The 68-year-old strongman of Cavite is lording it over in a different sense this particular afternoon. At the youth hall from across his posh residence in the capital town of Imus, he monitors the arrival of election returns from the different precincts, and, in his usual authoritative and intimidating tone, directs clusters of volunteers to tables where they will tally the votes by towns and cities. This is his biggest electoral battle.
Juanito Remulla, governor from 1979 to 1995, has the provincial capitol to retake through a protégé, a family tradition to carry on through two of his politician-sons, and a reputation as an unbeatable kingpin to keep. If he achieves all three, it will be his sweet revenge against what he would consider political lightweights who dared break into his territory six years ago.
In 1992, Cavite under Remulla was an ungracious host to Lakas Tao presidential candidate Fidel Ramos, who had deserted the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) after he failed to bag its endorsement. The governor’s Partido Magdalo was allied with LDP. In Remulla’s hometown of Imus, the mayor then, Erineo Maliksi, refused to issue a permit for the Lakas rally at the plaza, forcing Ramos to make do with a makeshift stage offered by the parish priest at the nearby Catholic cathedral.
In that campaign, too, Ramos’s only supporter in the province, the mayor of Ternate town, was killed in an ambush that was later on blamed on a congressman close to Remulla. Thus, at the polling precincts in Cavite, Ramos lost miserably—although he won the presidential race.
Ramos took his revenge in the 1995 local elections. The ruling party then, Lakas-NUCD, worked to dislodge Remulla and his vice governor, Danilo Lara, by all means. Fielding National Bureau of Investigation chief Epimaco Velasco for governor and action star Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. for vice governor, Lakas funneled its campaign funds for the province to the Velasco-Revilla tandem, neglecting in the process its candidates for other positions. Days before the elections, soldiers raided Remulla’s house for highpowered arms; men in uniform were deployed to various parts of the province, presumably to prevent Magdalo from sowing violence and cheating in the elections.
Remulla and his vice governor lost—but the candidates of Magdalo, the party he single-handedly built after his benefactor, Ferdinand Marcos, was ousted in 1986, won practically all other positions down to municipal councilors. With Velasco’s programs paralyzed due to non-support from Magdalo members, Remulla, in effect, did not really lose control of Cavite.
The following elections, in 1998, the strongman started gearing for a comeback—in another form.
In the local arena, he fielded his son Juanito Victor Jr. (Jonvic) for vice governor, a move which the party said was in deference to senior Magdalo members more qualified to become governor, particularly former second district congressman Renato Dragon. (He and Dragon had a falling out over an agreement on campaign funds which Remulla allegedly broke.) This, however, was widely believed to be a strategy to save the young Remulla from possible defeat by the very popular Revilla, who was running for governor following a rift with Velasco.
In the national scene, Remulla delivered the province’s vote to presidential candidate Joseph Estrada, who was up against Ramos’s “anointed” successor, Jose de Venecia Jr. Jonvic won the vice governorship big. The old man Remulla was appointed Presidential Adviser on Local Government Affairs. An older son, Crispin (more popularly known as Boying), was the second in command at the very powerful Presidential Management Staff. With Estrada ousted four months into the midterm elections, indications are that Remulla will not allow the change of occupants in Malacañang to ruin the political blueprint he has laid out for his party and his heirs. The Lakas-NUCD of the People Power Coalition, by the sheer incompetence that has marked its campaigns so far, has made victory easier for the local opposition.
The Partido Magdalo fielded second district congressman Maliksi against reelectionist governor Revilla, a move again suspected to be a means to buy time for Vice Governor Jonvic until such time when term limits would leave the other camp with no choice but to name a gubernatorial candidate much less popular than Revilla. Remulla’s youngest son, Gilbert, ran for the post that Maliksi would be vacating. Magdalo, which remains allied with LDP, and therefore with any other party that is in coalition with the latter, had the loyalty of 18 of the 23 mayors.
Lakas candidates in the province who were up against tough opponents from Magdalo were expecting that the party’s national leadership would operate in Cavite to ensure the administration’s victory. After all, they acknowledged that the midterm election was a proxy war between their partymate, President Arroyo, and Estrada, a Magdalo ally.
They set their hopes too high. In Metro Manila, Lakas national executive director Joey Rufino, who was in charge of the local campaigns, told Newsbreak two weeks before the elections: “We don’t need to operate in Cavite because Bong [Revilla] is very strong there.”
Revilla suffered from the same “over confidence,” according to an official of Lakas in Cavite. Lawyer Marcelo Tahimic, who also serves as provincial administrator at the capitol, acknowledges that the party, at the local level, committed “many mistakes” in running the campaign, among them Revilla’s “over-reliance on his charisma” to carry his candidates to victory.
Revilla also “failed to extend support to municipal and barangay leaders with proven followings,” Tahimic says. With “support” he means both campaign funds and Revilla’s appearance in meetings of supporters organized by the ward leaders.
Indeed, while Magdalo candidates were combing the narrowest alleys for a house-to-house campaign, the Revilla camp was busy putting up giant tarpaulin billboards with showbiz-type portraits of Lakas-NUCD aspirants. And while Magdalo was oiling its machinery down to the sitio level—even courting the Iglesia ni Cristo endorsement reportedly by donating a huge amount for the renovation of its chapel in Imus—the Revilla camp was mounting star-studded proclamation rallies that only sent motorists cursing the governor for the traffic caused by the events.
Lakas’s national leadership, Tahimic says, delivered financial help of P1,000 for all the poll watching needs in each of the 6,101 precincts in the province. This, however, didn’t match Magdalo’s budget of around P4,000, the equivalent of having eight watchers at P500 each in every precinct.
As of this writing, three days after the May 14 elections, Magdalo was sure of bagging 90 percent of all positions in this province of nearly one million voters. They include the governorship (Maliksi), the vice governorship (Jonvic against former Magdalo member, Edwina Mendoza), the three congressional seats (incumbent Plaridel Abaya in the 1st district, Gilbert Remulla in the 2nd, and incumbent Napoleon Beratio in the 3rd), and the mayoralty of 19 of the 23 towns and cities, including the vote-rich Bacoor (where Revilla’s wife Lani lost to the incumbent), Imus (where the incumbent Lakas mayor lost by only 700 votes), and Silang.
Maliksi, according to a quick count being conducted by his office, was ahead of Revilla by about 138,000 votes, not far from the 100,000-margin which Remulla himself enjoyed over his opponents in all gubernatorial races since the 1980s.
The Revilla camp, however, intends to ask the Commission on Elections to declare a failure of election in Cavite, citing reports that Magdalo goons engaged in terrorism, vote-buying, and ballot-switching to ensure a landslide victory for their lineup. But provincial administrator Tahimic doubts the party will be able to sustain the needs of the witnesses and their families for the duration of the hearings.
Maliksi says Magdalo carried a mixed senatorial slate, pointing out that it was obliged to support only the LDP nominees of the national opposition. However, the partial results available at the provincial Comelec office as of May 17 showed that the Top 7 senatorial candidates in Cavite were mostly from Puwersa ng Masa, where Remulla’s son, Crispin, is serving as spokesman.
In the face of an overwhelming victory, standard-bearer Maliksi refuses to entertain suggestions that he may be on his way to replacing Juanito Remulla as the one-man party leadership of Magdalo. He may not even seek reelection in 2004.
In the middle of an interview with Newsbreak, the emerging new governor of Cavite receives a call on his mobile phone from “Gob,” his staff says. Maliksi doesn’t talk much, only muttering “ho” and “oho” until the conversation is through.
Obviously, it is still Remulla who rules. – Rappler.com