lost the mayoral race by some 50,000 votes to Enrico “Recom” Echiverri.
After a six-year break from politics, Erice was elected vice mayor of the city in 2010. In 2013, Erice dropped initial plans to vie for city mayor after he was told by then-president Benigno Aquino III that he needed him as an ally in the House.
“I won’t go back to Congress,” said Erice, who has won all of his congressional races, but is term-limited for the 2022 polls.
Plans for city hall
Erice principally authored 59 House bills in the 18th Congress alone, but when asked about the work he’s most proud of as a lawmaker, he pointed to programs that were usually associated with local governance.
“I have conducted an education summit in every school of my district to know the biggest and even the smallest problems that I can immediately address,” Erice said.
If elected, Erice vowed to use the hundreds of millions of pesos in funds from residents’ taxes to further push for the digital transformation of public education in the city.
Erice also wanted to boost the local government’s medicine stockpile for its underprivileged residents, and provide affordable housing to informal settlers of the city.
“I’ve been rooting for socialized housing ever since. [Manila] Mayor Isko [Moreno] and I even talked before. I told him I was impressed by the financing scheme of his Binondominum project. The rent there [will only be] around P2,000 per month,” Erice said.
Moreno has made affordable housing a notable platform in his 2022 campaign under Aksyon Demokratiko, but Erice asserted that, despite the similarity in their platforms, it is not a talking point set by the political party he transferred to after years of being with Liberal Party (LP).
Erice also said he had raised suggestions to the Manila mayor on how the city could improve its housing program. He noted, for example, that Moreno could talk to big companies to build a warehouse so that jobless residents would have a source of income.
“You train the people, you guarantee quality control of the product, and that’s how the people would be able to pay their rent,” Erice said.
The congressman argued this could have been done in Caloocan, if only incumbent Mayor Oscar “Oca” Malapitan knew how to utilize the city’s funds. Erice alleged that Malapitan’s projects were motivated by corruption and propaganda.
“Caloocan is second to Quezon City in terms of squatter population, but the city government had no appropriations for socialized housing,” Erice said, while criticizing Malapitan’s decision to focus on the construction of a state-of-the-art sports complex.
Challenging a fixture in Caloocan politics
Mayor Malapitan is term-limited, and is planning to switch posts with his son, 1st District Representative Dale “Along” Malapitan.
Rappler has also sent an invitation to the younger Malapitan for an interview, but the congressman is still recovering from COVID-19 as of this writing. A separate piece about his mayoral bid will be published once he becomes available for an interview.
But in a detailed reply to Rappler’s questions, the Malapitan camp countered Erice’s criticism of the city’s efforts to provide shelter to its poorest constituents.
“The National Housing Authority has housing projects and the city government is in coordination with NHA through our city housing and resettlement office. But we also need to strengthen our local economy,” the younger Malapitan said on Tuesday, October 19.
“The city administration’s approach is holistic. Because of the sports complex, [businessmen chose to invest] and soon, we will have an SM Bagumbong, which would eventually create more jobs for the people,” he added.
Caloocan is one of at least six cities in Metro Manila where a relative seeks to succeed an outgoing mayor. Erice, a vocal advocate of an anti-dynasty measure in Congress, did not miss the opportunity to criticize the Malapitans’ attempt to switch posts in next year’s elections.
“[Along is] not prepared. His only qualification is he’s the son of the mayor. He had no jobs, he had no formal schooling, he had no business,” Erice said, although admitting he endorsed Malapitan for the House in 2016.
But Along, a two-term congressman who principally authored 129 House bills in the 18th Congress alone, asserted that he had 14 years of experience in public service, starting as a barangay chairman in 2007.
“In my two terms as congressman, I helped build 1,058 classrooms and gave assistance to thousands of people through various social programs in the first district of Caloocan,” Malapitan said. “Records would tell you that I have performed very well in the 14 years that I am a public servant.”
Malapitan also downplayed criticisms of maintaining a political dynasty in Caloocan, saying that a democratic country like the Philippines allows its people to choose whoever they want to lead them.
He also slammed Erice for criticizing dynasties while accommodating father and son Recom and King Echiverri in his 2022 lineup. The two are running for congressman and councilor in the third district, respectively.
Erice had said there were “exceptions to the rule” on political dynasties, citing the Gatchalians in Valenzuela. “Valenzuela is progressive not because they are brothers, but because they are great leaders,” he explained.
These days, Erice also has to grapple with the aftermath of his transfer to Aksyon Demokratiko from the once-ruling LP.
His recent statement that he left due to a leadership problem with Vice President Leni Robredo did not sit well with LP stalwarts, who used to be his allies.
“I politely told them, ‘What date is it? Liberal Party has no decision yet,'” Erice told Rappler, referring to a time when Robredo had yet to announce her 2022 plans. “Mayor Isko had already decided, I believe in his performance in Manila, and I believe he can replicate it in the country, so I bid farewell [to LP].”
On Twitter, LP senatorial aspirant and former Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat said he felt “betrayed” by Erice, who supposedly sold his soul “for 20 pieces of silver.”
Erice said he was also hurt by the comments made by his friend.
“I hope he doesn’t judge my conviction,” Erice said. “When I supported Mayor Isko, I did not expect anything in return.”
“[But] that’s just his political statement because he’s running for senator. I forgive him,” Erice said, smiling. – Rappler.com
*All quotes in Filipino were translated to English